by Elisa Giudici
Did you miss any courtroom dramas? Today, Venice has heard you, delivering two strong films about remarkable trials (one based on a true story, the other fictional), plus an old-school western. Also, did you hear? France now has a major contender for the Golden Lion (as usual)…
The Lord of the Ants (Il signore delle mosche) by Gianni Amelio
Based on a true story set in 1960s Italy, Il signore delle mosche follows the trial against Aldo Braibanti (Luigi Lo Cascio) for “plagio”. A journalist helpfully explains the situation in the film: During Fascism, Mussolini refused to acknowledge that homosexuals even existed in Italy, so the word “homosexual” was not included in Italian law. In the absence of explicit laws against homosexuals, they instead used a vague, genderless crime of “plagiarizing the minds and bodies of young people” to punish them.
Director Amelio, 77, who won the Golden Lion in 1998 with The way we laughed, follows the trial of a myrmecologist (an ant-focused branch of entomology, hence the title) who is accused of “plagiarizing” one of his barely legal students. It’s fascinating to see this queer story told so implicitly given the context; there is not even a single kiss between the professor and his student. Amelio sheds light on both the infamous trial and the homophobic way it was framed by L’Unità, the official Communist Party newspaper at the time. Braibanti, a Marxist with a background as an anti-fascist fighter in World War II has been abandoned by his comrades. The film aims to prove that homophobia was a non-partisan scourge shared by all politicians and cultural institutions in 1960s Italy.
Amelio’s decision to have Cascio, Elio Germano, and other actors speak in outdated, contrived Italian, combined with a stiff, labored style of delivery (similar to how ancient theater actors spoke during monologues) is a blessing for those who are not fluent enough in Italian. It’s just one of the ways the trial over passionate, tender love turns into a cold, tedious rapport focused on technical details. The film also serves as a reminder of the shifting mainstream discourse around power dynamics in relationships recently, albeit perhaps unintentionally. Amelio, as co-writer and director, sees nothing but love and affection in this story, but I wonder how audiences, gay or not, will receive it.
(Weird side: remember my short introduction to Father Pio, the holy monk played by Shia LaBoeuf in Abel Ferrara’s film? During this trial, a witness explains that one of Braibanti’s “victims” was saved from homosexuality by Padre Pio himself!)
DEATH FOR A DOLLAR by Walter Hill
Westerns aren’t my cup of tea, at least if there aren’t secretly gay cowboys involved. It looks like I’m not the only one who found the return of the master of the genre a missed opportunity at best. dead for a dollar has a very classic and retro approach to the genre: like Amelio, Hill is out of touch with contemporary sensibilities. If Cronenberg can look back in a movie called Future CrimesWalter Hill can certainly do an old-school nostalgic Western.
The problem, however, is the quality of its shooting, editing and stitching. Here the color correction is amazingly yellow without any undertones. The problem is compounded by modern high definition instead of film grain. There are also several examples of violate the 180˚ rule for no apparent reason. Coupled with a low-budget production design and a conventional “bounty hunter follows an outlaw” plot, you’ll wonder why Hill rushed a comeback with such a mediocre film. The bright side: Willem Dafoe seems to be having fun playing his character, a horse thief just released from a five-year prison sentence.
SAINT OMER by Alice Diop
French cinema continues to surprise with an impressive first feature at almost every festival. How do they do? It’s a film that we can easily imagine putting all the members of the jury on the same wavelength. Will France win another consecutive Golden Lion? (Event triumphed last year) If Saint Omer bring home the prize, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Alice Diop’s film is yet another film about motherhood, one of the main themes of the festival this year. The story slowly unfolds as a courtroom drama about a young Senegalese migrant who kills her baby. Guslagie Malanda delivers a subtle yet powerful performance as Laurence Coly, the ambitious, hungry and remorseless mother on trial at the Saint-Omer Criminal Court. Watching the trial is Rama (Kayije Kagame), the other main character. She is another Senegalese writer and teacher. She is working on an adaptation of Medea among migrants and hopes to find inspiration in witnessing this deeply disturbing trial. Future mother herself, Rama must face her fears about motherhood, deeply rooted in her family history and cultural heritage, two traits that bring her closer to Laurence’s story.
Like Diop’s previous films, Saint Omer shows how manipulative and coercive European society can be for young African migrants. Its staging is rigorous and minimalist, the camera trained on Laurence’s face as she reconstructs – not always coherently – what led her to kill her own child after being isolated by her much older lover. and frightened by signs of witchcraft. Coly is a hot-tempered but dignified character, who acknowledges “the spiral of lies I lived in before it collapsed”. However, she is convinced that a bad spell pushed her to kill her daughter. Something, she is sure, “I won’t be able to explain it to you Westerners”.
Although it’s a very impressive cinema, the balance between Rama’s story and Laurence’s story is far from ideal and the solemn pace sometimes dilutes the tension. Still, it’s a great movie. Kudos to Alice Diop, who pulled off a narrative debut with a strong personal touch, a subtle deployment of her documentary skills, and two stellar performances, all on very limited means.
#1 – Tar, white noise…
#2 – Bardo False Chronicle of…
#3 – Bones and All, Monica, All Beauty and Bloodshed
#4 – The Whale, Argentina 1985, Master Gardener
#5 – L’Immensità, Other people’s children, Loving life…
#6 – Banshees of Inisherin, Don’t Worry Darling Eternal Daughter