VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2005 - WRAP
Australian actors looked in good form at this year’s Venice Film Festival, with
Heath Ledger in three films, including the Golden Lion winning Brokeback
Mountain, and Russell Crowe, while Spanish horror and Bjork’s new film with her
American partner, were less impressive, reports Helen Barlow.
In the first days of the Venice Film Festival there was no doubting that Heath
Ledger was the talk of the town. That was not just because he had three movies
in the program, The Brothers Grimm, the Venetian frolic, Casanova, and Brokeback
Mountain, but because in the latter movie he truly excels and delivers the
performance of his career.
"a strong contender"
The emotional force of the love story between Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, as
two ranch hands isolated in the wintry Brokeback Mountain, was so strong that
critics were shell-shocked after the screening and admitted the film was a
strong contender for the major prize, the Golden Lion, which indeed it won -
even though Ledger missed out on a personal award.
Certainly the Perth-born 26-year-old concedes the role shows a new level of
maturity in his work, and he was grateful that Ang, a director he had long
wanted to work with, gave him the opportunity.
"I knew I'd have to step up to the plate and grow as an actor and as a person,"
he said in our Venice interview. "I was aware that if I could get though this
story I'd really have a sense of accomplishing something."
In Casanova, which has that same swashbuckling youthfulness as The Three
Musketeers, Ledger plays the world's greatest lover who has sex with a different
woman each day--until he becomes unstuck and falls in love with Sienna Miller
(who sports long reddish dark hair and impresses in her first lead role). An
irresistible comedic romp, the film is directed by Sweden's Lasse Hallstrom, who
knows his way around a cinematic bedroom and is clearly a Monty Python fan. The
film was widely embraced by even the most hardened critic, while younger women
responded to Ledger's deep voice and cuteness.
In many ways his flamboyant turn harks back to his earlier roles in A Knight's
Tale and 10 Things I Hate About You.
"After the excruciating experience of filming Brokeback Mountain, it was like a
working holiday to come to Venice for four months to make Casanova," he says.
The Brothers Grimm is more lightweight fare again, and is the least successful
of Ledger's three Venice films, even if his brotherly coupling with Matt Damon
is kind of fun.
"In the Festival's second week it was Russell Crowe's
In the Festival's second week it was Russell Crowe's turn as the Australian
star attended the premiere of Cinderella Man with his arm around his wife
Danielle Spencer, who wore a shimmering grey halter-neck dress.
Crowe also posed for photos with his on-screen wife, Renee Zellweger, and
director Ron Howard, who made a fleeting visit from the set of his controversial
film, The Da Vinci Code, to launch the film outside of the US.
Crowe told one interviewer that it was not the hope of winning an Oscar next
year for his performance as 1930s underdog boxing champ, Jim Braddock, that
currently concerned him.
"I'm more interested in seeing how Cinderella Man is received as it is released
in the rest of the world," he said. He clearly hopes the film will fare better
abroad than in the US when this relatively modest drama was strangely released
around the time of blockbusters like Batman Begins. The film will soon be
re-released in the US to be given a second chance.
Earlier in the day, the gum-chewing actor told the assembled press that the film
was more about a man who was devoted to his family than about boxing. Crowe of
course was able to draw on his own recent fatherhood, and said that becoming a
dad (to Charlie, who will be 2 in December) "has been the most illuminating and
fantastic experience in my life and on a daily basis it's an exceptional thing
that I would recommend to anyone."
Even if journalists were told not to mention the legalities regarding his
phone-throwing incident, one wag asked regarding his interest in boxing. As an
actor he said he has "more in common with a schizophrenic mathematician than
with a boxer".
In a separate interview Howard said he was greatly saddened when he heard of
Crowe's New York troubles, though he did not believe the incident had any
bearing on the poor US box office of the film.
Maybe it's just that the film is a little old fashioned? Might there be too much
boxing to keep women interested? Or is Ron Howard way too sentimental for his
own good? The one thing critics agree on is : Crowe delivers another stunning
performance that is worth the price of a ticket.
Howard, who has worked with the "great Australian actors", Cate Blanchett,
Nicole Kidman and Crowe, now twice, says "there's a quest for truth that I find
in Australian artists and it's very refreshing and it's captured on film very
"other cinematic treats on offer"
There were other cinematic treats on offer in Venice, from the long-awaited
Proof, to the small independent gem, Brick, to the gripping studio thriller, The
Exorcism of Emily Rose.
