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Hallström’s Casanova seduces Venice

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The latest in a long list of films about the epic loves of Giacomo Casanova is given a comic spin at this year’s Venice film festival by Swedish director Lasse Hällström in “Casanova”.

Hallström’s witty romantic comedy, starring Heath Ledger, Sienna Miller, Lena Olin and Jeremy Irons, gives the story of the amorous adventurer a more modern slant, having him fall for a woman who promptly gives him the cold shoulder.

Appearing out of competition, it shows off the astonishing range of Australian actor Ledger, coming so quickly after audiences wept at his portrayal of a conflicted cowboy struggling to come to terms with his homosexuality in Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain,” which premiered here in competition.

Here he bursts out of his “Brokeback” cocoon, a dashing sword-swishing seducer flitting over the rooftops of the largely intact 18th century Venice, but also appears befuddled and vulnerable as he searches for the key to unlock the heart of the only woman who won’t automatically succumb to his charms — Francesca Bruni, played by Miller.

“Thousands of women were falling in love with him all the time. So when he finally finds a woman who isn’t attracted to any of that, that’s what really devastates him, and interests him,” said Ledger.

Much of Hallström’s busy and visually arresting film revolves around the efforts of papal enforcer Bishop Pucci to catch the famed Casanova in an infidelity and have him strung up. It features Irons in a rare comedy part, something he hasn’t done since his early days on stage.

“People don’t normally think of me as doing comedy but it was nice to be able to do something unusual,” said Irons. “I think there’s an element of Inspector Clouseau about Pucci…”

Hallström’s picture is the latest and most light-hearted of a string of major movies dedicated to the amourous adventurer, more in line with Bob Hope’s 1954 “Casanova’s Big Night Out” than Federico Fellini’s 1976 study “Casanova” starring Donald Sutherland, which is getting a special screening at the Venice festival.

Hallström previously directed “Chocolat,” “The Cider House Rules” and “The Shipping News” after coming to the attention of American audiences in 1985 with “My Life as a Dog” for which he won the Golden Globe for best foreign language film.

As for Ledger, he’s not content to stop there in his bid to win over Venice audiences. The last of his three films at the festival, “The Brothers Grimm,” will show another facet of his oeuvre when it screens on Sunday.

A new film release by Steven Soderbergh is always an event, but like his film “Bubble,” this one has passed quietly in Venice.

Shot with documentary realism in small town Ohio and featuring an impressive local amateur cast, it tells the story of a love triangle between three workers at a doll factory which turns sour when one of them is murdered.

Overweight Martha and the much younger Kyle have become friends by default when their delicate dynamic is upset by the arrival of a new worker, Rose, a young single mother. When Rose is murdered, it isn’t long before diligent detective work tracks down the killer.

In other notable releases here, a dark and quirky tale of revenge and redemption by Korean director Park Chan-Wook, “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance,” has won plaudits in the official section for the Golden Lion.

The 1997 winner for “Hana-Bi,” Japanese director Takeshi Kitano has returned this year with “Takeshis’,” a late surprise addition by the organisers to the official 19 film line-up for the festival’s prestigious top prize.

However, though Kitano has a devoted cult following at Venice – where he also featured with “Zatoichi” in 2003 — his comedy got only a lukewarm reception, while deemed stylish, was panned by the daily Corriere della Sera as “repetitive and comprehensively useless.”


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How a Swedish film festival is offering a nurse downtime during pandemic

A front-line Swedish nurse is getting some Covid downtime with a week of private screenings of the Gothenburg film festival, in a former lighthouse off the country's west coast.

How a Swedish film festival is offering a nurse downtime during pandemic
Competition winner Lisa Enroth.

More than 12,000 candidates from 45 countries applied to watch the festival's films in almost near isolation on an island 400 kilometres (250 miles) from Stockholm.

The prize is a week viewing as many of the festival's 70 premieres as they like in a hotel in the former Pater Noster Lighthouse. But they will be in isolation and will have no access to their own computer or laptop.

READ ALSO: Decision on stricter restrictions for foreign travellers to be made quickly

The bright-red lighthouse, built on a tiny island off Sweden's west coast in 1868, is surrounded by a scattering of squat, red buildings originally built to house the lighthouse keeper's family. It can only be reached by boat or helicopter, depending on the weather.

After a series of interviews and tests, festival organisers chose emergency nurse and film buff Lisa Enroth for the prize, in keeping with the 2021 festival's theme, Social Distances.

Before boarding a small speedboat out to the island on the clear, chill winter's morning, Enroth said she had applied not only out of her love for the cinema, but also to seek respite from her hectic work as an emergency nurse during the pandemic.

“It has been hectic, so it's a nice opportunity just to be able to land and to reflect over the year,” she said.

Months working amid Covid crisis

Sweden, which has taken a light-touch approach to the pandemic compared to its neighbours, has been facing a stronger than expected second wave of the virus. So far, more than 11,500 people have died from Covid-19 across the country.

Enroth works in the emergency ward of a hospital in Skovde in central Sweden. Since the start of the pandemic, her hospital's work caring for virus patients on top of their regular workload has been intense.

Lisa Enroth on her way to the remote festival location. Photo: AFP

“We had a lot of Covid cases during this year and every patient that has been admitted to the hospital has been passing through the emergency ward,” she told journalists.

The organisers said they were surprised by the numbers of applicants for the prize but were confident they had chosen the right candidate — not only for her love of cinema.

“She has also dedicated this past year in the frontline against the Covid-19 pandemic,” the festival's creative director Jonas Holmberg said to AFP.

“That's also one of the reasons we chose her”. 

Isolated screenings

Boarding the boat dressed in a thick survival suit, Enroth sped over the calm, icy waters, jumping off in the island's tiny harbour and disappearing into her lodgings.

A screen has been set up in the lantern room at the top of the windswept island's lighthouse, offering a 360-degree view of the sea and coastline around.

Another wide screen has been set up in one of the island's buildings.

Enroth will also have a tablet and headphones if she wants to watch films elsewhere on the island, which measures just 250 metres by 150 metres.

With only one other person staying permanently on the island — a safety precaution — Enroth's only contact with the outside world will be through her video diary about the films she has viewed.

The festival's films will be shown online and two venues in Gothenburg itself will allow screenings for just one person at a time.

Holmberg, the festival's creative director, said he hoped events like these would maintain interest in the industry at a time when many screens are closed because of pandemic restrictions.

“We are longing so much to come back to the cinemas and in the meantime we have to be creative and do the things that we can to create discussion,” he told journalists.