The Venice Film Festival posted 70-ish short films online to commemorate their 70th anniversary. I watched them gradually over the past year. These are the ones I did not care for. Favorites are here and the rest here.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Visual: driving straight road in the rain through wipers
Audio: ocean with seagulls

Jean-Marie Straub

Single silent shot of pages relaying some quotes about death in a couple of French films.

Lluís Galter

Fuzzy slow-mo long shots of people near water.

Karim Aïnouz

Search party? Man in orange vest with flashlight helmet vanishes into mist.

Bernardo BertolucciRed Shoes

Electric Wheelchair drives over rough street.

Amos Gitai

Still photos of a man on beach crossfade while Jeanne Moreau speaks of a poem (or perhaps not literally a poem).

Lav Diaz

Handheld shot through an upper-floor window as an elderly person slowly walks down the street, then a poetic voiceover kicks in.

Todd Solondz

Ridiculous course catalog of a Chinese film history program 1000 years in the future, using an early-80’s-looking screen with early-90’s-sounding text-to-speech.

Marlen KhutsievIn Perpetuum Infinituum

Chekhov and Tolstoy are having a motion-picture portrait taken. Then: champagne, war footage, a brass band and a giant Viva Cinema intertitle.

Tobis LindholmThe Hit

Two camoflaged jeeps are driving. Bomb!

Claire Denis

Overheard conversation gives way to a noisy Tindersticks song. Is it that she can’t be bothered to find new music, or does she truly love Tindersticks that much? Camera seems to be inside a bag or under a scarf – I’m not convinced this short was even made on purpose.

Rama Burshtein

Man is told to open his mouth. Finally he does. A dance song plays. Hunh?

Semih KaplanogluDevran

Static shot of – what’s that, a tree? – with audio of thunderstorm and constant firefly flicker.

Franco Piavoli

Fire and yelling, then children and sunsets.

Amiel Courtin-Wilson

Rough-looking man plays a prolonged Amazing Grace on harmonica in close-up.

Tusi Tamasese

Stills of some leaves, then of two people doing… I don’t know what, since it’s over already.

Michele PlacidoYorick’s Speech

Old guy says the youth of today are the future of filmmaking while a banal pop song plays.

Julio Bressane

Silent 16mm clips, then clips from 1960’s period epics, something like that.

Eduardo de Gregorio, cowriter of the great Celine and Julie Go Boating, died last month. I don’t know any of his non-Rivette works, so I watched one he wrote/directed and one he adapted from a Borges story directed by Bertolucci, both very good.

Surreal Estate (1976, Eduardo de Gregorio)

A novelist (Corin Redgrave, Vanessa and Lynn’s brother) seeks a country house in France as an investment – can’t find gate so he climbs the wall. A sexy, ghostly Bulle Ogier shows him around then abruptly disappears when he attempts to enter a forbidden room. Already he’s referring to his situation as novelistic: “Her act was pointless. The mixture of old clothes, erotic come-on and overacted hysteria was in the most hackneyed gothic tradition, a tradition I had done my own small part to debase.”

Next time he meets a different girl (Marie-France Pisier, Bulle’s fiction-house coinhabitant in Celine & Julie) and an older servant (Gigi star Leslie Caron). He rightly comes to think that the vanishing girls are part of an imaginative scam to get him to buy the house, and decides that he must meet Bulle again to write a book about her – but eventually he buys with the understanding that the two beautiful girls will stay there with him – which they do not.

Leslie Caron:

Marie-France:

I lost track at the end of who really was working for whom, and who knew what about which scam, instead paying attention to the mobile camera creeping around corners, the great crazed piano music, and the self-conscious gothic atmosphere the film is creating. Shot by Ricardo Aronovich (Ruiz’s Time Regained and Klimt) with assistant director Claire Denis!

But maybe losing track of the plot threads and simply reveling in the atmosphere of mystery was the film’s intent. It seems to purposely confound expectations in order to mess with Redgrave, beyond simply the goal of selling the house, and the girls end up competing for him (and against him), while Caron takes a larger role than first expected, and even takes over narration for a while.

