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The Auteurs Daily: Venice 09. Index and Wrap

The Auteurs Daily

La grande guerra

With the Lions awarded and the last of the reviews trickling in, the time has finally come to wrap the 66th Venice Film Festival with an index of entries on individual films and notes on several more.

A couple of weeks ago now, Roderick Conway Morris argued in the New York Times that the opening film, Baarìa, was "upstaged by a film that had won a Golden Lion half a century ago. Mario Monicelli's 1959 masterpiece, La grande guerra (The Great War), was given public and press screenings on the day before the festival officially opened.... It can only be hoped that this restored version of La grande guerra will gain the wider international distribution it merits through DVD, although ideally it should be viewed on the wide screen."

That revival opened These Phantoms 2, a retrospective of rediscovered Italian cinema that Marie-Pierre Duhamel covered for us here extensively, following a first entry with others on three documentaries from the 1950s and three more films made a few years later.

She's also shared these terrific clips, the first from Vittorio Cottafavi's Fiamma che non si spegne (1949):

And this remarkable sequence from Cottafavi's Traviata '53 (1953), which wasn't actually part of the series, but still:

More overviews of the festival: David Jenkins (Time Out London), Geoffrey Macnab (Independent) and Jonathan Romney (Sight & Sound).



Around a Small Mountain


Bad Lieutenant: Port of New Orleans

Capitalism: A Love Story


Life During Wartime


My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done


Prince of Tears

The Road

Tetsuo the Bullet Man

White Material

Women without Men


Green Days

The Informant!

The Men Who Stare at Goats

South of the Border


I Am Love



On to notes on films whose reviews didn't quite add up an entry; these are films that aren't showing in Toronto. As for those that are, well, more on them later.


"Michele Placido's Il grande sogno, a semi-autobiographical '68 student-protest movie with Riccardo Scamarcio in the Louis Garrel role, lacks the strong stamp of either Bertolucci or Garrel pere," writes Boyd van Hoeij in Variety. "Instead, it turns the idealistic youngers' call for radical change into a safely middlebrow, intermittently involving meller that impresses most in the sections furthest from Placido's own experience." More from Lee Marshall in Screen.

Guy Lodge at In Contention on Brillante Mendoza's Lola: "An earnest, compassionate study of forgiveness and redemption tracing the aftermath of an everyday killing in a poverty-stricken Flipino community, the film rather originally frames its story through the perspectives of two elderly women implicated in the event: the grandmothers of the victim and the accused, respectively." It's "a devastating portrait of the challenges and occasional indignities of old age, beautifully played by its two leads, Anita Linda and Rustica Carpio." For Derek Elley, writing in Variety, it lacks the "off-putting violence and sexuality of Kinatay and Serbis," but still "looks set for rote fest programming but little else." Cargo notes that three prominent German critics would like to have seen this film win at least something.

"A moving story struggles to escape the made-for-TV vortex in Francesca Comencini's tale of a single woman whose life is put on hold when her baby is born three months premature," writes Lee Marshall in Screen. More on The White Space from Jay Weissberg in Variety.


"First-timer Angela Ismailos traveled the world to interview her favorite filmmakers in the documentary Great Directors," writes Natasha Senjanovic in the Hollywood Reporter. "These independent spirits - Bernardo Bertolucci, Catherine Breillat, David Lynch, Ken Loach, Stephen Frears, Todd Haynes, John Sayles, Liliana Cavani, Agnès Varda and Richard Linklater - speak eloquently and thoughtfully on their work, politics, inspirations and artistic suffering." More from Guy Lodge at In Contention.

"An ambitious animated feature from Swedish filmmaker Tarik Saleh, Metropia is always visually fascinating and full of inventiveness but never takes off dramatically, presenting a grim vision of society in 2024 which feels overly familiar," writes Mike Goodridge in Screen. More from Camillo de Marco (Cineuropa), Leslie Felperin (Variety) and Natasha Senjanovic (Hollywood Reporter).

"Like maverick filmmaker Abel Ferrara's previous work, Chelsea on the Rocks, Napoli Napoli Napoli reps a messy, tawdry blend of documaking and fiction, this time all set in and around thecity of Naples," writes Leslie Felperin in Variety.

