The 70th Venice Film Festival (28th August – 7th September 2013)
Matt Micucci reports from the eighth day of the Venice Film Festival as it prepares for the Lux Prize.
Today will be the busiest day of my Venice Film Festival stay because it is the day of the Lux Prize. The Lux Prize is a prize set up by the European parliament to facilitate the distribution of European films. The winning film does not get money but it is subtitled in all the 28 languages of the country of the European Union. I’m going to break a little unwritten rule that I have had so far in writing these diary entries in the present tense by saying that after a whole day of politicians talking to us in panel sessions and conferences talking about it, I still had to go on Wikipedia to check out a straight forward definition for it! Does that say something or what?
But first, we have an earlier panel session with the filmmakers, this time two. One is Juno Mak, director of Rigor Mortis and the other one is Sean Gullette, director of Traitors that unfortunately, given the quality of the films at this Venice film festival has been the worst film I have seen yet here in Venice, although it’s still good enough. However, Gullette does tell us that he has set up the 212 Society, a US funded scheme to finance cultural projects in Morocco; his wife is from there and they moved there after she decided to help save an art house cinema in Tangier that was being taken down. As a result the cinema was turned into a proper film centre which is called The Cinematheque de Tanger and Darna.
After the interesting talk comes the time to pay tribute to the people who apparently made it possible for us ‘28 Times Cinema’ people to come to Venice, represented by members of the European Parliament Doris Pack and Lella Costa, who highlight the importance of programmes like ’28 Times Cinema’ and the Lux Prize in spreading and promoting European culture. They also talk about how difficult it is for them to finance these programmes and sell them to the parliament as necessary. It seems unnatural to me that culture be given such little importance, yet I do believe that what they’re saying is true.
After a photo shoot with the representatives, we are all invited to a press conference to further discuss the debate along with the three directors of the three films that were picked as finalists of the Lux Prize – Cleo Barnard from the UK, Valeria Golino from Italy and Felix van Groeningen from Belgium. The press conference starts as a political campaign; the type where all political representatives brag about the wonderful work they have been doing and how great they are. What followed was both hilarious and bizarre.
Cleo Barnard is invited on the stage to talk briefly about her film, and Doris Pack gives practically screams at her that the UK are the ones that absolutely do not support the Lux Prize initiative as if it was her fault. Once the beautiful Valeria Golino takes to the stage, excitement takes over the older members of the audience and they get excited to the point that everyone seems to want to contribute to the debate. A man picks up a microphone and starts giving out about Google stepping on the rights of the filmmakers and this generates an applause which literally brings him to the point of tears, overcome with emotions. An old man from behind me, representing some group which supports the rights of authors, gets up and uninvited takes to the stage to show his support in the fight to protect artistic rights against Google – all the while looking at Golino to try as if trying to impress them.
The commotion is so high in the room that no one has noticed that Felix van Groeningen too has reached the stage. With the peaceful air of a rascal, he adds to the room’s incontrollable furore by stating that perhaps it is fair that more money should go to agriculture. The temperature rises, the house shakes, people take sides and vociferate wildly. An Italian man with a fervent Tuscan accent, perhaps Roberto Benigni’s father, goes off on an almost stand-up comedy rant which causes the translator, who up to now had been successful in keeping up with the room’s Italian language debates, to laugh hysterically and the non-Italian speaking members of the audience to also laugh in a confused yet transfixed state. The press conference outruns the pre-planned length of an hour to almost two hours, and people walk out of the room sweaty and feverish – it’s almost as if we had just attended a boxing match.
Now is the time for us to actually watch the films. However, the three Lux prize finalist movies will not be screened at the Mostra section, but on the other side of the island. It’s a long and hard walk, and when we finally make it to the venue, a small cinema, Golino and her producer/boyfriend Riccardo Scamarcio introduce their film Honey. Honey is a great daring film about a girl whose job is assisting the terminally ill in their choice to commit suicide. The main character of Irene, portrayed wonderfully by Jasmine Trinca. Euthanasia is a heavy subject and for a film like this to have been produced in the traditionally Catholic and widely conservative country of Italy is impressive in itself. The film as a whole is very good and represents a good transition between the Valeria Golino actress of Rain Man and the Hot Shots film to Valeria Golino the filmmaker.
All the while, however, I wonder how the Christian Democrat Doris Pack who is in attendance will react to the way in which the film handles the heavy theme of euthanasia. When the film is over and we get a quick break, I notice that she is the last to get up off her seat and she has a very angry look on her face. So, not good.
The second film is by Felix van Groeningen, The Broken Circle Breakdown. It is another tragedy. A couple whose idyllic family life and great bluegrass band career threaten to come to an end when their child is diagnosed with cancer. It’s charming and harrowing at once. In retrospective, of all three it is the biggest crowd pleaser. The music is good, the drama is great and the romance too is delightful, which makes the tragic circumstances all the more upsetting. The main theme which may have appealed to the handpicked European commission who selected the final three films may have been the theme of America. When we are first introduced to the main character of Didier, he is in love with the American culture but by the end, he loathes it and uses it to express his disenchantment vivaciously. This, however, I see as a more general disenchantment with his own life and dreams rather than an expression of idealism to satisfy some background political agenda. After all, a lot of the film reminded me of the style of Sam Peckinpah!
The third film, The Selfish Giant by Cleo Barnard ends up being my personal favourite. She honestly and almost apologetically introduces it as ‘another tragedy’. Inspired by the Oscar Wilde short story, it is the tale of two teenage boys from Bradford who get involved in the dangerous world of metal scraps. It is extremely intense all throughout with its use of a powerful visual style that reminds one of Ken Loach’s. It also carries important messages about adolescence in less privileged parts of Britain and the dangers of a passive educational system. Yet, I look around and some of the audience is lost on the strong Bradford accent, especially given the fact that the film is only subtitled in Italian.
At the end of this more than four-hour film viewing session, we are destroyed and some are even depressed. These three films are simply not meant to be seen back to back, one after the other with not enough time to let one sink in before the start of the next one. They are tragedies – intense, powerful and even disturbing, thus not the easiest triple bill to sit through. However, we are also all in agreement in saying that they are great – in fact, they may just be the best three films we have seen since we have arrived in Venice.