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Love of different kinds, sex on celluloid and pains in the butt are the lingering images from this year's Venice Film Festival, reports JIMMY THOMSON, as the Lido winds down.

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 Us.

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.

"about sex"

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 central theme.

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.

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Previous Venice Coverage:



Jane Campion's Holy Smoke

Brad Pitt in Fight Club

Boys Don't Cry

Banderas & Griffith talk about Crazy in Alabama


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