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Venice 2011. Italian Voyages

Travel hijinks imperceptibly segue into Italian experimental film in our first report from the Venice International Film Festival.

Above: Carmelo Bene in the director's own Hermitage

Lost luggage—it should be a title card from a silent comedy, perhaps Chaplin’s The Immigrant; no such luck—post-hurricane-cum-tropical-storm Irene didn’t quite wreck New York but it wrecked its flights.  So: I’m in Venice, but a day late and wearing questionably used clothing.  More importantly, I missed Crazy Horse, the new Frederick Wiseman film.  Boo.  (I hear good things, among which is that it features “a sea of asses.”  Hopefully I’ll report on it from New York’s film festival.)  The travel hiccups send a brief ripple through my tentative festival schedule, and bumping out the Wiseman provided for a grateful tour ‘round the Lido—the festival is not in Venice “proper” but rather another, quieter island—by the gracious Ferronis, a quick scan of a remarkably condensed, walkable and easy to navigate series of theaters and buildings, all seemingly glad in white marble circa-fascism but temporarily retrofitted and indeed visually augmented with angular red banners, coverings, flags and the like from the festival, and various miscellaneous hardwood and industrial parentheticals from some kind of contemporaneous renovation.  The result is surprisingly cosy and a bit ramshackle—festival activity navigating around unperturbed signs of construction for a can do kind of cinema-going.

So what better place to start (better than Wiseman doing burlesque?, a skeptic might skewer) than not the main or current cinema but rather the much anticipated Orrizonti retrospective, of which Marie-Pierre and programmer Enrico Magrelli briefed us?  Indeed, it was a new kind of experience, even while jetlagged and a bit unkempt, to begin a festival not just in the retrospective sidebar (if anyone knows me, they know if such sidebars exist, that’s where I’d want to be) but at one on Italian experimental cinema—of which, I must be honest, I have zero passing familiarity, barring seeing on Carmelo Bene film in New York that produced a state so close to jet-lagged zonked-rapture from its alt-Technicolor heights of decadent weirdness I’m not even sure I saw the film or dreamed it from crazed stills.

Thus Venice 2011 for me begins on an alternate and decidedly unknown track, one which will run in parallel, perhaps quietly or perhaps—hopefully—in an aggressive, agitated and invasive fashion on contemporary cinema.  The first retrospective program began, in fact, with a Bene, Hermitage (1967), starring the director as a man lost within a hotel room that may or may not be his, searching shoes outside the door (to confirm identity?  to find a person?), stripping off clothing within, and all poutingly questioning himself in the mirror and 3rd-person voice-over. A shot flushing an image of Marie Falconetti down the toilet points towards Bene’s inspiration: his simpering, suffering image interpret’s Dreyer’s Joan of Arc not as interrogated by outsiders but rather by herself—all those close ups are of inner torment, not exterior torture.

Il canto d’amore di Alfred Prufrock (Nico D’Alessandria, 1967) and Bis (Paolo Brunatto, 1966) also both question the living of a man—the former film dedicated to a cinematic reading of T.S. Eliot’s poem, the latter as a tight-fisted documentary on Carmelo Bene (again!) staging a theatrical rendition of Matthew Lewis’ insanely lurid novel late 18th century novel, The Monk.  D’Alessandria fragments his reading across several planes—the male voice-over reading Eliot’s poem, wailing, violent female voices in the background providing their own gendered interpretation of Eliot’s male-narrated epic (or perhaps combating the man's words!), and a dramatization of the man’s point of view, with an actor variously entering into the theater (feeling up a girl) and, in a way, staging theater (playing with male/female clay figures), collaging the cinematic reading across planes specific, general, abstract and representational—the whole kit..

Brunatto, meanwhile, works on only one existence, bare and de-contexualized sketches of rehearsals, snippets of collaborator commentary, and mostly images from the same angle of a thin room where Bene rehearses himself and his actors—all revealing almost nothing of the process, the production or The Monk, and instead forming a cryptic and mysterious anecdote, as if we’re granted private and unconditioned, if fragmentary and elusive, access to something wondrous and weird, except the secrets revealed are for those other than us, for those who know what wonder they seek.

The program concluded with most intriguing entry and disappointing screening.  Vieni dolce morte (dell’ego) (Brunatto, 1969) was both the perfect and least ideal finale on a 36-hour day of travel and no sleep.  It was a film which reminds me of what I’ve heard of Jonas Mekas’ diary films—none of which I’ve actually seen.  It was a fluid and warm quasi-travelogue of friends and passers-by glanced in jittery, energetic frames across lands (sometimes-identifiable) snatched in skittish speed.  Yet the film has a feel for light and rhythm which lent its tone a laid-back quality despite its constant tremors.

Shot on what looks like 8mm but projected digitally, the screening was also marred by an accompaniment of what must have been a recent, multi-track (rather than whole and cohesive) commissioned score that sounds like it’s from the El Michaels Affair covers of Wu-Tang—fine music to be sure, dare I say groovy, but with this film both out of place, out of time, and working on its own rhythm not particularly related to the film at hand.  So, indeed, the film to most sink into after a long trip—with its micro-details fixed in shots that close in with a handheld, fake curiosity that is rendered real by the playful, jumping edits, exoticism of one shot followed by fantastic documentary reveals in another, friends scattered about the spaces and yet at each juncture strangers and strange glances—is a film whose projection I am thankful for but pained by.  At any rate—Is a travelogue the best place to begin a trip, rather than act as a conclusion, a summation?   Brunatto’s film, a glowing found-spirit, does not narrate a begun-and-ended narrative, but rather starts and remains open and welcoming.  A good embarkation.

Sorry to hear about the bumped flight and lost luggage and missed Wiseman (especially that) but still jealous as hell! Just don’t chase any red raincoated dwarfs down dark alleys.
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Nice! Thanks a lot for writing about this unknown track, and for helping to make it known to your faithful readers. Ask from MUBI and you shall receive. Yet another reason this is the greatest website ever invented!

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