The Present In The Past

in 66th Venice International Film Festival

by Andrei Plakhov

After the internationally acclaimed Waltz with Bashir, Lebanon (Golden Lion), again takes the Israel-Lebanon war in 1982 as a model. Everybody understands: this is not just a period movie, but a mirror which reflects the horrible and hopeless situation in the Middle East today. These kinds of historical mirrors reflecting the present in the past was a typical structure for the most important and significant films of this year’s Venice competition. An even more striking example was Women Without Men by Shirin Neshad (Silver Lion for best director) – an adaptation of the famous novel by Shahrnush Parsipur, still forbidden in Iran. This sharp feministic drama takes place against the background of the CIA-backed military coup in 1953. In a way this is a bitter reflection of the pivotal moment in the national history that slowly but surely led to the Islamic revolution, the radicalization of Iran and the never-ending anger against the United States.

Two among four Italian competition films concentrated on the climatic points of the left movement. Giuseppe Tornatore’s Baaria is a melancholic story of Utopia and its believers from the 1930s to the 1980s in Baaria, a proletarian Sicilian village near Palermo. We follow the destinies of three generations of the peasant family and see how Peppino discovers a passion for politics and becomes a devoted Communist — until his fatal visit to the Soviet Union. (This moment in the film got the special recognition of Silvio Berlusconi who advised each Italian to watch the movie.) Nevertheless Peppino stays with his ideas — even if he can see the impossibility of fully realizing them.

Il grande sogno by Michele Placido is another mirror of an uncertain contemporary political situation in the past, but much more ideological and radical. In 1968, the young people of Italy were dreaming they could change the world. And they tried to do it! Nicola (pseudonym of Michele Placido himself), a young policeman from Puglia, is eager to become an actor and gets involved in the events of the student revolution in Rome. He falls in love and betrays his girlfriend. Unlike The Dreamers by Bernardo Bertolucci Il grande sogno does not pretend to be a great movie but simply a mirror of the disappointment that we feel today in our comfortable but fragile and empty lives.

The strangest case in Venice was for me Lei wangzi  by the Taiwanese Yonfan. It happened in the 1950s in the times known as the anti-communist White Terror, and it was a reflection of the same degree of violence and intolerance that Red China demonstrated in the same period. Another conception of the past that reflects disillusion of our time because plus and minus together equals zero.

Edited by Steven Yates