Proof, based on David Auburn's successful stage play, is a poignant and powerful
story, and again demonstrates, as did Closer, that plays can be made into movies
quite effectively. Gwyneth Paltrow and director John Madden, who had worked
together on Shakespeare in Love, and on the theatrical production of Proof,
clearly feel comfortable in each other's company. Paltrow demonstrates an
emotional depth and surprising restraint in her role as the daughter of a
mathematical genius (Anthony Hopkins) who has just died. To an extent she must
have been drawing on the death of her own father, Bruce Paltrow (Proof was
filmed several years ago) but she may have also been feeling in touch with more
positive emotions as she became pregnant with her daughter, Apple, during
filming. Hopkins praised Paltrow as one of the two best actresses he has worked
with; the other is Jodie Foster.
The American noir mystery Brick, a favourite at Sundance earlier this year, was
directed by Rian Johnson and was filmed on a micro-budget, raised mostly by his
family. It stars rising talent Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Mysterious Skin) as a super
smart student who becomes obsessed with finding his ex-girlfriend, played by
Australia's Emilie de Ravin, best known as the pregnant young woman in
Orlando Bloom was in Venice as the leading man in Cameron Crowe's satire on
smalltown America, Elizabethtown. It's a kind of test for the young actor, who
plays an American businessman who must suddenly face unemployment and the death
of his father as he returns to his provincial Southern hometown for the funeral.
What helps him cope is meeting an airline stewardess (Kirsten Dunst) on the way.
The film's hokey humour might fly in America, though it will be interesting to
see if it works with Australian audiences. I doubt it.
Nothing has been quite so badly received however as the Spanish-made horror
movie, Fragile. Starring Calista Flockhart as a therapist in a children's
hospital, alongside Australia's Richard Roxburgh as a British doctor, the film
left critics sniggering in disbelief as they left the cinema. After Van Helsing
I expected Roxburgh to turn into a werewolf or something. No such luck.
At least Flockhart's Venice-loving beau Harrison Ford was there to hold her hand
as she walked up the red carpet. (He also knows what it's like to have a flop or
Bjork was also in Venice to talk up her first musical collaboration with her
American artist-filmmaker partner Matthew Barney (also the father of her child)
on Drawing Restraint 9. Unfortunately the utterly pretentious film, about the
relationship between self-imposed resistance and creativity is close to
unwatchable, but just to be in the same room as Bjork, who talks and moves in
the staccato manner of her music, is a treat.
Happily George Clooney's second film as director, Goodnight. And, Good Luck, is
more coherent. Filmed in black and white, it explores the evils of Senator Joe
McCarthy, using actually footage of him speaking at the House of un-American
Activities Committee. It's a tribute to journalist Edward R. Murrow (David
Strathairn), the trailblazer of current affairs television who stood up to
McCarthy, and whose program led to the creation of 60 Minutes. It's also a
tribute to Clooney's former anchorman dad, and Clooney plays Murrow's producer
in the film.
Laura Linney, in town to promote The Exorcism of Emily Rose, says she was
attracted to the film because its mix of courtroom drama and paranormal thriller
presented such a challenge. Based on an actual case, Tom Wilkinson plays a
priest who performs an exorcism on a young girl who then dies.
"The Festival's surprise film"
The Festival's surprise film, Takeshi Kitano's Takeshis, where the Japanese
writer-director-actor-comedian plays the duo roles of himself and a convenience
store owner, was a major disappointment. The Japanese multi-talent probably
needs a break from filmmaking as he plans, and he promises to do film classic
stories - with no gangsters - when he returns. The Festival's Hong Kong opener,
Tsui Hark's Seven Swords likewise failed to impress viewers, so it was left to
South Korea's Park Chan-wook to provide the most impressive Asian entry with
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, the third film in his trilogy after Sympathy for Mr
Vengeance and Old Boy.
It was very touching in Venice to see Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter take
to the podium for the Corpse Bride press conference holding hands - even if
Burton joked that his loved one voices a corpse in his beautifully crafted
animated movie. Johnny Depp voices the husband. They keep it in the family, so
to speak. As usual Bonham Carter was asked regarding her playing period roles -
yes, even The Corpse Bride is set in the past.
"I actually don't mind playing period roles," she replied, "but I've also played
an ape, you know. Some actresses have it worse than me."