D. Cairns in The Forgotten:

Secret passages and two-way mirrors are hinted at. What emerges is a much stranger yarn, one which never fully coalesces into an “explanation.” Depending on one’s inclinations, this is either less or much more satisfying than the initial Scooby Doo plot. What seems to be the case is that the younger women are actresses playing parts for the dubious benefit of Redgrave, whose mind starts to unravel when faced with such duplicity. … The idea of actors performing a semi-improvised “play” in a real location with an unwitting stooge as co-star is a beautifully Rivettian one.

Of course, Marie-France Pisier (Agathe) had problems with flowers in Celine & Julie as well.


The Spider’s Stratagem (1970, Bernardo Bertolucci)

Bertolucci made this the same year as The Conformist. I think I’ve underestimated him because the only movie I’ve watched in the last decade was his underwhelming The Dreamers. Similarities to Surreal Estate: it’s about an outsider entering an enclosed world full of unknown intrigues. Also, both movies have overt Macbeth references. Very elegant camerawork, outdoing the other feature.

Young Athos comes to the town where his militant anti-fascist father (also Athos, and they look identical) lived and was murdered. He meets his father’s mistress Draifa (Alida Valli of The Third Man, schoolmistress of Suspiria), who sets Athos to investigating the murder. The town is hostile to his queries, and Athos feels endangered from all fronts except by creepy Draifa who wants to hook him up with a young niece so he’ll stay. Then when he tries to flee in frustration, the secretive parties suddenly open up.

The main suspect was fascist Beccaccia, who finally tells Athos “unfortunately, it wasn’t us who killed your father.” Elder Athos’s three friends, who seem alternately welcoming and sinister, finally give up the plot – that Athos had ratted on his own group when they’d planned to bomb a visiting Mussolini, then had allowed them to shoot him instead, martyring him for the cause.

Ebert:

He’s on a strange sort of quest. He doesn’t seem to really care much who killed his father (if you’ll forgive me for not taking the plot at quite face value). In a way, he is his own father, or his father’s alter-ego. Magnani was the only vital life force in the district, and the district defined itself by his energy. Even the fascist brownshirts gained stature and dignity because Magnani opposed them, and Bertolucci demonstrates this with a great scene at an outdoor dance. The brownshirts order the band leader to play the fascist anthem. All dancing stops, and everyone looks at Magnani to see what he’ll do. Coolly, elegantly, he selects the most beautiful girl and begins to dance with her.

Where did this movie come from, and what happened to it? How come this and Chacun du cinema, anthology films with tons of super-famous directors, aren’t well known and out on video? Paris, Je T’aime did pretty well, right? Whatever… we’ve got two 90-minute anthologies here, “The Trumpet” (the first seven listed below) and “The Cello”. Each has short films with the theme of ten minutes, or else something to do with time and the number ten. Each begins with some light jazz, abstract images of water, then the signature of the director on a black background and the title of the short.


The Trumpet

Aki Kaurismäki – Dogs Have No Hell
image
More dry wit from Aki. Guy spends the night in jail, gets out and has ten minutes until the train leaves for Siberia (via Moscow). In that ten minutes, he finds a girl he knows, proposes to her, buys a wedding ring and gets them both train tickets. Not much in itself, but a good start to the anthology, setting up the whole ten minutes thing.

Víctor Erice – Lifeline
image
A sleeping baby starts bleeding while its twenty-or-more family members are each doing their own thing. Time passes, tension mounts. Someone finally notices the baby and fixes him up, no problem. Great camerawork here! The kid above is listening to a watch he drew on his wrist.

Werner Herzog – Ten Thousand Years Older
image
A sad ten-minute documentary. Twenty years ago in Brazil, contact was made with the last tribe of people anywhere in the world who didn’t have watches and t-shirts and chicken pox. We gave them all three of those things, the chicken pox killed most of them, and now there aren’t many left. Werner, along with a member from the original team, checks up on them. The younger generation is embarrassed by their parents, want to move to the city. The older ones, represented by the war chief (above right, with his brother on left) ponder their fates and the passage of time.

Jim Jarmusch – Int. Trailer Night
image
Chloe Sevigny tries to unwind in her trailer on a film shoot for ten minutes. There are interruptions. It’s pretty, but what else is it?

