Rome’s annual film showcase has reached its conclusion, but after this year’s sub-par event it is clear that the festival still has a lot of growing up to do if it has any desire to compete with its more mature rival in Venice. Marred by another protest on the final night of proceedings, there were simply too many incidents throughout the festival’s duration. There were projection errors, late and cancelled screenings and press conferences that were scheduled before screenings.
But despite all this, the festival was a success at the box-office. Attendance figures were up from last year as was the amount of press representation and the turnout of Italian talent although international attendance was slightly down.
The top prizes went to Olias Barco for his debut feature Kill Me Please that collected the award for best film, Susanne Bier’s In a Better World, captured both the audience award and Grand Jury prize, while Chris Kraus’ The Poll Diaries won the Special Jury prize. Individual accolades went to Toni Servillo for his role in A Quiet Life and the entire female cast of Las Buenas Hierbas claimed the award for best actress.
With 146 films screened in total, there was a wealth of cinema viewing over the eight-day period; here is a quick round up of some of the best and worst from the second half of this year’s Rome Film Festival.
In a Better World
Susanne Bier’s In a Better World is an exploration of human behaviour and the violent reactions caused by anger, retaliation and tragedy. Christian is a young boy who has just lost his mother and is angry with his father for not trying harder to help her. Elias is bullied at school on a daily basis and his parents, Anton and Marianne, are in the midst of a marital crisis. Forming an unlikely friendship Christian and Elias find themselves into all sorts of trouble, and one day things go too far. Bier has carried out a masterful job at developing each of the central characters and the bond they develop. Edge of your seat intensity from start to finish, the script is full of tension and torment. Selected as Denmark’s nomination for next year’s best foreign film Oscar, In a Better World’s excellence was confirmed when it collected two major prizes in Rome, including the audience award.
Winner of the Special Jury Prize and nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, Josh Fox’s documentary GasLand is a chilling look at the devastating effects that drilling-companies are having on small rural communities in America. In an attempt to tap into the so called ‘Saudi Arabia of natural gas’ these companies, who claim they are unaccountable, are contaminating the water supplies, polluting the surrounding areas with toxic gases and effectively holding helpless families hostage in their own homes. A harrowing insight into what America is allowing to happen to its own citizens, the levels of contamination have gotten so bad that some of the residents are even able to set their tap water on fire. But with too much focus on Fox himself and the pleasure he seems to get from hearing his own voice, GasLand is repetitive, condescending and lacks a true balance of opinion. However Fox should be praised for giving a voice to a group of people who are trying to be silenced.
A Quiet Life
In hiding and living an adopted life for the last 15 years, a retired camorrista struggles to hide from his previous life when a ghost from the past pays him an unexpected visit. A Quiet Life explores the language of feelings, focusing on individuals and their daily struggle to hide their vulnerability and torment. Directed by Claudio Cupellini, Toni Servillo plays the role of Rosario, a ruthless and powerful camorrista who faked his death and disappeared without a trace 15 years earlier. Now living a simple life in Germany, Rosario is the owner of a hotel-restaurant and is content simply playing happy families. But his life becomes complicated when his son from his previous life shows up en route to a job for the current camorra. Expertly played by Servillo, the character of Rosario is full of depth and intrigue; throughout the film he displays the full spectrum of emotions ranging from quiet and humble to ferocious, clinical and calculating. The roles of his son Diego (Marco D’Amore) and Diego’s friend Edoardo (Francesco di Leva) are both perfectly cast as the two hot-headed gangster wannabes. Slick, engrossing and intense, A Quiet Way is a fine example of the darker side of Italian cinema.
The final film from French director Alain Corneau, Love Crime is a thriller about two women’s desperate desire to be on top, and the inevitable face-off which takes place as a direct result of the struggle for power. A slick but predictable piece of work, Love Crime feels more like a glamorised Columbo special than the highbrow sexy crime thriller it strives to be. Entertaining for the most part, Kristen Scott Thomas is as sexy and convincing as ever, playing the part of the power hungry, cold-hearted big boss, while young upstart Isabelle (Ludivine Sagnier) is both effective and irritating. The story is full of twists and turns but these are obvious and predictable. More a study of the emotions associated with crimes of passion than anything else, Love Crime is watchable at best, but a far cry from Corneau’s finest work.
