VENICE – Let’s get one thing out of the way, straightaway. This is the first major international film festival to resume its physical edition in the times of Covid. Temperatures are checked; masks are worn; screenings are half full with social distancing rigorously adhered to. So far, so good… But if you’re like me you’ll be thoroughly bored of looking at ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING through Coronavirus goggles, so let’s move quickly on to the reason we’re all here. The films themselves.
Mila (Apples) is the debut film by Christos Nikou, a Greek director who sharpened his teeth in the workshops of Yorgos Lanthimos. Amnesia is spreading through the world and individuals are losing their memories. One man (Aris Servetalis) loses his while on a bus and with no proof of ID is taken into the medical system where he is tested and when unclaimed released with a program of cassettes on how to live his new life. All things are not what they seem but Nikou’s film maintains a perfectly pitched balance of comedy and tragedy. The patients are childlike in their innocence but the medical professional seem to be making things up as they go along as well, requesting their patients to jump ten meters into water and crash a car. There’s a political dimension to be read into it certainly as well as anxiety about modern technology. Apples can be a symbol of knowledge, gravity, lost innocence and high tech.
Of course being in Italy, we can’t do without a nice caustic family melodrama and few are as caustic as Daniele Luchetti’s new film Lacci (The Ties). With a narrative flashing back and forth through the decades, a story unfolds of a disintegrating domestic situation of a radio presenter (Luigi Lo Cascio, and older by Silvio Orlando) and his wife school teacher (Alba Rohrwacher then Laura Morante) as their two young children look on in growing despair. He’s having an affair and is simply bored with his wife and children. She becomes increasingly desperate and suicidal. However they stay together into old age and when their flat is broken into the story becomes more layered and complicated. It is a film of regret and bitterness: people who don’t like each other staying together out of fear and a misplaced sense of duty. The acting is histrionic, the writing with its tricksy plot worked much better in Domenico Starnone’s original novel. Everything screams metaphor.
A blood soaked crime opera Night in Paradise (Nak-won-ehi-bam) bang bang bangs onto the screen with the visceral punch that recalls the early cinema of John Woo with some of the cool smooth style of Michael Mann. Raspy voiced and charismatic presence Teo-goo Eom plays a gangster whose boss is considering a new power play. When his sister and niece are murdered, the young man is primed to kill the gang’s enemy and flee to a remote island where he must await his fate, befriending a suicidal girl, played with witty cynicism by Yeo-been Jeon. This hiatus has something of Beat Takeshi’s Sonatine to it, and the two leads get a chance to play well off each other as they eat raw fish soup. But it is in the final act when a bloody showdown ensues that the film kicks into another gear. Director Hoon-Jung Park first made his name writing the script for Joe-woon Kim’s I Saw the Devil (2010) and fans of that kind of over the top-ness will have plenty to relish here.