Wim Wenders – Twelve Miles to Trona
image
Wenders manages to make a ten-minute desert road movie. This is kinda hilarious actually… straight guy accidentally overdoses on unknown hallucinogenic drug, has to drive himself to the hospital in another town ten minutes away. He doesn’t make it, but a passerby gets him there and he’s okay. Looked a bit like one of those Masters of Horror episodes where they mess with the camera to make things look trippy, but it pulled me in pretty well. They played two loud Eels songs from the Souljacker album.

Spike Lee – We Wuz Robbed
image
A compressed mini-doc about Bush II stealing the 2000 presidential election from Gore (with help from the mass media and supreme court), snappy and nicely done, using all interviews and TV news graphics.

Chen Kaige – 100 Flowers Hidden Deep
image
Crazy guy brings a moving company to a dirt lot to move his furniture. Finally they pretend like they’re moving furniture to appease the guy, until one mover “drops” a “vase” and breaks it. Not great, but cute. Wish it didn’t end with an awful, sub-2046 wireframe 3D animation though.


The Cello

Three of the seven Trumpet shorts made me tear up with emotion (hint: Spike Lee yes, Wim Wenders no), but most of the Cello disc left me sad, tired or bored. Huge difference there, but I’d rather have it that way than have the crap diluting the good stuff over both discs. If only the Michael Radford short had been on the Trumpet disc, I could’ve just sold Cello.

Bernardo Bertolucci – Histoire d’eaux
image
I kinda liked this, but it still gave me a sort of “uh oh” feeling about The Cello when it started. Foreigner (Indian?) is in Italy with a pile of other foreigners, confused thinks he’s in Germany. Old guy wanders away from the group asks our man for a drink of water. Our man finds a girl, fixes her motorcycle, marries her, has kids, gets a nice job, buys a car, crashes the car, wanders off from the car crash site and sees the old man still waiting for his water.

Claire Denis – Vers Nancy
image
A dry, academic conversation on a train about outsiders & foreigners, with the writer and one of the actors of Denis’ 2004 feature The Intruder. I haven’t seen Intruder, but this is obviously a companion piece, prequel or commentary on it. It almost put me to sleep, and I wasn’t even tired.

Mike Figgis – About Time 2
image
Figgis was the oscar-nom director of Leaving Las Vegas, but I don’t think the producers of Ten Minutes Older realized that in 2002 his career was on the verge of death after Timecode and the critically bashed Hotel (it would die for real the following year with Cold Creek Manor). This is a nonsense short, shot Timecode-style. So far, it is the least-bearable ten minutes I have watched this year… I was itching to fast-forward.

Jean-Luc Godard – Dans le noir du temps
image
In collaboration with Anne-Marie Miéville, I think this was actually a trailer for Histoire(s) du Cinema. They’re definitely related. The most unfortunate similarity to Histoire(s) is that this was only partially translated – none of the onscreen French text has subtitles.

Jirí Menzel – One Moment
image
A very nice tribute (using archive footage) to Czech actor Rudolf Hrusínský who acted in more than ten of Menzel’s movies and died in 1994.

Michael Radford – Addicted to the Stars
image
Guy travels 80 light years in suspended animation in a space capsule, gets back to earth and doctors say he has only aged ten minutes. Goes to visit his son, who was a young boy when he went away, now a very old man. Movie has an awesome sci-fi look to it, and I liked the story and atmosphere – a very nice short, my favorite of the Cello bunch. Fresh off Lara Croft Tomb Raider, Daniel Craig starred as the astronaut.

Volker Schlöndorff – The Enlightenment
image
Camera zooms around an outdoor party while unseen narrator ponders the nature of time. At end camera flies into a bug light and dies. It turns out we have been a mosquito. Har!

István Szabó – Ten Minutes After
image
Szabó is the Hungarian director of Lovefilm and Sunshine – I haven’t seen anything else of his. A husband comes home extremely drunk and angry, starts storming around the house while his wife watches upset, “what’s wrong? you never drink!”, finally he tries to strangle her, she stabs him, emergency crew arrives in like fifteen seconds, cops question her, the end. Why? I thought it was gonna be all one long shot, but then I saw a cut towards the end, so there were probably a couple others.