VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2006 - WRAP
HELEN MIRREN RULES
Helen Mirren’s Best Actress award at Venice for her role as Elizabeth II in The
Queen was awarded just as Australians watched her play Elizabeth I on ABC TV.
But the critics were unimpressed by most of the other prizes, even booing some,
reports Helen Barlow, as she elbows her way through the Lido jammed with people
like Stephen Frears, Spike Lee, Meryl Streep, Clive Owen, Scarlett Johansson,
Brian de Palma and Nick Cave.
“Which film?” was the near-unanimous refrain in the crowded pressroom of the
Venice Film Festival as the Golden Lion for Best Picture was awarded to the
Chinese film Still Life (Sanxia Haoren) last Saturday night. Few of the
attending critics had seen Jia Zhang-Ke's winner as it had screened at midnight
as the surprise film just as the festival was winding down. Last year’s surprise
movie, Takeshi Kitano’s Takeshis, hadn’t made much of an impact, as is often the
case with these unheralded entries. So the top award came truly as a surprise.
At a post awards press conference Jury President Catherine Deneuve said the jury
had been impressed by “the beauty of the cinematography and the quality of the
story, which without getting political, said a lot about China and its people.”
Shot documentary-style, Still Life tells the story of a man and a woman (played
by Jia’s real-life partner Zhao Tao, a dancer who's been in his three previous
features) searching for their partners as villages and towns are submerged by
the Yangtze River to make way for the giant Three Gorges Dam Hydroelectric
project. Started in 1993, the project is the biggest in the world and involves
relocating more than 1.2 million people.
“I’m trying to show the changes in daily life in China through my film, and I
want to continue to explore the problems of the weaker social class,” Jia said.
“I will continue to make films for the next 10 to 20 years with the same actors
"the assembled critics did not approve"
The 36-year-old director, who had a second film, Dong, screening in the
Horizons sidebar, is a popular choice in the Venice program. His films Platform
(Zhantal) and The World (Shijie) screened in competition in 2000 and 2004,
With the exception of Helen Mirren’s win for her sublime performance as
Elizabeth II in Stephen Frears’ The Queen, the assembled critics did not approve
of the major prizes. When Ben Affleck’s name was read out as best actor for his
portrayal of Superman television star George Reeves in Hollywoodland, the
decision was booed, and that Emanuele Crialese’s Golden Door should only receive
an exceptional Revelation prize, seemed like a missed opportunity to commend a
truly exceptional Italian film.
Tullio Kezich, from the leading Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, even
suggests the jury has maligned Venice's reputation at a time when the new Rome
Festival is looming. From all reports however, it will be difficult to instil a
festival feel into such a bustling city, as the venues are so spread out. The
Rome program will be announced on September 16, yet it’s doubtful the event will
be able to have the industry confidence of Venice artistic director Marco
Mueller, who two years ago had half of Hollywood at his inaugural event. Meryl
Streep, in town to promote The Devil Wears Prada, went out of her way to commend
him, for “turning the festival around” in the past two years.
The festival’s technical contribution prize went to cinematographer Emmanuel
Lubezki for Children of Men, the screen adaptation of P.D. James sci-fi novel
directed by Alfonso Cuaron and starring Clive Owen, Julianne Moore and Michael
Caine. The skilfully shot film, telling of a world where children can no longer
be born, is however not always a pleasure to watch. Ultimately it left critics
divided, rather dramatically.
The screenplay prize, awarded to Peter Morgan for The Queen was also truly
deserved. It focuses on the squabbles between the British monarch and Tony Blair
in the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death and re-creates the private events
that propelled her to make a public appearance at Princess Diana’s funeral.
Morgan was dryly humorous in his acceptance speech. “I’d like to thank Stephen
Frears, Helen Mirren, Andy Harries our producer and Tony Blair for timing your
political disintegration with the release of our film.”
Nobody was doubting, though, that Helen Mirren was the belle of the ball.
Glimpses of her youthful trailblazing provocateur came to mind as she glided
along the red carpet in a sapphire blue floor-length dress with a low cut
neckline that revealed her cleavage, a host of diamonds and a deep suntan. She
was sexier than ever on stage as she insisted on sitting beneath a towering
golden lion for the photographers to snap her with her prize, looking like a
kind of nymph. She later said she wanted to look as different from the Queen as
possible. She succeeded.