"John Turturro heads to his ancestral land looking for the essence of the Sicilian character," writes Jay Weissberg, "but while Rehearsal for a Sicilian Tragedy touches on the island's unique qualities, the docu, and Turturro himself, are far more interested in local puppeteering traditions than in exploration or analysis. Despite the poetic-sounding title, there's no sense of a tragedy brewing, and helmer Roman Paska and his editors seem unsure where to focus their attention."

Also in Variety, Derek Elley: "The bloody carcass of a planned three-part movie set around Sichuan's provincial capital (and its earthquake traumas), Chengdu, I Love You hobbles onscreen minus one leg in unmarketable condition. Pic is of interest to Asian specialists for its OK episode helmed by Hong Kong-based Fruit Chan but is capsized by a laughably inept opening seg by mainland rock idol Cui Jian."


"The sheltered life of a traditional Tunisian mother and her two daughters, staying in the servants' quarters of an abandoned country manse, is rudely upset when a modern couple move in upstairs in Buried Secrets," writes Boyd van Hoeij in Variety, where all reviews in this section come from. "Sophomore pic of Maghrebi femme helmer Raja Amari (Red Satin) is clearly meant to be about the effects of seclusion on the development of a woman's sense of self, but plays more like a increasingly dark fairy tale that doesn't know when to stop."

"War is crazy and most of the characters are, too, in Cow, an often brilliantly imagined black comedy-cum-magical-realist yarn about a dumb Shandong peasant and his cow during WWII," writes Derek Elley. "Motored by a tour-de-force perf from bozo-faced thesp Huang Bo (Crazy Stone, Crazy Racer), this powerful allegory about the stubborn resourcefulness of the Chinese common man amid mass inhumanity boldly announces writer-director Guan Hu, largely unknown outside his home turf."

Jay Weissberg: "Beautifully structured and ultimately transcendent, I Travel Because I Have to, I Come Back Because I Love You is a road movie in its purest form, offering an affecting record of processing loss and coming through to the other side. Co-helmers Marcelo Gomes and Karim Ainouz work seamlessly together in the bleak Brazilian Northeast, creating a fictional travelogue for a character heard but never seen thanks to a creative combination of POV lensing and snapshots."

"After the lively but blah dramedy Courthouse on the Horseback, mainland Chinese helmer Liu Jie goes seriously arty with the often frustratingly slow Judge, centered on the various legal and personal machinations behind a case as it proceeds through the justice system," writes Derek Elley.

"A wannabe docu on China's shift away from Maoist communism, [Once Upon a Time Proletarian: 12 Tales of a Country] could just as well carry the handle '12 Depressing Tales of a Country,'" writes, again, Derek Elley. "Focusing almost entirely on the negative and recycling every cliche beloved of the Western media, China-born, UK-based writer-filmmaker Xiaolu Guo (She, a Chinese) serves up warmed-over leftovers posing as a fresh meal."

"Few ensemble films are as well conceived and executed as Kamla Abou Zekry's One-Zero," argues Jay Weissberg. "Set in Cairo on the eve of an important soccer match, Mariam Naoum's nuanced script exposes the compromises and hypocrisies necessary to negotiate the class, religion and gender mine fields of contempo Egyptian life."

"Anyone wondering what an overdose of quirk and colors might look like without having to resort to drugs would do well to check out Pepperminta," suggests Boyd van Hoeij. "The helming debut of Swiss video-art wunderkind Pipilotti Rist rolls some of her favorite themes - female sexuality, childlike curiosity and happiness, and abundant use of vivid hues - into one bombastic, heavily chroma-keyed package."

"After being disinherited, a spoiled heiress goes into the repossession biz and stumbles onto anti-golf vegan terrorists in helmer Alex Cox's goofy comedy Repo Chick," writes Leslie Felperin. "Although moderately enjoyable if not taken too seriously, the pic will prove a sadly all-too-expected disappointment for those anticipating a sequel to match Cox's much-loved 1984 cult hit, Repo Man."


Writing in the Hollywood Reporter, Gautaman Bhaskaran finds Anurag Kashyap's Dev.D, another adapation of the early 20th-century classic Bengali novel Devdas, "unnecessarily dark." As for Kashyap's Gulaal, it "presents a giant of a canvas, and like an exuberant painter wanting to fill every corner of it with every conceivable color, the director touches upon a mind-boggling variety of issues. The film is unlikely to travel much beyond the Indian diaspora."

