Above: Brigade members Olaf Möller and Christoph Huber. Photo copyright Gerwin Tamsma.
While the Ferroni Brigade is a merry bunch indeed, its members only rarely look that happy; or put another way: If we smile like that: easy and relaxed, it simply has to be Venice.
As we’re in uniform, the picture is easy to date: It must have been made on September 7th… Okay, this probably needs some explanation. It’s like this: Each festival, the Ferronians chose an especially promising, i.e. potentially supremely festive day, to collectively show their colours. For Venice 2010, that was September 7th—Mario Martone’s Noi credevamo screened then, a work of most Ferronian length (over 200 minutes) and subject matter (the Risorgimento) whose title could well be considered a Ferronian creed (well, we still believe, despite...); sad to say it turned out to be one of the festival’s rare disappointments—strong, important work, sure, but aesthetically deeply flawed; nevertheless, whenever we passed the poster we continued to salute its cheering Garibaldi’ans—for we do understand that glimmer in their eyes. Now, while the day did start less gloriously than expected, the rest turned out to be one Concrete Ferronian feast, a true orgy of happiness, because: We saw the winners of the Golden and of the Silver Donkey! And we forgot about it! Meaning: When the time came to assign the prizes we were oblivious to the fact that we saw both on the same day—colour day at that.
Turns out it was also the day of Athina Rachel Tsangari’s masterpiece Attenberg—a film we loved so much we started doing little impromptu choreographies in the style of Marina & Bella, les prototype factory town demoiselles…But that, again, is another story.
Let’s stay with the picture for another moment as it was made at a place that’s very, very special to the Ferroni Brigade: right in front of the Sala Volpi, i.e. the Ferroni Brigade’s founding place—could well be that at this very same spot one of us mumbled for the first time a bliss-thick “This is so Ferronian!”. Which also means that the Centurio was somewhere in the back further to the left—no wonder we smile so brightly! Unfortunately, we didn’t see too much of him this year as the retrospective was so…uninviting—and we—who even have a Minister of Humour—don’t say that lightly about a program devoted to Italian comedies...
Statement time: We declare that Venice in this the enlightened era of Marco Müller is the masterpiece-densest of all major festivals—skip "major": we can’t think of any other festival where we get to see such an astonishing amount of strong works (okay, there’s Bologna, Il cinema ritrovato, but that’s strictly historical, i.e. a slightly different kind of glory). Problem is: that the main as well as the "other" awards each and every time but hint at all that happiness around—actually, it was last Venice, still under shock from seeing abominations like Zanān bedun-e mardān [Women without Men] and Soul Kitchen win top honours, that we decided on establishing the Golden Donkey; enough was enough!
For this, we were a bit nervous this September 11th circa 18:55h: The juries didn’t look too reliable, plus…If things went like last year, we’d have to unleash a whole herd of donkeys. But, dolce miracolo: Two of the three main juries did a fine job—while the big ones invariably went to turkeys (Somewhere and Verano de Goliat [Summer of Goliath]), the rest was given to some of the most seriously deserving contenders (let’s note for clarity’s sake that we consider Mila Kunis worthy but not Black Swan). So, no donkeys for Attenberg, Balada triste de trompeta [The Last Circus], Essential Killing, The External World, The Forgotten Space, Jean Gentil, Tse [Out], Ovsyankij [Silent Souls] and Road to Nowhere; special mention must be made of Jiābiān’gōu / Le Fossé/ The Ditch: while every major jury ignored this masterpiece, it still got an award from some jury molto collaterale—therefore: no donkey; let’s also note that for once the FIPRESCI’ans did well, so no donkey either for El sicario - Room 164. Two films that might have gone donkey but couldn’t as only one Ferronian got to see them are Noir Océan and Norway no mori. Still, we found ourselves handing out more donkeys then ever…
Enough idle talk!
And the Golden Donkey goes to: Oča [Daddy] by Vlado Škafar.
Let’s be clear about one thing first: Škafar was robbed—Oča and only Oča (or Jiābiān’gōu…) should have won the Leone dell’ Futuro for Best Debut. Which instead went to jury president Fatih Akin’s former assistant director—everybody and Sandro Bondi blablabla’ed about Quentin the T.’s ex etc., but few mentioned this…And remember, the Leone dell’ Futuro is about more than a statue: winner takes a cool 100.000 EUR, a sum that makes all the difference for as tiny a production as Škafar’s.
A Sunday afternoon between father and son, the first one in a while, separations do that. The two cautiously reconnect in the woods and meadows of Prekmurkje, a region on the down-slope—a factory is on strike, fathers don’t know how to provide for their children’s future anymore. There’s a brutal break in the film after roughly an hour (of only 71’): a title card suddenly talks about the social realities in which the film was made, workers then about their plight en face into the camera; in a last movement, the father is shown sitting among the real workers, discussing the hardship ahead for all of them.
After the screening, TO1..., comrade Möller, simply hugged Škafar hard while TO1…, comrade Huber, stood there fighting quietly with his tears.
