Six days in and there has been no buying frenzy this year at the Venice festival. But both buyers and critics appearsatisfied with the quality and range of films on offer across the festival's different sections.
After the disappointing reception for Woody Allen's opening night film Anything Else, the best received films have come from the Controcorrente or Upstream section which is competitive, but parallel to the main Venezia 60 competition. Controcorrente has produced the delightful docu-fiction The Five Obstructions co-directed by Lars von Trier and Joergen Leth and the discovery of the festival to date Pen-Ek Ratanaruang. The Thai director delivered a slow but stylishdrama Last Life In The Universe, though the film's few detractors pointed to the cinematographer Chris Doyle as having had alarge hand in the film cultured look.
Popular favourite - by a long margin with sections of the US and UK press - is Sofia Coppola's Lost In Translation, a romantic comedy about two Americans who find themselves sleepless in Tokyo. The prize for the most controversial film so far - especially here in Catholic Italy - is local Controcorrente title The Return Of The Cagliostro, a resolutely anti-clerical piece by Daniele Cipri and Franco Maresco.
The out of competition section films have been a mixed bunch. Robert Rodriguez Once Upon A Time In Mexico was regarded by many as a good romp and Francois Dupeyron's Monsieur Ibrahim Et Les Fleurs Du Coran an inconsequential but charming 1960s drama. Robert Benton's The Human Stain was seen as solid, but perhapos not up to the standard of the inflammatory material, Philip Roth's novel of the same name, that underlies it. Comments about Nicole Kidman being too glamorous for the trailer-trash role abound. Italian maestro, Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers earned mixed-to-positive responses. The erotically charged 1968 drama was notable for a standout performance from newcomer Michael Pitt, but the cynics remarked that even Bertolucci paled in comparison with the works of the many cinema maestros that are included in the picture.
But the biggest stinker - at least with the critics - has been Christopher Hampton's out-of-competition Imagining Argentina. Described as "irresponsible given the subject matter [missing people kidnapped by Argentina's military police]," by one leading critic, the film provoked giggles through the second half of the first press screening and was roundly booed at the end. A handful of journalists chose to chant the film's closing line "never again".However, others felt that a performance in front of a more sympathetic gala audience, closer to the general public, would produce different reactions.
The main competition films have been perhaps more muted. Before Monday's press screening of Takeshi Kitano's Zatoichi, Margarethe von Trotta's Rosenstrasse was probably the leader. Dealing with Jews in WWII the film is the German director's first film in ten years.
Kitano's samurai drama Zatoichi is probably his most commercial effort to date and has the virtues of style, accessibility and strong packaging.
But the best may still be to come. Given his Berlin win director Michael Winterbottom's Code 46 was a must on the viewing lists of buyers and press, Bruno Dumont's Twentynine Palms gets its first outing today (Tuesday 2 Sept), as does hot first film The Return. And 21 Grams, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's highly anticipated next film after Amoros Perros, gets its press premiere towards the end on Thursday.