It is simply impossible to write a report about the films at Mostra, the yearly Venice film festival. Nearly 200 films in one week? I had to choose a way out, and picked death as a topic. Not death as in Visconti’s old film, but as a recurring ingredient of some of the films. I had expected more from the fiction-faction film Miral in the competition. Star director Julian Schnabel – known for his docudrama Basquiat (1996) – made a film from the Palestinian Middle-East about a true story from Jerusalem.
The idealist Hind Husseini founded the girl’s orphanage and school Dar Al-Tifel in 1948. Later it’s the Second Intifada, and Miral, one of the schoolgirls enlists as a freedom fighter and bombs a cinema theatre full of Israeli soldiers. Death is commonplace here. The central story is about Miral and her close relationship with her widowed father. But why must Miral and her father speak together in second-rate English? At the 200-people packed press conference I ask director Schnabel why he went the way of old Second World War movies with Germans speaking broken English? His producer answers, irritated, and asks me if, by any chance, I remembered that Mozart and Gandhi spoke English in the respective films made about them? They wanted a broad audience.Commercialism. The Golden Lion-winning film by Sophia Coppola also disappointed. The empty life of Johnny (Stephen Dorff) in the famous Chateau Marmont Hotel in Los Angeles – in bed with new women, drugs, driving around in his Ferrari, and then saved by his daughter – is too streamlined a film.The third variation on “boredom” from Coppola. Asked at her press conference: “Why do you often use swimming pools in your movies – is it used as catharsis?” Coppola had never thought about that.
American Vincent Gallo’s 75-minute essayfilm Promises Written in Water in the main competition centres around a dying woman. She wants to kill herself before the suffering becomes too much. The documentary language of this fiction film splits the audience into two: At the official screening they clapped for five minutes – but at the press screening they started laughing and booing from the start, where Gallo is credited as director and editor, and for the script, music, production and acting. They were noisy throughout the screening, laughter returned, a mob dominated the audience.
Gallo’s slow and quiet black-and-white movie saved the festival for me. This eccentric man, known for his roles in several movies, brought to mind works by Warhol and Cassavetes. For the first ten minutes Gallo wanders around nervously in his hotel room – quite different to Coppola’s expressionless Johnny. Black against white background. Heavy use of closeups; the camera closes in on Gallo’s eyeballs. Cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi contributes to a strong visual film.
The relationship between the man (Gallo) and woman (Delfine Bafort) is a morbid one. He is an ex Mafioso “hit man”, and she a girl who until recently had lived on sex and drugs.Mirrors. Cigarettes. Cafés. In the funeral parlour where Gallo’s character works, he attends to the corpse of a woman, taking photographs of her naked, hairless body. Bafort is also filmed naked, in detail. Time stands still. Time also runs parallel, as the two stories intermingle.
There is also a long impressive take where Gallo four times in a row repeats the same lines about his previous girlfriend who left. Method acting? The audience laughed, I didn’t. Promises has no linear narrative – it’s an essay-film.