Festival Watch: 62nd Venice International Film Festival

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The Independent Culture

Clooney brought his second directorial effort, Good Night, And Good Luck. The title refers to the catchphrase of the broadcast journalist Edward R Murrow, who in the 1950s used his television show to attack Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-Communist witch hunts. Murrow is played by David Strathairn, but Clooney opted to use archive footage rather than have an actor play McCarthy. It works surprisingly well.

It was hardly surprising that parallels with the current clampdown on Islamic terrorism were made. Clooney, who has a home in Italy, said: "My goal is not to attack any administration. My goal is to raise a debate." Questioned further, he added: "I didn't make the film as a political statement, I made it as a historical document."

One film certain to be in the running for Oscar nominations is Brokeback Mountain. Ang Lee's adaptation of Annie Proulx's novella - described as "Cowgays" by the festival's daily newspaper - features Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger as ranch hands having a rambunctious love affair when working on a ranch one summer.. The film is paced like a Sergio Leone western and simmers with sexual tension as the cowboys try to hide their feelings from their wives, lovers and ultimately themselves. Ledger and Gyllenhaal are terrific, yet neither manages the same level of performance in the other, much anticipated films they feature in.

Gyllenhaal turns up also in John Madden's adaptation of the play Proof, as a mathematician who does not believe the daughter of a deceased rivalhas written a groundbreaking mathematical proof. Gwyneth Paltrow reprises the role she played at the Donmar Warehouse in 2002. The movie has been sitting on the shelf at Miramax for a year and it has none of the subtlety and ambiguity of the stage play.

In Terry Gilliam's The Brothers Grimm, Ledger plays against type, with Matt Damon. The two are con men who roam Germany, ridding the countryside of evil. In typical Gilliam fashion, it is a chaotic tale that does not always make sense but is visually fantastic and, ultimately, very enjoyable.

The same cannot be said for Casanova. Lasse Hallstrom's period romance, filmed in Venice, stars Ledger as the eponymous hero and was trumpeted as the festival's centrepiece. It turned out like the big screening party in St Mark's square - a wash-out. The only lasting memory the film provided was of Sienna Miller standing under an umbrella on the red carpet, refusing to answer questions about Jude Law while the crowds ran for cover.

Two films are likely to challenge those gay cowboys for the big awards. Patrice Chéreau's end-of-a-marriage tale Gabrielle, adapted from Joseph Conrad's novel The Return, is a masterclass in film-making. Isabelle Huppert is fabulous as the wife who walks out on her husband, leaving a note announcing that she has been having an affair, only to return home a few hours later.

Fernando (City of God) Meirelles' adaptation of John Le Carré's The Constant Gardener features Ralph Fiennes as Justin Quayle, who ventures through three continents after his wife's death in northern Kenya.

If there is to be a surprise winner of the Golden Bear it may be Abel Ferrara's Mary, which contains a film within a film called This is My Blood, a new version of the Christ story that suggests Mary Magdalene was the most important disciple of Jesus. Mary stars Juliette Binoche and Matthew Modine and is more interesting in retrospect than it is to watch. The same could be said of Takeshi Kitano's untitled self-parody, a collection of vaudeville skits by the cult Japanese director.

Playing outside of the competition was the adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's novelEverything is Illuminated. Liev Schreiber does a fine job in his directorial debut, with Elijah Wood taking on the role of Safran Foer, which the author himself had been keen to take. "That would have been too surreal," said Schreiber.

The sleeper hit of the festival has been C.R.A.Z.Y, a gay coming-of-age tale that has broken box-office records in Quebec, while the biggest disaster was the hospital horror Fragile, starring Ally McBeal's Calista Flockhart. Audiences were laughing at how bad it was. In showing their determination to enjoy cinema no matter what, they captured the mood of this year's festival.

Kaleem Aftab