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"Antonioni Project," Figgis @ ENO, DVDs and More

"Ivo van Hove's Roman Tragedies was one of the theatrical highlights of 2009," writes Maxie Szalwinska for the Guardian. "A six-hour mash-up of Coriolanus, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra, the Belgian director's inspired show used sharp-suited actors and live video to create something akin to Shakespeare crossed with 24-hour rolling news… Now Van Hove is back – with Antonioni Project, a work that does a similar trick with three 1960s films by the legendary Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni: L'Avventura, La Notte and L'Eclisse. 'Antonioni Project is not an adaptation of the movies,' says Van Hove, sitting on an orange plastic chair in a bar in Antwerp. 'That wouldn't make sense. It's an adaptation of the scripts. You don't make an adaptation of the Hamlet you saw – you make an adaptation of the script.'"

For the Independent, Michael Coveney "hopped across to Antwerp to catch the last performance before a special revival for the London date — part of an exciting new Barbican Bite international season, which also includes Peter Brook's The Magic Flute and Robert Lepage's Dragons' Trilogy coda. In an age when the European cinema is increasingly raided for the Broadway musical — the trend started with A Little Night Music (derived from Ingmar Bergman's 1955 Smiles of a Summer Night) and continued through Nine (Fellini's plus a little bit extra) to the recent Women on a Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (based on Pedro Almodóvar's movie) on Broadway — it was high time to find out how the European theatre itself responds to this new phenomenon of celluloid theatricality. Ivo van Hove, an alert, wiry and fast-talking Flemish maestro who, over the past 10 years, has moulded Toneelgroep into one of the top European theatre companies… But no one has dared to touch Antonioni before. He applied for the rights before the filmmaker died in 2007, and Van Hove thinks that his wife agreed to the project because of these other film-into-stage productions. 'Also, I am 52,' says the hawk-like Van Hove, 'and I always say I exorcise my own mid-life crisis, I hope, by making this production. The whole thing feels to me, actually, like the staging of a midlife crisis, even with the young people in the play.'"

Antonioni Project is on at the Barbican Theatre in London from tonight through Saturday.

Update, 2/2: "No extended long shots here," writes Carole Woddis at the Arts Desk. "Van Hove's version is far too busy and passionate for that. No, this is a 21st century, Dutch take on our own inchoate, obsessively sexual times in which sex is a commodity as easily acquired as forsaken, where the word 'love' has been devalued and marriage has become a dessicated habit. Emotions are sprayed like scatter guns, neither reasonable nor consistent. Love-making proves nothing. And the world is a shockingly profligate, greedy mess as Van Hove's horrific montage of contemporary disasters — floods, oil spillages, crashing towers — rams home.

Update, 2/5: "This is cinema as live magic show, filmed by cameramen as we watch, using a mixture of handheld cameras, dollies and shoulder-mounted rigs, and projected on a Cinemascope-sized screen above them, with the blue backdrop replaced by American cityscapes, as on screen we now see the characters interact in a glass corridor above a busy road." Alex Fitch for Electric Sheep: "The director says he doesn't want the technology or visuals to detract from the drama and emotions, but in this respect, at least for this member of the audience, he failed: the effect is so startling that I found myself missing some of the dialogue as I was mesmerized by this astonishing technical feat, which is facilitated by a bank of computers and technicians mixing the signal and subtitling the image in the orchestra pit as the actors perform on stage. If van Hove had just remade Antonioni's films as another film, then we might call him misguided as there's no point in remaking a film that can't be improved on, but by deconstructing the filmmaking process — showing CGI superimposition and cinematic rushes live — this becomes a play that not only adapts cinema but is about cinema as well."


More Italians in London: "As part of its already controversial policy to revitalise opera by asking directors from film and theatre to stage it, English National Opera has let Mike Figgis loose on Lucrezia Borgia, Donizetti's weird little thriller first performed in 1833," writes Tim Ashley in the Guardian. "The opera itself refashions renaissance history in terms of an oedipal psychodrama with pre-Freudian intimations… Chronicler of dark and disturbing relationships in such films as Leaving Las Vegas and The Loss of Sexual Innocence, Figgis might seem the ideal person to tackle such material. But he is new to opera, and what he offers is an amalgam of theatre and cinema that proves unwieldy in the extreme."

