Venice Musings


There is cigarette smoke everywhere.


But you have to give it to the Italians, They will crawl over all kinds of arms and legs to get a seat, talking all the while on a cell phone. No problema!


It is another beautiful day in Venice. Yesterday got a little interesting. I fell in the Pala Lido theater. The steps are uneven and made of rough cement. I should have stayed seated til the lights came up but I dropped my cane and when I took a step to pick it up, I missed and down I went! The good part? The lights were still down. The bad part? I am pretty sure from the angry red swelling of the  toe next to my little toe on my right foot, that I fractured it. But as everyone knows, there’s nothing to be done for a broken toe except ice and keeping it elevated and to take lots of motrin. All done. Today I am navigating quite well…. Thank God. Oh, and a giant centipede crawled slowly down my curtain last night, and I got so agitated I couldn,t find the OFF right away and had to hop around on one foot to get it… but when I did I sprayed into the valance, shook the curtain and down he came.  Squish. Maybe you had to be there. I don,t know.


So for today’s films… The theme of Don Juan de Marco keeps playing in my head because a version of it was playing all the way through UN GIORNO PERFETTO)




This Brazilian-Japanese collaboration is a really ugly watch. It tells the story of a Chinese man who gets smuggled into Brazil in the 1980,s and the small Japanese boy he found in the rain forest and adopted as his son. They went into business (eventually) selling cheap knock off,s, fakes, using a guerrilla sales force in any market place available in the northwest part of Brazil. As the older man grows rich, the market is now global and the face of crime is changing. Instead of cheap knockoff,s, the new crooks want to do overruns on quality merchandise and put on false labels. The Chinese boss, however, doesn,t believe he can make money from doing this, only from fake stuff.


There is a mix of politics and other Asian criminals from New York, violence and betrayals …. As well as the income from the usual vices of the night. The father-son relationship is supposed to drive the film but it was a harsh film, both as story and visually. I can imagine that this is reality for many populations around the world, however. People need to eat, to survive, and economic and power forces make it very hard to lead a virtuous life. This doesn,t excuse crime, or ugly filmmaking, but the truth is out there.


There wasn,t anything socially redeeming about the film that I could find, as film. I don’t know who would watch it.




A short film about life today in a Roman neighborhood by Mario Monicelli, a well-known director. Okay….. but … why?



Because we were born


A bleak Brazilian film about two young boys coming of age in rural Brazil amidst real hardship. You can feel the heat, the struggle for clean water and the stench of dead farm animals that starve as the people watch. They work for a few reales to buy food for their families while their illiterate mother tries to get them to go to school. This is a cinema verite – existential type of film, and believe me it breaks your heart.




Probably one of the best advertised films of the festival, the critics hooted it to death at the end. The title is truly ironic because no one has a perfect day, not the divorced mother of two, her children, her greatly troubled, mentally ill cop ex-husband (for I while I was thinking this was going to be an Italian version of a Lifetime movie: I should have been so lucky), thepolitician running for office, his young trophy wife or his grown son…. While this was a very  well made film and yes, watchable until the end, it is terribly pessimistic. However, given the rates of wife and child abuse in the world, perhaps the ending was to have been expected. The Italians know their cinema, however. At one point, the grown son of the politician, an artist,  paints the face of his young step-mother all over a dilapidated wall and lights candles before it. The critics laughed and guffawed and it was downhill from then on…. When the Italian critics don,t like a film, they clap while making this strange booing like sound. I aksed the lady next to me what it meant, and she said, “Oh, I don,t think they liked it very much at all….It is their way to scorn….” Well, as our nuns like to say, Los Angeles audiences are very big hearted and applaud the efforts of our filmmakers. I think it takes a lot of guts to make a film in Italy….





Souleymane Sy Savane as Solo (rt) and Red West as William in GOODBYE SOLO, a film by Rahmin Bahrani


Now this small, American-made film was really good and the acting excellent. A taxi drive in Winston-Salem, a man from Senegal, picks up a fare…an older man, William, wants Solo, the driver, to drive himto a mountain in NC, on a certain date. Solo realizes the man wants to kill himself and he spends the next ten days doing everything he can to talk him out of it. Solo is also studying to become a flight attendant, his great dream, but his pregnant wife who is Mexican, wants him to keep the safe job as a taxi driver. Alex, his young step daughter, loves him, and they have a lovely relationship as she teaches him many things. Solo,s wife kicks him out (temporarily) and he moves into a motel room with William.


I won’t give away the ending but I saw William as a kind of alter-ego for Solo, who appeared for a time to act as a father figure and teacher who makes Solo stretch and grow by aggravating him, and then … disappears. One of the best I have seen so far and it is not in competition. Too bad!


