From the cinematic traces disseminated in the line-up of the 26th Venice International Film Critics’ Week, one can decode the geography of a specific, harsh, disturbing contemporaneity. The filmmakers who map it – here at their directorial debuts – are all quite young and, with aesthetic bravery and an assured use of the medium, present an often despairing actuality, where not only existential conditions (and not always and only of youth) are put to the test, but also environmental safety, the relationship with the world’s natural resources, and attempts to reconcile with the consequences of migratory flows.
A comprehensive view of the latest Cannes Film Festival, for instance, reveals a contemporary vision whose themes often alluded to childhood problems, abuse and extreme forms of hostility within the very “family” (case in point: Malick’s astonishing film). While selecting our own line-up, we too came upon a handful of excellent films often flirting with the topic of the “family.” Therefore, we have become convinced that the ultimate and desperate search for a cinema that wants to be the bearer of signs of renewal within a global crisis revolves around the key theme of family conflict, be it dramatically or, more sporadically, comically.
Nine films will be presented this year, nine debut features making their world premieres, including the opening and closing titles that, although out of competition, fit perfectly within the above analysis. They speak of different things in different ways, yet are all tuned in to the same expressive urgency, which is most interests us – a gaze, an intensity, even a brute force of the cinematic act.
They come from different countries – two are Italian, many are from Europe and Latin American although notably the East, Iran and the United States are absent (though there is a Canadian entry) – which (we are not looking for forced reasons) may just be chance, circumstance, simply an alternation of our cinematic taste. However, sometimes the confirmations are striking. Specifically, what seems to be positive in young Italian cinema – beyond the economic and political crisis that often regards culture as a burden to shed and not as a value and right for everyone – is a certain shameless freedom, a bravery that may still be naïve but is of great value. It does not necessarily produce works of steady albeit average intensity (as French cinema has been doing for years, ever attentive to its debuting directors), but rather films that, although imperfect, are inspired by an inner strength and urgency that render them even more necessary.
We feel this year’s harvest is a good one, and is highlighted by our two Italian choices. Là-bas by Neapolitan director Guido Lombardi – in competition – is a tense, harsh film that oscillates between quasi-documentary and gangster noir in its up-close analysis of the living conditions of a community of African immigrants on the Campania coast that alludes, none too discreetly, to the dramatic and bloody events of September 2008. This all-black movie mixing ethnic groups, idioms and cultures does not seek to offer ideology or consolation, but rather strives to observe with rigour and participation the reasons why these immigrants looking for a better life far from their homeland often get trapped in the worst local Camorra criminality.
By presenting Tuscan director Francesco Lagi’s Missione di pace – the closing, out-of-competition film – we offer our contribution to the definition of the paths that could be followed within the comedy genre. Here, we have a grotesque satire of both military and anti-military films, a sort of breezy and giggly mix of Monicelli-like armies, soldiers à la Salvatores and the irreverence of Richard Lester and Robert Altman. In one of the many peacekeeping missions in the Balkans, a very earnest but overly ambitious young pacifist joins a troop of soldiers headed by his father (played by Silvio Orlando). Tensions between father and son are at their peak (the family, as previously stated) as a dangerous war criminal is captured (reflecting historic current events as we write) and all is presented with healthy, unbridled fantasy.
While our detailed programme offers much information about this year’s programme – which opens with another out-of-competition film, Simon Kaijser da Silva’s Swedish entry Stockholm Östra, a jewel of dramatic tension with a tremendous ensemble cast, a family drama that is also a love story about the grieving process and guilt – nevertheless some of the more interesting curiosities on the remaining six films in competition are worth mentioning.
Argentinean entry El campo (which was developed and co-produced with Italy’s Cinecittà Luce), the story of a couple in crisis set in a house in the countryside, always verges on becoming a thriller and fascinates with its ability to express the sense of loss and confusion hidden behind the established forms of a conjugal relationship. The other Latin American entry is El lenguaje de los machetes by young Mexican director Kyzza Terrazas, a partner in work and play of renowned film stars Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna. The story is told with the same wild and neurotic style of its two protagonists, a couple of young drifters – she’s a punk singer, he’s militant video-maker close with Zapatista sympathies – who plan an act of extreme terrorism, but clash over their differing awareness of the present.
Nestled fully within the “family” discourse is the surprising German film Totem by Jessica Krummacher. The typical cruelties à la Haneke and Seidl abound in this story of a young housemaid driven by a middle-class family into an exhausting game of control and command determined by the dissatisfaction of a social class in crisis. A family in the midst of a drama is at the center of Guy Édoin’s Canadian entry Marécages, in which a true tragedy unfolds against the backdrop of a drought that tests the hard work of farmers, narrated with poetic and raw style.
The economic crisis turns a middle-class woman into one of the “new poor,” forced to live in a car while waiting for a council house, in Louise Wimmer. The protagonist of Cyrill Mennegun’s film refuses both help and sympathy, resolutely and brusquely seeking to overcome her degradation (of both body and identity) in this discovery of a new French auteur.
Finally, another film on current times that narrates, after 25 years (but in the year of the Japanese catastrophe), the tragic nuclear accident at Chernobyl, which caused the death and contamination of thousands of people. La terre outrage – a French-Ukrainian production directed by French-Israeli documentary filmmaker Michale Boganim – tells the fictional story of several characters and families destroyed by the event. Observing them in two different moments – the day of the accident and ten years later – this debut of the highest quality adopts a refined, absorbing, poetic and intense style.