Past Masters and Possible Worlds

Venetian Finds

balancing act: Wang Hongwei in Platform
photo: courtesy of Venice Film Festival
balancing act: Wang Hongwei in Platform

The closest Venice 2000 came to all-out scandal was with the Korean competition film, The Isle, a male-sexual-anxiety riff whose evocative setting (a remote, foggy Korean fishing village) was eclipsed by despicably juvenile shock tactics. Director Ki-Duk Kim's idea of black humor involves underwater to-camera defecation, gruesome new methods of sushi preparation, and fish hooks embedded in body orifices. One traumatized viewer, in a true gut reaction, threw up midway through the first screening, instantly conferring hot-ticket status on the film. Still, The Isle was child's play compared to the festival's ultimate provocation, Joao Cesar Monteiro's Branca de Neve, an almost entirely image-free retelling of Snow White, with Robert Walser poetry as dialogue. Apart from quick, cryptic flashes every five, maybe 10 minutes, the screen remains sadistically void (like Jarman's Blue, only black). The rapidly depleting audience was, I suspect, integral to the experience. That the screening was delayed by half an hour, then further plagued by projection screwups, only added to the purity of the mindfuck.

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