Kill Me Please
Winner of this year’s main jury prize, Olias Barco’s debut feature is a black-and-white farce about a clinic which assists people with suicide. Operated by Dr Kruger (Aurelien Recoing), daily tasks range from viewing some of the many video auditions for admission to the clinic, meeting with patients to confirm that their reasons for suicide are valid and, of course, killing people. Once accepted each patient can then ask for his or her ‘perfect suicide’, be it a fantastical role-play, special meal or sex with a prostitute. Unsurprisingly the local community is outraged by the morality of the clinic and decides to attack it. Utterly ridiculous right from the opening scene, Kill Me Please contains a very vague plot somewhere amongst the weirdness and by the time we reach the conclusion it’s all out mayhem. There are strong comedic performances from the entire cast and, despite its flaws, this is an entertaining piece of cinema.
A Hong Kong-French co-production, Lui Bingjian’s The Back is dark, slow and uncomfortably mysterious. Following the life of Hong Tao, a 30-year old man living in China in the mid ’90s, we learn that Tao’s father was a famous portrait painter of Mao who developed a fetish for torturing people by tattooing portraits of the Chinese dictator on their bodies. The human prints are now worth millions and there are unscrupulous antique dealers as desperate to acquire them as Hong Tao is to erase the constant reminder of his painful past from his body. Embarking on a journey which takes him to the outer regions of both China and his reality, Hong Tao is on a mission to set himself free. An interesting story with some highly emotive scenes, The Back is a film which requires extreme patience and demands close attention, but is confusing for large parts of the running time and occasionally hard to follow. Ultimately the film fails to capitalise fully on what is potentially an intriguing and original subject matter.
Olivier Assayas’s Carlos is a fictional biopic about the life of Venezuelan revolutionary and notorious international terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez. For two decades, Sanchez, better known as Carlos, was one of the most wanted men on the planet, reaching the height of his notoriety in 1975 after seizing control of the OPEC headquarters in Vienna and holding the world’s oil ministers hostage. Originally made as a 3-part, 335-minute television mini-series, the theatrical version has been cut down to 165-minutes and this is evident throughout the film. More a collection of scenes than a fast paced-flowing drama, there are too many points in the film that aren’t fully explained. Edgar Ramirez plays the part of Carlos and his performance is exceptional, exuding effortless cool and charisma. Like Carlos, Venezuelan-born Ramirez is a polyglot, fluent in multiple languages, and seems at home wherever he finds himself. A highly accomplished and intriguing story, Assayas has compromised the effectiveness and quality of the piece by attempting to compress so many levels of information into a shorter time scale. But, putting these details aside, Carlos is still one of the most entertaining and insightful films you will see this year.
The Flowers of Kirkuk
The Flowers of Kirkuk is the second film from Fariborz Kamkari, a young Kurdish director born in Iran, now living and working in Italy. Based in Iraq during the 1980s, the film attempts to reconstruct the violent persecution of the Iraqi Kurds during Saddam Hussein’s bloody dictatorship. In the midst of the warzone, Kamkari tells the tragic love story of Najla, a rich and beautiful Iraqi who moved to Italy to study medicine but has now returned to Baghdad in search of her boyfriend Sherko, a Kurdish doctor returned to his homeland to help the rebel forces of Pashmerga. With the best intentions of depicting this dark period in his peoples’ history, Kamkari has attempted to tell the story through his rebellious heroine who fights against laws and traditions, all in the name of love and humanitarianism. But despite high aspirations, the narrative does not have the depth of historical information, fact and credibility that is required to make Flowers anything less than a cliched melodrama. The Romeo and Juliet style romance carries too much prominence and ends up choking the historical aspect of the script, which acts merely as prop for the love story. Ultimately the film lacks plausibility and ends up resembling a soap opera with love scenes in the moonlight, whispered love letters, pain, sacrifice and, as the title promises, flowers.
Full list of awards from the 2010 Rome Film Festival:
Marc’Aurelio Jury Award for Best Film: Kill Me Please by Olias Barco
Marc’Aurelio Grand Jury Award: In a Better World by Susanne Bier
Marc’Aurelio Special Jury Award: The Poll Diaries by Chris Kraus
Marc’Aurelio Jury Award for Best Actor: Toni Servillo for A Quiet Life
Marc’Aurelio Jury Award for Best Actress: the entire female cast of Las Buenas hierbas
Special Plaque of the President of the Italian Republic for the film which best emphasizes human and social values: Dog Sweat by Hossein Keshavarz
Marc’Aurelio Audience Award for Best Film – BNL: In a Better World by Susanne Bier
Marc’Aurelio Award for Best Documentary in the Extra section: The Rainmakers by Floris-Jan Van Luyn
Marc’Aurelio Award for Emerging New Talents: Kaspar Munk for Hold Me Tight
Marc’Aurelio Alice in the City Under 12 Award: I Want To Be a Soldier by Christian Molina
Marc’Aurelio Alice in the City Over 12 Award: Oxygen by Hans Van Nuffel
Marc’Aurelio Acting Award: Julianne Moore.