More on those two in Variety from, respectively, Derek Elley and Jay Weissberg.


"A staunch Italo communist, at age 15, dreams of space and a hot fellow comrade in Cosmonaut, a crowdpleasing coming-of-ager set in the early 60s that is enjoyable even if it only intermittently soars," writes Boyd van Hoeij. "Tyro scribe-helmer Susanna Nicchiarelli doesn't quite have the chops of screenwriting tandem Petraglia-Rulli (My Brother Is an Only Child, The Best of Youth) when it comes to contrasting historical events and personal growth, but the film nevertheless tugs at the heartstrings and should win over local auds."


"Desert Flower tackles an important and difficult subject - female circumcision - through adapting the memoirs of Somalian model Waris Dirie, a nomad-turned-fashion-icon who has led a truly extraordinary life." Fionnuala Halligan in Screen: "It's such a shame, given all that went into making it, that Desert Flower is so flat; it should somehow be more, but Sherry Hormann's workmanlike direction (from her own screenplay) robs the piece of much of its emotional impact until a brutal, late-in-the-day sequence which graphically depicts the genital mutilation of a five-year-old Dirie." More from Derek Elley (Variety) and Natasha Senjanovic (Hollywood Reporter). Keily Oakes reports on the press conference for the BBC.

Jonathan Holland in Variety: "A daring, refreshingly fleshy take on society's obsession with appearances, as seen through a collection of tubbies, Gordos juggles characters, genres and ideas but suffers from wanting to have its cake and eat it. Much of the success of Daniel Sanchez Arevalo's debut, DarkBlueAlmostBlack, was due to the tight control he exercised over his distinctive, offbeat worldview; this time, the general air of excess leaves his engrossing but self-indulgent pic looking in need of a slim-down itself."

"The desperation of young Algerians risking life and limb to leave their country is the theme of vet helmer Merzak Allouache's unsatisfying Harragas," finds Jay Weissberg in Variety. "The first quarter nicely captures the hopelessness felt by large segments of the population, but a melodramatic plot turn and uninspired lensing when crossing the sea minimizes earlier effectiveness."

"In the hands of veteran French filmmaker Claude Miller and his son Nathan, a real-life incident in which an adolescent boy attempted to murder his birth mother becomes a fascinating drama of failed parenthood, whose scope goes far beyond the immediate implications of the real case," writes Dan Fainaru in Screen. "A model of clear, economical story-telling, [I'm Glad That My Mother Is Alive]'s plot meticulously provides all the relevant facts but never indulges in any psychoanalysis or speculation, inviting the viewers to make their own decisions." More from Derek Elley in Variety.

Jay Weissberg, also in Variety: "A number of factors have contributed to the decline of Italian cinema since the late 1970s, but Valerio Jalongo's What Do You Know About Me? is so overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information that the helmer loses the thrust of his arguments. His docu, comprising dozens of interviews and innumerable clips, touches on everything from financing to multiplex construction to US market control, making many valid points without distilling them into a well-organized critique."


"A gay teenager watches his beloved aunt hit rock bottom with alcohol in Domaine, a tender, tragic love story of sorts from first-time helmer Patric Chiha," writes Leslie Felperin in Variety.

"Award-winning shorts director Claudio Noce uses too many stylistic tricks to create mood in Good Morning Aman, a film in which the camera moves far more than the story," writes Natasha Senjanovic in the Hollywood Reporter. "Which is a shame, because in his debut feature Noce shows an assured hand, technically and with his actors." More from Boyd van Hoeij in Variety.

"The seamier side of Tehran is the setting for Tehroun, Nader Takmil Homayoun's feature debut using the popular local pronunciation of the city for its title," writes Jay Weissberg in Variety. "An uneven, noirish tale involving baby smuggling and prostitution against a backdrop of hypocrisy, the pic can't decide whether its protag is a hero or antihero, and occasionally murky digital lensing obscures a major plot twist. Surprisingly, Tehroun picked up the audience prize in Venice's Critics' Week, signaling a probable flurry of playdates at smaller fests."

Image: Mario Monicelli on the set of La grande guerra.

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