John Turturro's working class musical Romance & Cigarettes divided the critics,
with its song and dance numbers mixed with crude language - coming mostly from
Kate Winslet as James Gandolfini's bawdy mistress. Winslet has been keen to
change her fresh-faced image since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and …
well, she has succeeded. Light-footed Christopher Walken is naturally a
scene-stealer as Susan Sarandon's enforcer cousin, who comes to check up on her
unfaithful husband, Gandolfini.
Ang Lee is a man of few words. Ever-humble, even if he must have sensed he was
about to win the main Venice prize, the Golden Lion, as he walked along the
Venice Festival's red carpet, he graciously thanked God for his talent and said
how he loved making movies.
Then of course he won, for his film, and the prize was handed to him by Japanese
animation master, Hayao Miyazaki.
"It's an honour to win the major award at this auteur-oriented festival, where
Asian films are so prominent and where great Asian directors like Akira Kurosawa
and Zhang Yimou have also won."
As a small film with unusual subject matter, Ang knew that a festival platform
would help bring it to the masses. "I'd never made a romantic love story before
and it's the kind of film I didn't think a lot of people would see. This prize
will certainly help," he says of his second gay themed-movie to win a main
festival prize - The Wedding Banquet took out Berlin's Golden Bear, while his
biggest success, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, screened out of competition in
Cannes. "That was also appropriate for that more commercial film," he said.
(Critics all concurred; Crouching Tiger would have won, had it competed.)
Brokeback Mountain was actually about to screen at the Toronto Festival as Ang
accepted his Venice prize.
"This is my Toronto look, he joked pointing to his smart grey-green suit. "I had
just arrived at the hotel in Toronto and was told I had to come straight back,"
he said, all smiles. Clearly the trip was worth it.
"George Clooney was in fine form too"
George Clooney was in fine form too, prancing around for the cameras before
the ceremony. His second film as director, Good Night. And Good Luck, had
already won the critics prize announced in the afternoon, and in the evening he
shared the screenwriting award with his longtime friend and collaborator, Grant
"Much of this screenplay was written 51 years ago by Edward R. Murrow who taught
us many valuable lessons about responsibility and to always question authority,
because without it, authority going unchecked oftentimes corrupts," Clooney said
in his acceptance speech.
The son of a news anchor, Clooney dedicated the prize to the journalists based
in trouble spots like Afghanistan, Africa and New Orleans. David Strathairn, who
plays Murrow in the film, took out the acting prize.
At the following press conference I asked Clooney if there would be a party back
at his Italian hacienda and if we were all invited. "Everyone at my house
tonight for drinks," he said emitting his trademark grin. "I'm buying."
Another current Italian resident, eccentric New York director, Abel Ferrara,
took out the Festival's Jury Special prize for Mary, a film, which, given that
it examines the mystery and legend of Mary Magdalene (Juliette Binoche), went
down well with the Italians.
"It's the first time I've ever won anything," said a jubilant Ferrara. "Maybe it
was a good idea to leave New York for a while and gain some distance.'
"Isabelle Huppert won her third Venice Lion"
Isabelle Huppert won her third Venice Lion, after two best Actress Prizes for
two Claude Chabrol films, La Ceremonie (The Ceremony) and Une Affaire de Femmes
(Story of Women) in a Special Lion category that hadn't been given in 20 years.
"It's not only for career achievement but also for Gabrielle," she said in her
forthright manner. Patrice Chereau's film, like his previous Berlin winner
Intimacy (which starred Kerry Fox) is an intense exploration of a cruel and
tender relationship, only in a period setting.
The official Best Actress prize went to Italy's Giovanna Mezzogiorno for La
Bestia Nel Cuore (Don't Tell), an overly melodramatic story about the legacy of
child abuse, while French director Philippe Garrel took out the Best Director
award for Les Amants Reguliers (Regular Lovers) a black-and white evocation of
the 1968 protest period in Paris.
Strangely enough, Fernando Meireilles screen adaptation of John Le Carre's
novel, The Constant Gardener, one of the festival favourites, went away empty
handed - but that is not to say the film won't figure in next year's Academy
Awards, as has already been suggested. In fact one suspects that's why it was
left out of the Venice prizes. Rachel Weisz gives one of her best performances
as a headstrong woman refusing to ignore injustices against the local Kenyan
people by drug companies, while Ralph Fiennes is impressive as her weak
garden-obsessed husband, who finally musters the courage to take action. Africa
has never looked so beautiful, with cinematographer Cesar Charlone lending vivid
colours to the Kenyan landscapes as we've never seen
Published September 15,2005