The Golden Donkey Foal goes to: Brilianty [Diamonds] by Rustam Chamdamov.
Back at the Locarno Golden Donkeys we hinted in passing at our fascination with funny hats. Briliantij, now, is a towering achievement of funny hat-filmmaking as it features la Litvinova wearing a funny hat that can also be and, by Giorgio!, indeed is used as a funny nose! Yes, Renata Litvinova wears a funny hat that she then turns into a funny nose—or was it a funny nose which she turns into a funny hat? Whichever way it is: We were ecstatic! (While we’re at it: We certainly liked Miike Takashi’s Zebraman-masked entrée at the late-night screening of Zebraman: Zebra City no gyakushu—but the casually Zebraman-masked Müller at the end of that blessed event we appreciated even more. Just imagine the brute from Cannes or the unspeakable from Berlin trying to pull one like that…)
But a funny hat alone doesn’t get you a Golden Donkey Foal. No, it’s the all-around brilliance of Briliantij—all the genius of Rustam Hamdamov in 26 max-dense minutes: Shot in the most striking black and white, the film is a startling homage to the combined glories of Mežrabpom at its high NEPest, post-Thaw 60s cinema at its most pointedly Lamorisse'ian, and Lenfilm’ at its krut'st NekroRealist (the latter tres crypto as befits an officially backed underground movement). The three greatest era-long moments of Soviet history all rolled into one—a serenely sardonic folly.
The Golden Donkey Team goes to: Painéis de São Vicente de Fora, Visão Poética (Manoel de Oliveira) & Nainsukh (Amit Dutta)
In Painéis de São Vicente de Fora, Visão Poética, Portugal’s axiom of modernist cinema makes a multi-panelled painting’s protagonists come to life and re-interpret "their" times for the globalised here and now; a bemusedly ironic cum earnestly catholic prayer for peace—that’s something we certainly approve of (even if TO1…, comrade Huber, is a staunch atheist). Besides that, there’s again a funny hat to fête: the narrator sports something curiously cony. Nothing like that in the latest of contemporary film’s finest young prayōgavādi. Nainsukh contemplates the paradoxical nature of realism by re-envisioning scenes from the life of famed 18th century miniaturist Nainsukh based on some of his works; yes, images created in a style devoid of everything that characterises Western painting since the Renaissance, i.e. a realistic depicition of the world (depth, light and shadow; the ideal of a seemingly seamless continuity in serieses) get re-staged in a purely cinematographic manner (think Bresson, of course in the reinterpretations of Kaul and Shahani), if only to show that you can't re-stage them—but!, you can find inspirations in them to re-define, even invent anew your own art. The two films couldn't possibly be more different: de Oliveira's is all minimalism and simplicity, Dutta's complex fragmentation and moral ambiguities; de Oliveira's is all about continuity, Dutta's about ruptures. Neverthless!, while watching them together one senses that both might very well feel lost without the respective other.
(And while we're talking Teams: it would be nice if someone showed a miniature painting double feature consisting of Derviş Zaim's Cenneti Beklerken  and Nainsukh: Two films struggling with more or less the same ideas, one in a popular and one in an avant-garde idiom...)
A Silver Donkey goes to: Tsumetai nettaigyo [Cold Fish] (Shion Sono)
Grand gestures, narrative hyperboles, positively vulgar symbolism—apocalypse 24/7. Tsumetai nettaigyo is some 2 ½h of full-throttle hysteria splashed with choice colours in eye-poppingly garish hues. Below the blood, the bones, the innards, the muscles and sinews lies a parable about the ordinary fascism of Japan’s middle-class now—it’s post-Bubble ero-gro-nonsense. Easily applicable to every industrial nation these days.
And the Grey Donkey goes to: Lo scatenato (1967; Franco Indovina)
Once again, Marco Giusti was responsible for the retrospective and once again, the Ferroni Brigade found his selection sorely lacking. Let’s say that: sometimes there is a reason for a film not getting screened that often…Most of the stuff unknown to us proved watchable if little more than that; TO1…, comrade Möller, had a thing for Carlo Ludovico Bragaglia’sNon ti pago! (1942), TO1…, comrade Huber, for Luciano Salce’s Le pillole di Ercole (1962). What the Italians find in the works of Mario Mattoli, we’ll probably never understand.
But: There was Lo scatenato, the commedia-pendant to Giulio Questi’s '68 gialloLa morte ha fatto l’uovo—exercises both in Pop Art all’Italiana at its maddest. Lo scatenato is as Concrete Ferronian as can be: Santo Vittorio Gassmann believes that all fauna conspires against him—and it does! Bulls go berserk, ants call him an idiot through a mass gymnastics choreography worth the approval of no lesser an expert than Kim Il-sung, and a parrot…The parrot! THE PARROT!!!!! For this scene alone Lo scatenato shall be canonical. Corrrrnuttto! CorrrrrrrrrrNUttto!!!!!