Off to an evening screening now….





By Manuel de Olivera


These two short fims seem to be the fading work of de Olivera .. who is 101 years old and still making movies… because they both lack his usual  brilliant photography and though the poems have religious content, Catholic, that is, they were not so inspiring. Narrated montage…




In 1909 … if I got the date right … the housemaid of Puccini,s wife at their villa on the lake, killed herself. She caught one of Puccini,s collaborators having it on with someone important … can-t recall who… and she starts a terrible rumor about the poor housemaid to secure her silence. The girl is so good … and smart enough… that the woman need not have bothered, but she did and hence the tragedy.


The unique aspect of this simple story is that it not only shows the consequences of the work of malicious tongues, but the film is devoid of conversation. Everything is effectively acted or told through letters and telegrams … hence the difficulty of identifying at least one of the characters. Puccini was no saint, and he did try to help the poor girl, but everyone, including Puccini,s wife, her mother, and the local pastor, turned against her. I am not familiar with the details of Puccini,s life, so I am not sure this really happened. But trueor not, it is a sad morality tale, beautifully rendered in film.


Z32 … edited August 30


This Israeli film was really powerful. A filmmaker tries to find a way to tell the story of a solider who two years previously was sent out to do revenge killings on Palestinian policemen, in this case unarmed and just doing their jobs of manning a road check. Two or four, we aren,t too sure, Israeli soldiers had been killed and several army troops were sent out to do revenge killings. One solider cannot quiet his conscience. The film shows the young man trying to elicit forgiveness from his girlfriend, but though she helps him rationalize the adrenalin filled life of a soldier, she is incapable of walking in his boots. The director sings a narration… about war and inhumanity, not only to the enemy but to the soldiers of the good side.


I haven,t done any background reading on this film so I don,t know if it is in fact a documentary or a fictional film told in documentary style. Either way, it is powerful and thought/provoking, and at the end of the day, deeply sad. Because forgiveness can only come from the one who has been offended, or their wives, children, and parents.


Note today, August 30: This film is called a musical documentary. The director is like Tevye of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. He sings the story as the ex soldier tells his story. The write up in the festival catalogue says that the music was an attempt to tell a story that is essentially unrecountable through art. Though it the film drags somewhat, perhaps the audiences discomfort is a way to share in the pain of the plight of soldiers with a conscience everywhere. R


It just ends.




Charlize Theron in THE BURNING PLAIN


This film, by writer Gulliermo Arriaga … who wrote Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel, is the story of a loner, played by Charlize Theron, who sleeps with anyone, lives an empty life, and how she got to this point. The narrative begins with an old single wide trailer blowing up in the desert in what seems like New Mexico. We find that a woman, played by Kim Basinger, has died in the fire with her lover.


How they got there, and how and why they died, is what the film is about. I cannot tell you any more but these few things…. It will be a challenge for many people to watch because of the usual reasons… violence, sex, nudity, language. However, the film transcends the human flaws of the characters to achieve … perhaps another Oscar nod for the writer and director and Charlize Theron  and maybe relative newcomber Jennifer Lawrence … ok, maybe Basinger, too. The negative aspects of the film are not gratuitous but demonstrate only too well the inner realities of the characters. If you liked or appreciated any or all of the above films … Amores, 21, Babel, you will want to put this on your list.


Forgiveness is possible.




A Belgian film about a man who takes advantage of his neoghbor,s housefire to fake his death and disappear to a remote island where he has bought what he thought was a nice piece of real estate. He has been living in fear that his beautiful wife will leave him, and is dispirited, disappointed and depressed. He finds that his island paradise is in ruins because some kind of insect had invaded the island and ruined commerce. Life is extemely hard and after five years he returns home to find his wife, who has remarried.


This is again a watchable film but another downer. The main character never grows up or gets over his maliase. Life is all … nothing.




Now, this was an interesting film by Barbet Schroeder … SINGLE WHITE FEMALE… who specializes in difficult films. The last time I was in Venice, in 2000, his OUR LADY OF THE ASSASINS was in competition and it was really hard to watch.



Benoit Magimel is Alex, the crime fiction writer


This new film, however, is about a French crime novelist, Alex,  who bases himself on the work of a Japanese crime novelist who has never been seen in public. Alex, however, prides himself on creating a fictional unviverse where good triumphs over evil, the opposite of the Japanese writer.


When Alex goes to Kyoto on a book tour for his first novel published in Japan, his Japanese mentor … so to speak … threatens him on a call in TV show. Then, the publisher treats Alex and his driver, Ken, to an evening at a geisha house.


