The 62nd Edition: Well Worth Attending By Derek Malcolm

in 62th Venice International Film Festival

by Derek Malcolm

After the disastrous chaos of last year, it was difficult to credit the smoothness of this year’s Venice operation. The screenings were on time, at least as far as the press were concerned. And that was despite the strict security operation that had to be performed after threats to the Festival had been received. Lessons had clearly been learnt.

Of course, there were one or two glitches. The FIPRESCI Jury, for instance, were given no casiers for publicity and synopses until a protest had been made. It was apparently thought that juries, even of critics, didn’t need them. And none of the hotel computers could be used without running to the local police and getting a clearance. Laptops, however, could be used in rooms. Then there was the difficulty of getting accredited, since without a badge no one could enter the Casino. Journalists had to get a special form proving who they were and why they were there.

One way or another, however, the 62nd edition of the Festival was something akin to a triumph considering the bad publicity it received in 2004. The films were by no means poor either. Marco Müller, having selected a good number of Asian films, grouped the many English-speaking offerings over the first few days which allowed the myriad of show business correspondents to interview the directors and stars over the first weekend, and then either decamp home or to Toronto, leaving critics to mull over the last few days of the programme in relative peace.

On this matter, the usual complaints that are heard at all major festivals were again evident. Journalists were given 20 minutes with eight or nine others to talk to those they wished to interview, and even the publicists complained that they had little power either to extend such short interviews, or to select who should take part in them. That, several of them told me, had already been decided by the companies beforehand. “We are now just secretaries, organising the group interviews. There is little chance of deciding, on the strength of a particular film, who among the journalists would be best suitable for it”, one of them said to me.

Once again, one pitied the critics forced by their editors to interview the star of a film they didn’t like while still trying to get round the programme properly. One experienced critic told me that his editor had said to him that the paper wanted some interviews, but not with directors, just stars – and younger ones at that. If we complain about the way festivals operate nowadays, we must also look askance at the way newspapers deal with them, and with their critics.

There is little FIPRESCI can do about this dumbing down of cinema, but perhaps we should try a bit harder to show our disapproval. You cannot make a discovery at a festival if all your paper or magazine wants is an interview with a star or a review of a Hollywood, or at least an American, movie.

At this point in time, hardly a golden era, if you can leave a festival claiming to have seen half a dozen good films, you are entitled to be satisfied with the programme offered. This could be done at Venice this year, which presented mercifully fewer films, no masterpieces but at least six excellent prospects.

One of those, in my opinion, was not Abel Ferrara’s confused and confusing Mary, the story of a film-maker attempting a life of Jesus and of the actress (Binoche) who plays Mary and then goes to Jerusalem to attempt to discover the true story of Christ. Ferrara, whose film seemed to suggest that priests and the priesthood were very little to do with the love of God and that the gospels according to Mary and Thomas had been deliberately destroyed by the Church, at least seemed to satisfy the Vatican haters among the Italian critics, of whom there are a good many. But the film is such a mess that it was difficult to decide what he wanted to say. He won the Special Jury Prize nevertheless, and will thus achieve considerable foreign sales for the film.

If this was the least applauded of the competition films at its press show, George Clooney’s surprisingly proficient Good Night, and Good Luck had as much applause as any. Based on the life of American commentator Ed Murrow, who fought a brave fight on television against Senator Joe McCarthy’s Communist witch-hunting, it certainly deserved its two prizes – for David Strathairn’s performance as Murrow and for best screenplay. Clooney must be the one Hollywood star, apart from Clint Eastwood, capable of making a first-class film as director.

Perhaps he should have won the Golden Lion as well as the FIPRESCI prize. But Ang Lee’s victory with Brokeback Mountain at least showed that he had got over his passion for attempting to make commercial films like Hulk. This was a sensitive, if overlong, adaptation of a well-known New Yorker story about two Wyoming cowhands in the early sixties who love each other without knowing anything about the gay world of Los Angeles and San Francisco.

In all, Venice’s Festival this year proved beyond doubt that it is still one of the world’s best, and despite the inordinate cost of going there, well worth attending for reasons other than its location. If the projected Rome Festival gets under way, there will be formidable competition. But it might still survive as the third and final major European festival of the year.