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Sunday, September 11, 2011
"Faust" won Golden Lion in Venice
It rang like a false alarm: despite pre-screening expectations, hardly could you detect Thomas Mann's "Doctor Faustus" in the new re-reading of "Faust". I raise this particular point since it could've been a perfect night at the 68th Venice International Film Festival when "Faust", by Russian director Alexander Sokurov, won the coveted Golden Lion (the film has received a mixed reaction).
Besides the tale of the soul-peddling Leverkhun in "Doctor Faustus", Thomas Mann wrote the famous "Death in Venice", and the German writer made it quite clear that he viewed the lagoon city in a negative light: a place of pure decay and supreme kitsch. Had Sokurov thrown in more of Mann's "Faustus" into the original Marlowe's and Goethe's classic, Venice could've played an ironic role in the awards night of one of the world's major film festivals.
Sokurov's "Faust" is a high-art dark comedy: Faust is a professor frustrated by the sorry limitation of human knowledge (this is perhaps the only resemblance to Leverkhun in "Doctor Faustus", a composer who wishes to go far beyond the chromatic) while the Devil in this case is a moneylender (are we going back to "The Merchant of Venice"?). It says a lot when the first shot in the main narrative of the film is that of a penis, wrinkled and injured, before a corpse is graphically disembowelled. All is meant as a half-joke. Anyway, Sokurov is known for his proud reinterpretaions of history and the lives of famous tyrants who occupy it; "Faust" is actually proclaimed as the fourth film in the series of portraits of corrupt and powerful men, from Hitler (in "Moloch") to Lenin ("Taurus") and Emperor Hirohito ("The Sun"). How Faust fits into that gallery of historic rogues is, as usual, open to our own interpretation.
Let's quickly round up the rest of the awards here. "Alps" by Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, won best screenplay (I secretly hoped it would win something bigger). Deanie Ip won Best Actress from Ann Hui's staid "A Simple Life", while Michael Fassbender cruised, as expected, to the Best Actor trophy from playing a sex addict in "Shame".
The best director prize went to Cai Shangjung from the Chinese film "People Mountain, People Sea", and the Special Jury Prize went to "Terraferma", by Italian Emanuele Crialese. Meanwhile Andrea Arnold's "Wuthering Heights", which I really like, won technical achievement in cinematography, and quite rightly. The two young actors from the Japanese film "Himizu", about the post-tsunami moral anarchy in Japan, won the prizes for emerging actor/actress.
Alas, I'm not sure if any of these titles will land on the Thai shores. Our best hope rests with the local film festivals. Otherwise, you've heard of the names of these films that have shaken up the global cinema scene, and if necessary, trade your soul with the Devil so you can watch them :)
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