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VENICE FILM FESTIVAL - 2002

THE VENICE MIX
Quality films are the stuff of this year’s Venice film festival (Aug 29 – Sept 8), writes Helen Barlow, with an edgy Australian presence, an ultra low budget Steven Soderbergh/Julia Roberts collaboration and the return of Sophia Loren after 20 years – in her son’s film.


The Australian presence at the 59th Venice Festival is not large this year, though The Tracker is bound to move audiences on its international premiere. The film, directed by Venice vet Rolf De Heer, stars David Gulpilil as The Tracker of the title, and given the actor's highly regarded performance in Rabbit-Proof Fence, this film should continue to raise his international profile, and assert his presence as screen ambassador for the aboriginal people. Hopefully he'll venture to the Festival, as Evelyn Sampi did in Edinburgh, where she generated huge media coverage for Rabbit-Proof Fence. 

"The other Australian Venice contribution comes with our acting talent"

The other Australian Venice contribution comes with our acting talent - even if Nicole Kidman will not be there with Stephen Daldry's follow-up to Billy Elliot, The Hours, which was withdrawn from the program. (Miramax Films said The Hours is "not yet ready".) But Geoffrey Rush will be seen in the Festival opener, Frida (though he will not personally attend) while Miranda Otto will indeed be there to talk up her leading role in Agnieszka Holland's Julie Walking Home. A Germany-Canada-Poland co-production, Just Walking Home tells of a mother's selfless love for her child as she eschews her father's Catholicism and her husband's (William Fichtner) reverence for science. She travels the globe and finds Lothaire Bluteau, a man like no other - he was Jesus of Montreal, after all.

Frida, directed by Julie Taymor (Titus), which chronicles Frida Kahlo's tempestuous relationship with her husband Diego Rivera, has been the passion of Salma Hayek for some time. She takes the title role of the Mexican painter and 20th century icon, while Rivera is portrayed by Alfred Molina. Antonio Banderas has a minor role as David Siqueiros, and Rush plays Leon Trotsky. Hayek will only be at the Festival a short while - the film is also screening in the Toronto Festival, and she will be without her beau Edward Norton, who has a small role in the film. He's in rehearsal for the Broadway production of Burn This, playing the role once taken by John Malkovich-and Malkovich just happens to be in Venice, with two films. He presents his directorial debut, The Dancer Upstairs, starring Spanish heartthrob Javier Bardem, and while Malkovich does not appear in that film, he will be on screen in Ripley's Game, co-starring Dougray Scott. Shot on location in Venice, Ripley's Game follows Tom Ripley 20 years after the events portrayed in The Talented Mr Ripley.

If any trend is to be discerned in this year's Venice line-up, it is a preference for quality, arty movies over easily consumable Hollywood fare. And even if the two major studio films, Road To Perdition and K-19 The Widowmaker, feature usual Hollywood heroes, Tom Hanks and Harrison Ford, both playing meanies, their characters manage to achieve redemption in the end. Both films have been hard sells to US audiences, and while the star power of Tom Hanks and American Beauty director, Sam Mendes, managed to bring home the bacon in the latter dark and moody period drama (Paul Newman's presence as the mafiosi-style leader helped) a stern, haggard-looking Harrison Ford was not the Indiana-Jones-style character audiences wanted in K-19, Ford's least successful film in the US since Sabrina. Still, Europeans are bound to go for this submarine thriller, the best since Wolfgang Peterson's German movie, Das Boot. Also on the mainstream American front, Clint Eastwood will be a no-show for his latest directorial effort, Bloodwork, even if the movie could prove a treat. 

Bound to be artier and edgier is Far From Heaven, Todd Haynes’ second collaboration with Julianne Moore, after her 1995 breakthrough movie, Safe. Set in a suburban American community in the 1950s, Far From Heaven revolves around a privileged family that is turned upside down when Moore finds hubbie (Dennis Quaid) in bed with a man, and then she develops a friendship with her African-American gardener (Dennis Haysbert). Artiest of all, though, is Steven Soderbergh's Full Frontal - and don't be deceived by the presence of Julia Roberts, who makes her third film with the director after Erin Brockovich and Ocean's Eleven. This is a minimalist, Dogma-esque movie, shot on a cheap digital camera, using real lighting, existing locations, and where Roberts and her co-stars (including David Duchovny) worked for the lowest union wages.

"Sophia Loren will be returning to the Lido"

Probably the biggest news on the European front is that Sophia Loren will be returning to the Lido after a 20-year absence to support her son, Edoardo Ponti's debut, Between Strangers. The film also stars Mira Sorvino and Gerard Depardieu. Amelie star Audrey Tatou will make her English-language debut in Dirty Pretty Things, a UK production for Stephen Frears, who notably gave Penelope Cruz her English-language break in The Hi-Lo Country. The ever-timid Tatou, however, will not attend the Festival, even if two more adventurous French types will hopefully make waves. Aging rocker icon Johnny Hallyday and the ever-lovable acting veteran, Jean Rochefort, will present L'homme Du Train, along with their director, Patrice Leconte.

Highly anticipated from Asia is Takeshi Kitano's new directorial effort, Dolls, as well as Missing Gun, one of three films in Columbia's upcoming Silk Screen series in Australia. Swedish cinema could also prove a revelation in Venice, hosting two films in the less conventional upstream section. Together director Lukas Moodyson's third film, Lilja 4-Ever, returns to the teen theme of his breakthrough movie, Show Me Love, to tell the story of 16 year old Lilja, who lives in a dreary suburb somewhere in the former Soviet Union, until she falls in love with Andrei who asks her to follow him to Sweden. The second Swedish movie, Music For Weddings And Funerals, will undoubtedly be picked up for Australian release, since it features composer Goran Bregovic (best known as the composer of Emir Kusturica's soundtracks, and also for La Reine Margot) only here he takes a major acting role as well. Part black comedy, part sophisticated allegory, the film has Bregovic playing a Serbian refugee, who is taken in by the adventurous and open Sara (Lena Endre) only she finds he may be responsible for the murder of her ex-husband. 

Meanwhile Venice regular Larry Clark will present Ken Park, where the controversial American director focuses on skaters and their families in small-town California; from Scottish actor Peter Mullan (My Name is Joe) comes his latest movie as director, The Magdalene Sisters; while Russian director Sergei Bodrov (The Prisoner of the Mountains) will present the highly anticipated Bear's Kiss, which features his son, Sergei Bodrov Jnr, as well as an international cast.

Congratulations are probably in order for Moritz De Hadeln, the former Berlin Festival chief who took over the reigns in Venice at the last moment to create this year's program. The main problem with this year's program, though, is the lack of younger fresher talent. Maybe next year, where like most regimes in Italy, it will all change again.

Published August 29, 2002

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Between Strangers - Sofia Loren


The Tracker


Frida


Full Frontal


Road to Perdition


K-19: The Widowmaker







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