For Igor Toronyi-Lalic, writing at the Arts Desk, the production suffers from "a failure to realize that Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia is a comedy not a tragedy." The Independent's Edward Seckerson is more impressed: "Not surprisingly, Figgis knows a thing or two about framing: the single most effective aspect of his staging is the way in which the areas outside the central points of focus invoke a feeling of impenetrable shadow." A disappointed Barry Millington, writing in the Evening Standard, notes that the production "will be transmitted on February 23 on Sky Arts 2 in HD, on Sky 3D and in selected cinemas around the UK also in 3D." There'll be eight more performances at ENO through March 3.

Viewing (4'02"). Derek Malcolm and Figgis discuss the filmmaker's approach to the opera.



Nicolas Provost, Nathaniel Dorsky and Natasha Mendonca are among the winners of awards for short film at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, running through Sunday. The festival has also added free screenings of Jafar Panahi's The White Balloon and Mohammad Rasoulof's The White Meadows in protest of the conviction and sentencing of the filmmakers by the Iranian government. Festival attendees can also register their protest by taking part in a mug shot campaign. The Berlinale (February 10 through 20) will also be screening five films by Panahi.

The Film Society at Lincoln Center has unveiled lineups for Film Comment Selects, opening on February 18 with Jia Zhangke's I Wish I Knew, running through March 3 and featuring 16 features currently without distribution in the US (Daniel Loria has the titles and write-ups at indieWIRE) and for Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, opening with François Ozon's Potiche on March 3 and running through March 13.

"A trio of underground film festivals have revealed the posters for their respective events in 2011. Each image is as different in tone and style as the actual festivals are from each other." Mike Everleth's got the posters for FLEX, the Florida Experimental Film/Video Festival (February 17 through 20), the Boston Underground Film Festival (March 24 through 31) and the Chicago Underground Film Festival (June 2 through 9).



"Krzysztof Kieslowski was concerned his films would be unknown outside Poland all his life," writes Darrell Hartman for Interview. "The Double Life of Véronique (1991) put an end to those worries. Rapturously received at the time, it paved the way for his films Red, White, and Blue, and stirred many a cinephile to go watch The Decalogue, the remarkable 10-part series inspired by the Ten Commandments that he'd previously made for Polish TV." Out today from Criterion.

For Sean Axmaker, writing for MSN Movies, Matt Reeves's Let Me In, "a remake of the Swedish coming-of-age horror movie come adolescent survival drama set in the wilds of suburban civilization, is as unexpected as can be: an American revision of a celebrated European film that manages to honor the original while translating its anxiety and unease to a distinctly American setting and, if anything, deepening the emotional power of the original." Out from Anchor Bay.

DVD roundups. Gary Dretzka (Movie City News), Ed Gonzalez (House Next Door), Mark Kermode (Observer, where Philip French sings the praises of the BFI's box set, Chaplin at Keystone), Harley W Lond and Peter Martin (Cinematical), Paul Matwychuk and Heather Noel, Noel Murray (Los Angeles Times), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Slant, Nigel M Smith (indieWIRE) and Stephen Saito (IFC).



Over the weekend, The King's Speech surged past critical favorite The Social Network in this year's Oscar race, scoring a Directors Guild Award for Tom Hooper (the New Yorker's Richard Brody comments) and cleaning up at the Screen Actors Guild Awards (In Contention's Guy Lodge offers his take). Harvey Weinstein, "who is always saying he's back, may actually be back," suggests David Carr in the New York Times. "If The King's Speech wins big at the Oscars and at the box office, it will provide some much needed revenue, and the bragging rights that are almost as valuable in the world Mr Weinstein inhabits."

Also in the NYT, Michael Cieply notes that "an army of competing Oscar strategists will be probing for any sign that The King's Speech can be beaten. In the last week or two a flurry of news reports and Internet banter have chewed over questions about the real King George, particularly whether he was actually less than stalwart in his opposition to the Third Reich. On Jan 24, for instance, Christopher Hitchens wrote on that the king was devoted to Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement, and 'even after the Nazi armies had struck deep north into Scandinavia and clear across the low countries to France, did not wish to accept Chamberlain's resignation.' So far, there has been no sign that any stain on the real George has tainted the more heroic portrayal by [Colin] Firth, who on Sunday night was received royally [by the SAG]."

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