"the worst movie he has made"
Alain Resnais, the revered 84-year-old French auteur, took out the directing
award for Private Fears in Public Places, a stilted film (based on Alan
Ayckbourn’s play) which I failed to sit though. Somewhat ironically David Lynch
had received his lifetime achievement award at the festival earlier in the week
while presenting Inland Empire, the worst movie he has made. Spike Lee at least
came up with the goods. His emotional Hurricane Katrina documentary When The
Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts won the best film prize in the Horizons
Even if the Venice Film Festival had no official Australian entries this year, a
perennially cool Nick Cave was the recipient of the first Gucci Award, awarded
by a jury including Jeremy Irons, Moby and Alexander McQueen. Dressed in his
usual white open-necked shirt and black suit and boots, the tall Australian had
flown over from London with his wife Sussie to accept the award for his
screenplay for The Proposition. In his acceptance speech he thanked the film’s
director and his good friend.
“John Hillcoat bullied me into writing the screenplay and dragged me kicking and
screaming into the film world,” he told the assembled press. “I’d also like to
thank my beautiful wife Sussie for all she does. “All’s well in the garden,” he
added, quoting one of his favourite films, Being There.
Afterwards he told me he was pleased with how The Proposition’s international
success “just keeps on going and going”.
Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain starring Hugh Jackman as a man struggling over a
thousand years to find the woman he loves met with no such success however. In
fact in the Italian media it was put forward as the festival’s worst film.
Jackman’s performance was however deemed the best aspect of the film, and in our
festival interview Aronofsky told me how Baz Luhrmann requested to view The
Fountain and had been so impressed by Jackman’s dramatic ability that he cast
him in his next untitled film (replacing Russell Crowe).
A very jet-lagged Kate Beahan was quite a trooper conducting interviews for The
Wicker Man all day when straight off a plane. The Perth-born actress who lived
in Sydney for several years before moving to Los Angeles, admits that the film,
directed by Neil Labute and where she stars alongside Nic Cage, has been the
biggest role so far of her burgeoning career. She does however miss the land of
Oz and comes back regularly. As for The Wicker Man the consensus was, why make
another film from Anthony Shaffer’s novel (after the mildly successful 1973
version) when you are going to do an inferior job? Labute said he wanted to
offer a different interpretation.
Holland’s leading young actress, Carice van Houten delivered a riveting
performance in Paul Verhoeven’s Dutch Resistance World War II movie, Black Book,
which is the Dutch Oscar entry. Los Angeles-based Verhoeven exceeded all
expectations by returning to his homeland to film this riveting story where the
lines become blurred as a Jewish Resistance fighter falls in love with a
sympathetic Nazi (rising German star Sebastian Koch). The forthright Basic
Instinct director does not disappoint with his ability to show how things really
are, and unlike Sharon Stone he says that van Houten can act.
"notorious Hollywood murder"
On the younger front Scarlett Johansson exerted her usual stylish presence
when she walked the red carpet to promote the Festival’s opener, Brian De
Palma’s James Ellroy adaptation, The Black Dahlia. Still the 21- year-old beauty
refused to be photographed with her real-life boyfriend, Josh Hartnett, whom
she’d met on the film. Unfortunately Johansson has little to do other than look
beautiful in the film, while Hartnett is more impressive as a cop trying to
solve the notorious Hollywood murder from 1947. Overall the film was
disappointing and seemed a pale comparison to Ellroy’s previous screen
adaptation, LA Confidential.
As with The Queen, Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center attracted a huge crowd at
its Festival screening, even if the film itself does not seem to fit in with the
director’s oeuvre. This is partly because he worked from Andrea Berloff’s
emotive screenplay about the two Port Authority officers survivors and their
wives. The intelligent, straight-talking Maria Bello, who plays the wife of
police Sargeant John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) is a stand-out it the film.
Ethan Hawke’s semi-autobiographical The Hottest State, based on his book, proved
a pleasant surprise. Starring Mark Webber, (Bill Murray’s son in Broken Flowers)
and Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria Full of Grace) the film recalls an early
failed romance in Hawke’s life before he managed to stuff up his marriage to Uma
Happy couple Sting and wife Trudi Styler looked like spring chickens with their
matching bleached blonde hair as they promoted A Guide to Recognizing Your
Saints, directed by Bronx-born Dito Montiel, who like Hawke draws strongly on
his own life in the film. In her role as producer Styler had been trying for
five years to finance the film, which ultimately stars her good friend, Robert
Downey Jnr. Still, the film only went ahead when she convinced her well-heeled
husband to cough up the $US2.4 required. “Trudi can’t sing and I can’t act, so
at least producing is something we can do together,” the former Police singer
mused in our interview.
Published September 14, 2006
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Helen Mirren - The Queen
Director Jia Zhang-Ke - Sanxia Haoren (Still Life)
Winner Golden Lion
Ben Affleck - Hollywoodland
Children of Men
The Black Dahlia