Some Winter, Some Wind

in 61st Venice Film Festival

by Sebastian Feldmann

After an extended dry period in the beginning of the Mostra with too many talkative Zeitgeist films which regularly turned out to be Weltschmerz films suddenly a series of films emerged with scarce dialogues but elaborate, precise and expressive pictures of people in their social surroundings. These films may be subliminally connected with the best traditions of Italian Neorealism – and Venice is a good place to show them.

For example the Swiss-Belgium coproduction Tout un hiver sans feu (A Whole Winter without Fire) by Polish born director Greg Zglinski. It portrays the farmer Jean in the Alps with his wife Laure who can’t deal with her suffering: Their little girl burnt to death some time ago. Laure got depressions and was hospitalized while Jean finds work in a steel mill down the valley. In the local canteen he meets a girl, a refugee from Kosovo whose family house burnt down in the war. But her brother observes all her movements and all the people she talks to with severe strength and distrust. Zglinski tells these facts in very few words corresponding to the silence of the mountains where Jean sometimes quietly looks at in his deep sorrow.

Zglinski uses a lot of metaphors for fire: the steel mill, the barn which burnt down burnt, the memory of the Kosovo refugees. But these metaphors never look overdone or exaggerated. It’s not necessary to tell the unspectacular but comforting end of this well done short story in all modesty. The images Zglinski, a Kieslowski scholar, found are worth being watched. (Signis Prize plus CinemAvvenire Award for first picture – only.)

Of course Vincenzo Marra’s Italian production Vento di terra, filmed in Naples, Milano and again in Kosovo was more attractive. Vento di terra means wind from the country, and that is not a good sign for the people of Naples as the wind from sea for example. Marra and his excellent director of photography Mario Amura portray young Enzo (18) and his poor family. They live in the outskirts of Naples similar to slums and they are not able to pay their rent. But first we drive with Enzo on his motorbike: the camera eye shows us endless, dreadful, rotten, high houses, social dwellings, shots that will be repeated several times – later in Milan – as a Leitmotiv of degradation.

His mother is sitting day and night on her sewing machine while his sister seeks for better work. Enzo has a stupid, dull drilling work on a steel workshop. As things become worse he even says goodbye to his girlfriend. Let’s not follow the family’s destiny after the father’s death in detail – they move to an unfriendly place where Enzo’s sister works on the assembly line for Fiat. Enzo, looking for security, joins the Italian army. Its description is not very pleasant – anyway after Enzo’s UN-PROFOR mission to Kosovo and his weakness of the heart caused by nuclear contaminated US-weapons he goes back to his family and his former girlfriend.

The extraordinary quality of this movie is a result of Marra’s way to tell a story with fewer words than I am forced to do. Vento di terra recalls to Visconti’s Rocco i suoi fratelli (Rocco and his Brothers), but without climbing the level of this masterpiece neither in directing nor in the quality of the actors, especially the girlfriend remains pale. But, I guess, it’s moving and enough refined to be drawn into consideration of the comparison itself. The authenticity of the people in Naples is that strongly outspoken that Marra subtitled the dialect in Italian (as Visconti did in La terra trema). Besides there are strong loveable actors. (Vento di terra received the FIPRESCI Prize for parallel sections, a Special Mention of the Venezia Orizzonti Jury and the Premio Francesco Pasinetti for best innovative film.)

To complete this trio of films based on the Italian film tradition, one should pay attention also to the Iranian feature film Stray Dogs about children in Afghanistan by Marziyeh Meshkini, a Makhmalbaf production (competition, Premio Open 2004).