It's Saturday on the Lido and the hub of the Venice Film Festival is looking a little
frayed around the edges, like a party dress that's had a few too many whirls around the
dance floor. Everyone from the stars to the star-struck have had enough: we're tired and
we want to go home.
"I never said actors were cattle - I said they should
be treated like cattle." Alfred Hitchcock
Most of the journalists have left already and the remaining few are swarming round a
suite of rooms in the Excelsior Hotel waiting ... and waiting ... and waiting for
interviews with Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, Helena Bonham-Carter and Meat Loaf, the stars of
Fight Club, the Hollywood hit of the Festival.
Considering the overzealous Fox flacks had told everyone to be half an hour early -
"to make sure you're here on time" - and the interviews are running an hour
behind schedule, the mumbled grumblings are entirely justified.
That famous Hitchcock quote springs to mind: "I never said actors were cattle - I
said they should be treated like cattle." Lord knows what he would have done with a
posse of modern journos.
Threats of a walk-out are whispered, but nobody does: we're here for the stars and our
discomfort is irrelevant. When they do turn up, Pitt and Norton are polite and friendly,
Meat Loaf is committed and talkative and Bonham-Carter and director David Fincher are
pains in the butt.
Bonham-Carter doesn't want to be there: "I'm just the girlfriend". And
Fincher is already tired of answering questions about the intent of his very violent film.
Fight Club tells the story of a bored young executive who turns to an organised and
controlled form of streeetfighting so he can "feel alive". There's more to it
than that but Fincher is contemptuous of anyone who suggests that the movie might send out
the wrong signals to bored young men with violent tendencies.
Stanley Kubrick, whose Eyes Wide Shut opened the festival, permanently withdrew
Clockwork Orange from UK screens when copycat killings occurred. Whether Fincher has a
social conscience to match his "vision" remains to be seen.
the big prize
The other whisper around the gilded corridors was about which movie has won the big
prize. The smart money, on Not One Less, directed by Zhang (Raise The Red Lantern) Yimou,
turned out to be well wagered. The tale of a 13-year-old substitute teacher in a poor
rural school who travels to the city to find a missing pupil, worked on a number of
levels. Adding to its charm was the fact that none of the players were real actors. Adding
to its appeal to the Venice jury was the fact that Cannes had rejected the film,
suggesting it was too heavily censored by the Chinese authorities to be considered.
Natalie Baye won best actress for the French flick Une Liaison Pornographique and bluff
Brit Jim Broadbent picked up best actor for his role as W. S. Gilbert in Topsy-Turvy. The
Grand Jury prize went to Iranian Abbas Kiarostami's atmospheric film, The Wind Will Carry
No mention, then, for the hotly-debated Holy Smoke. Even Kate Winslet's superb
performance - touted as a potential Oscar-winner - couldn't rise above the Jane Campion
movie's cliched premise and muddled execution.
The last interviews of the week went to Melanie Griffith and her husband Antonio
Banderas for Crazy In Alabama, their darkly semi-comic look at civil rights and spousal
decapitation in the Deep South in the '60s. The movie, which also stars the ubiquitous Mr
Loaf, is Banderas' directorial debut and is a fine first effort. As for the stars, they
were friendly, funny, professional and very, very much in love with each other.
Made a nice change from people who are very much in love with themselves.
But talking of love, this year's Venice Film Festival seemed, on reflection, much more
about sex. Debates have raged in the past about whether the festival is becoming too
Hollywood, not enough about high art and just sometimes, a tad too cerebral.
This year, however, it was all about getting down and dirty - and very, very sweaty. Of
course, there was the award-winning Une Liaison Pornographique, and Holy Smoke's unlikely
sexual encounters between an emaciated-looking Harvey Keitel in a red dress and lipstick
and a young, gorgeous Winslet, but there was also a cluster of movies that had sex as the
The Italian film Guardami was, said even hardened critics, not too much more than an
extended sex flick, with one scene of pretty pure porn continuing for an excruciating 20
minutes. Then there was the festival opener, Eyes Wide Shut, which we all know about
intimately. Le Vent de la Nuit had boring bed scenes, despite the presence of the
delightful Catherine Deneuve. And the Korean entry, Gojitmal, was all about
sado-masochism, which turned even some of the toughest tummies.
The American tale Boys Don't Cry had some interesting sex scenes between two women, one
of whom had no idea her lover wasn't a man, Australian director Stephan Elliott's Eye of
the Beholder had a female serial killer seducing men just before she dispatches them,
while compatriot long-short Feeling Sexy was all about how sexual fantasy can be an
innocent break from the housework.
Then Fight Club had exceedingly noisy sex between Brad Pitt and Helena Bonham Carter,
while the British With Or Without You, starring Ballykissangel's Dervla Kirwan and
Christopher Eccleston, best known for Shallow Grave, featured the frustrations of a couple
desperately trying to have a baby, who end up having sex with other people.
Sex and the city? The city was Venice and the sex was ... well ... anyway you wanted
it, really - but always on celluloid.