This is where the dictum or cliche, … things are not what they seem… really comes into play.


IN JU are the letters for yin and yang in Japanese … acccording to the press material. There is a lot of yin and yang going in and out of balance in the film and the lack of Alex,s ability to negotiate the line between fiction and reality.. or his incredible immaturity or auteurial arrogance turns out to be very costly indeed.


This is a difficult because of the mix of sex and violence, yet an almost brilliant film. Unfortunately, some of us on the jury figured it out before the end so it seemed almost facile. Well filmed, certainly, if not too convoluted anddeliberately over constructed for its own good.




There is a track going on here that is like a master class in film. I missed the session on Fellini, but this one on Pasolini made up for it, I think.


In 1962 Pasolini was asked to make a film made up of newsreel footage showing icons of the past, from 1946 through 1963 …  and how they can influence the future. He was making the entire thing when the producer decided to add in three other directors. So Pasolini,s first version wasn,t released … from what I can tell. So here filmmaker Giuseppe Bertolucci put together both versions and this is what we saw. Pasolini wrote the script and it is very poetic. In fact, he puts politics and poetry together. He was a Marxist so the ideology is dated, but some of the narration would fit world situations today. He also liked Pope John XXIII and … finishes off giving a very poetic eulogy on beauty to Marilyn Monroe who had recently died. I think film students will love this ,montage,. There is some amazing and memorable commentary on film, power, religion, and art by Pasolini that make it worth seeing.




This ensemble film is the directorial debut of a young Norwegian woman. It brings together several people over a few days in a small town in Norway in the early summer… it begins and ends with car crashes so these jarring events frame the film. It is beautifully filmed … and another downer. The film is not in competition but since I had time I went to this screening because there was a panel after. I didn,t have to ask why she made such a pessimistic film against a beautiful landscape because everyone wanted to know this. She said it was … ironic. Oh how very European this festival is!! Anyway, the message of the film for her was that your life is the pits if you don,tget your act together. The female figures all go against the stereotype of what most consider to be of the strong and independent Scandanavian woman. This was a surprise to the audience, and even to the key actress in the film who was present. She was surprised, when she researched the role, that abuse of women occurs even in her country. There was kindness in the film, but also great cruelty, both subtle and explicit. And there was one young girl whose father had raised her almost as a house captive, who must go out into the world when he dies … all alone, with no money. She only wants to go swimming, and because of the kindness of strangers, she finds the sea. Not so happy for everyone else.





Thursday, August 28th, yesterday, was very interesting!


ACHILLES AND THE TORTISE is a Japanaese film about a young boy who grows up to be an artist, a painter. Although it seems simple, the protagonist is almost devoid of emotion because he is so focused, but he is kindly. He brings an excellent harborscape painting to a gallery owner who kew his father and he gives him all kinds of advice over the years. Why the main character never goes to anyone else is never explained. He goes to art school, gets a job to support himself, marries, has a daughter, lets his wife support him, then his daughter… and so on and so forth. This was an entertaining film, with some humor but it left me with many questions because the man who could see was so blind to the love that was around him….


Takeshi Kitano in the lead role as the artist




Wednesday, August 27th finished off with the German film JERICHOW, the first film in competition of which there are 21 all together plus tons of other films. I will let you check … the Internet Movie Database for fimmaker details, or you can visit the Venice film Festival,s official site.


JERICHOW is a German film about a dishonorably discharged soldier who had served in Afghanistan, a Turkish man who owns a chain of snack shops and his German wife. The soldier, Thomas, has just buried his mother when the man who had lent him a lot of money comes for it, beating him in the process. Penniless, the Turkish man, Ali, who has lived in Germany since he was two years old, almost runs him off the road when he loses control of his car because he is drunk … as usual. Ali hires Tomas to be his driver because he has already lost his license. In fact, Thomas plays a good samaratin to Ali and takes the blame for the accident when the cops show up.


Benno Furmann as Thomas


Laura, Ali,s wife, and Thomas are attracted to one another, but Tomas tries to be honorable. Ali is jealous and follows his wife. Thus the scene is set for a tragedy that will reveal who among them, if any, has a good heart. Add to it the theme of identity, both human and national.


JERICHOW is the town where all this takes place. The story is a tragedy and though well filmed and very watchable, is a downer at the end of the day.

Burn after Reading Opens 65th Venice Film Festival

BURN AFTER READING is opening the festival tonight, but as I mentioned, jury members and the press were able to see it this afternoon.



