Festival watch

Geoffrey Macnab hands out his alternative awards for the Venice Festival
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Most irritable author

John Updike's memoir Self-Consciousness offers a wonderfully wry and satirical account of the author going to see The Witches of Eastwick at the cinema and trying to work out just what it had in common with the novel he had written. Philip Roth evidently felt similar misgivings about The Human Stain being brought to the screen. The author came to the set one day, to watch Anthony Hopkins et al at work on his tale of the compromised, septuagenarian professor, Coleman Silk. "[Roth's] very opinionated... as you might expect," says Gary Sinise (who plays Silk's friend and amanuensis Nathan Zuckerman.) "We were sitting around telling him some of the ideas that we were thinking about for the movie. He'd say 'Why would you do that?' or 'That's a dumb word, don't use that'." In the end, Roth realised that he had signed away the rights and let go. "He said, look, I don't want to know what you're doing!"

One of the many changes made was to the character of Lester Farley, the violent, abusive husband of Faunia (Nicole Kidman), the 34-year-old cleaning lady Silk has an affair with. The Texan director Robert Benton says he made Lester "much more sympathetic than Roth intended me to make him". Benton, jokingly, blames his own rabble-rousing family for this (two of his uncles died in shooting incidents). "It may have been caused by the ghost of one or other of my uncles threatening me!"

One role you couldn't imagine Ingrid Bergman playing

As her outings in Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart attest, Isabella Rossellini has never been frightened of taking outlandish roles, but her legless Winnipeg beer baroness, Lady Port-Huntly, in Guy Maddin's The Saddest Music in the World is surely her strangest role yet. The film, set in the Depression era, shows Rossellini wearing furs, a tiara and a Jean Harlow-style wig. Her legs are squashed in a car accident right at the start of the film, but by the final reel she has been provided with a pair of prosthetic, crystal, beer-filled limbs. Maddin throws in constant luminous close-ups of his lead which (disconcertingly) make her look more like her mother Ingrid Bergman than ever.

"My character calls the competition for the saddest music because she knows that if people are sad, they'll drink more and she'll become richer," the actress explains. "She's a great manipulator, a very bad woman. My inspiration was Cruella De Vil in 101 Dalmatians."

Rossellini is cast opposite the Portuguese siren Maria De Medeiros (of Pulp Fiction fame) who plays an amnesiac nymphomaniac. "But I completely ignore her. I'm very imperious and superior. I just command everybody. I have a little sex toy of a boy beside me all the time called Teddy. He's my servant and also satisfies me sexually." In real life, of course, things are a little different. As Rossellini points out, she definitely can't play the guitar with her toes...

Best sophomore feature

Sofia Coppola's second feature, Lost in Translation, was rapturously received in Venice, even if one or two Japanese critics expressed misgivings about its portrayal of Tokyo and its inhabitants. Bill Murray plays Bob Harris a world weary Hollywood movie star come to Japan to shoot a whisky commercial. Scarlett Johanssen is the recently married philosophy graduate holed up in the same luxury hotel while her photographer husband (Giovanni Ribisi) is away working. Jet-lagged, lonely, baffled by the kinetic, neon-lit world of night-time Tokyo, the two are drawn to one another. Coppola handles the fleeting relationship between them with extraordinary delicacy and lyricism. Along the way, we're treated to some inspired and very deadpan clowning from Bill Murray, who even offers us his Roger Moore impersonation.

The producer to watch

The producers weren't especially keen to publicise the fact that The Five Obstructions was co-financed by Yeslam bin Laden, the estranged, Swiss-based brother of Osama. (Its director, Jorgen Leth, claimed that he had only just discovered the fact himself.)

Another unlikely influence behind the film was the Danish footballer Michael Laudrup, about whom Leth once made a documentary. The premise is a little odd. Von Trier invites Jorgen Leth (the film-maker who used to be his teacher) to make five remakes of his acclaimed 1967 short The Perfect Human. Just as defenders resorted to all sorts of foul play to impede Laudrup, Von Trier puts some extraordinary obstacles in front of Leth. The film (to be released in the UK later in the year) is revealing about both men. Von Trier is shown as a driven, sadistic figure who will push his old mentor to extremes regardless of the emotional cost it might have on him. Leth is a resourceful, smug perfectionist who refuses to be jolted out of his complacency, whatever challenges Von Trier sets him. Between times, the two men meet up at the Zentropa studios to eat caviar, drink vodka and discuss aesthetics.