BURN AFTER READING is very funny. It is a convoluted caper that combines marriage, politics, and everyday people who get caught up in a fabricated conspiracy. I think the Coen Bros. were sitting around one rainy day with nothing to do and they let their imaginations go into ,free range, mode. They get a little lazy with the overuse of the ,f, word, but the 40 something Brad Pitt playing a 20 year old trainer at a gym … is hilarious. Everyone, obviously, just takes themselves too seriously, especially the CIA … but a scary commentary on governmental incompetence. 

            The short film from Manoel de Oliveira, Do Visivel ao Invisivel … From the Visible to the Invisible… that came first was a kindly satire on the influence of cell phones on human communication. This is one all media literacy education teachers will want to have in their collections!

Venice Film Festival 2008 Day 1

65th Venice Film Festival  Journal

65 Mostra Internazionale d-arte Cinematografica

August 27, 2008


            Greetings one and all from Venice, Italy. It is about 90f and the sky is as blue as blue can be. The Adriatic Ocean is right across the street and the few peeks I got of it today show it reflecting the dome above beautifully.


Ear Plugs

            I arrived yesterday at the Marco Polo Airport right on time at 9.30am, Tuesday, August 25, from Boston through JFK … pardon all typo-s please… this is a euro keyboard and since I am on the clock in the press room… I will do the best I can and improvise as needed with punctuation! I took the water taxi … the big one… to the Lido Island … the barrier island to Venice, the last glimpse of land that Marco Polo had when he left on his big voyage. The Catholic Jury, that is, SIGNIS jury, is billeted at the Hotel Riviera which is located right across from the boat landing.

            But about the flight over. The man across the aisle from me started snoring before the dinner service was finished. I thought to myself, mama mia. This all night… So for the first time in my many flights over the last 40 years, I used the ear plugs that Delta handed out. I slept for FIVE HOURS. Please do try the ear plugs on your next long flight! However, this was an old Delta plane so they only showed one movie in 8 hours and it was Prince Caspian which I had already seen, so sleep became an easy option. Cannot believe I never tried those ear plugs before!

            After I check in at the hotel I took the bus to the festival site and got my credentials, then back to the hotel for a nice snooze. I was so glad I was here when the flight computers in the USA went down, though I am sorry for everyone who got stuck on their journeys….


Day One August 27, 2008



            The festival really begins tonight with the screening of the Coen Brothers new film, BURN AFTER READING and a short film by the 100 year old filmmaker, Manoel de Oliveira, Do Visivel ao Invisivel, FROM THE VISIBLE TO THE INVISIBLE. However, our jury was not ninvited to this red carpet event, so we were able to see the films earlier with the rest of the press corps and independent jury members.

            There really is a feeling of festival here in Venice as the Italians love their cinema. American films are also popular, though it often depends on who stars, or directs. The streets are getting more and morecrowded as the evening,s events draw near. I think the best time to come to the press room, however, is inthe evening. I tried before and it was always full of people using the 80 computer stations available.









We had our first meeting as a jury this afternoon at the Excelsior Hotel … a historic monument but now a Westin. I was asked to serve as president, and am very honored, only the third female since 1993 to do so. It is not a difficult job, however, as everyone is on the same page regarding criteria (human and Gospel values in art and story, etc.). We will meet next week and then again on Sept 5th to vote for the SIGNIS prize winner.

            The jury members … some of you will know some of us… are PETER MALONE, MSH,  who heads the SIGNIS film desk, the co author of the Lights, Camera, Faith series, and a film reviewer for over 40 years…RAFFAELLA GIANCRISTOFARO, a journalist and film critic with ROLLINGSTONE magazine Italy and who once worked with Maria Grazia Alberione, the niece of the founder of the Daughters of St. Paul, Blessed James Alberione, SSP, SERGIO JOEL ASCENSIO CASILLAS, a priest of the archdiocese of Guadalajara, Mexico, who is studying at the Pont. Salesian University, a film journalist who runs a major film festival in Guadalajara, FED|ERICO PONTIGGIO, a film journalist, for both print and online outlets, FREDDIE SATOR, a film journalist for two magazines from Belgium, CHARLES MARTIG, a Swiss film journalist and educator, and director of the Catholic Film Office for the Swiss German Bishops, Conference out of Zurich and me.

            This evening,s film is JERICHOW. I will report tomorrow!


            I am taking photos and some video with my digital camera… I will see what I can do to post something as these 12 days go by! Blessings to all

Pastoral and Evangelizing Communication Online Course to begin

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Historia de un Letrero The Story of a Sign Cannes 2008

This short film epitomizes the ability of the language of film to communicate on its own terms. People do get metaphor if communicators (of all kinds) believe in our human capacity to tell, integrate, and understand stories.

Remember, film (and television) are the only two art forms that take place completely inside your head and heart.