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French actor Tahar Rahim (left), arrives with Turkish director Fatih Akin for the screening of the movie ‘The Cut’ presented in competition at the 71st Venice Film Festival on Aug 31 at Venice Lido. (AFP)
Hollywood a no-show at festival Tales of war darken Venice fest

 VENICE, Sept 1, (Agencies): The race for the Golden Lion in Venice took a dark turn on Sunday with stories of war including an ambitious tale that has drawn death threats for German-Turkish filmmaker Fatih Akin. The mass murder of Armenians by the Ottomans in 1915 is the theme of Akin’s latest film “The Cut” — a hugely controversial subject particularly in Turkey and one that has sparked a violent reaction from extremist groups. “I had seven or eight years to prepare myself for the reaction to the film, it’s something I’m not surprised by. For art it’s worth to die,” he told journalists in English in Venice, adding that he tries “not to take it too seriously”.

In the film an Armenian blacksmith (played by French actor Tahar Rahim) is separated from his wife and two young children in what is present-day Turkey when the Ottomans join the First World War, and he is called up for military service. When bandits attack his group of conscripts, the blacksmith is the only survivor. One of the aggressors stabs him in the neck rather than slitting his throat, leaving him alive but mute, with his vocal chords severed. As the years pass he becomes obsessed with finding his daughters and sets off on a quest which sees him treck through Syria, Lebanon and America.
 
The brutal slaughter of Armenians and the flight of survivors to far-flung lands are evoked in gut-wrenching scenes, only slightly let down by a drop-off in emotional intensity in the film’s second half. The film’s co-writer Mardik Martin, who worked with Martin Scorsese on such classics as “Raging Bull” and “Mean Streets”, told Venice he’d come out of retirement for “The Cut” because it tackled a historical event barely addressed in cinema. “Hitler said ‘Why not kill Jews? The Armenians were annihilated in the First World War and nobody said anything about it’,” the 77-year-old said.
 
“Which just goes to show, if you don’t say anything about wars, we don’t learn anything,” said Martin, who was raised in Baghdad in an Armenian family. Up against “The Cut” for Venice’s top prize is “Far From Men”, a tale of honour and friendship set at the start of the Algerian war of independence. The film, inspired by Albert Camus’s short story “The Guest”, stars Viggo Mortensen of “Lord of the Rings” fame as an Algerian-born, French-speaking schoolteacher who puts his own safety at risk to defend and protect an Arab farmer accused of murder.
 
Set in 1954, the men embark on a journey fraught with danger through the inhospitable Atlas Mountains — captured in some breathtaking widescreen shots — as freedom fighters and the French army fight in the rocky outcrops. French director David Oelhoffen’s movie is less a depiction of the bloody uprising than an exploration of existential questions posed by Camus, played out on a hostile and isolated terrain far from the reaches of the law. “What I love is that this movie is not an ideological take on the historical period, place or people. It’s subversive because it does not take sides,” Viggo told journalists, before heading off to sign autographs for screaming fans.
 
Politics
The actor, who learnt Arabic for the movie, said he had travelled to Algeria to prepare for the part and “read everything Camus ever wrote”, adding that he was particularly inspired by one of the Nobel Prize-winning author’s phrases in particular. “The phrase is: ‘I’m not cut out for politics, because I am incapable of desiring or accepting the death of my adversary’, and I thought that captured perfectly my character’s attitude and the film’s soul,” he said.
 
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LOS ANGELES: The absence of hefty US fare is beginning to be felt as the Venice Festival enters its second stretch. Many of this year’s really big guns — the Weinstein Co.’s Oscar hopeful “The Imitation Game,” Denzel Washington starrer “The Equalizer,” David Fincher’s “Gone Girl” and Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice” — are now firing off at Telluride, Toronto and even, in Anderson and Fincher’s case, the New York Film Festival. Given the high costs of opening a film on the Lido, especially for star-studded US movies, Venice’s 71st edition raises the question of whether the balance of fest power is shifting to North America. In the past two decades, Venice has held world premieres for several hundreds of US works, including Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut,” Oscar-winners “Brokeback Mountain” and “The Hurt Locker” and George Clooney’s “Michael Clayton,” plus obviously “Gravity” last year.
 
With “Philomena” also bowing at Venice in 2013, Venice seemed a launch pad for Oscar contenders and weightier specaility fare, but, if foreign distributors are to be believed this year on the Lido, this year’s only big premiere with any kind of mainstream potential, despite films by US legends such as Peter Bogdanovich, Barry Levinson and Al Pacino, was Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Birdman,” which opened the 71st edition and. distributed by Fox Searchlight, it not on the open market.. But one edition may be simply too short a time to tell about longterm fest trends.
 
So far, certainly, it has been art films — foreign-language, genre and crossovers — that have largely dominated buyers’ interest at Venice. A brace of early films charmed most critics, including “Birdman” and Benoit Jacquot’s “Three Hearts.” Cohen Media Group bought the Elle Driver-sold “Three Hearts,” starring Catherine Deneuve and Charlotte Gainsbourg and Chiara Mastroianni. Among other early screeners that look set to spark biz from Venice play are Ramin Bahrani’s HPI-sold “99 Homes,” Joshua Oppenheimer’s rave-reviewed documentary “The Look of Silence” and Xavier Beauvois’ “The Price of Fame,” from Wild Bunch. “Silence,” hailed at Venice as a potential Oscar docu contender, was picked up for the US by Drafthouse Films/Participant Media while I Wonder took the rights for Italy. “We have many bidding wars and in other countries are finalizing negotiations, so I really think we’ll be locking in Toronto,” said Cinephil’s Philippa Kowarsky about the action around the feature doc.
 
Bowing Sunday and pre-sold to 10 territories, Laurent Cantet’s “Return to Ithaca,” being sold by Funny Balloons, also sparked buyer interest, as did David Delfhoffen’s Viggo Mortensen-starrer “Far From Men,” being sold by Pathe. Finecut’s Young Joo Suh confirmed the Italian sales, struck before Venice, of Kim Ki-duk’s “One on One” and Hong Sangsoo’s “Hill of Freedom,” both bought by Andrea Cirla’s Fil Rouge Media. A new European Gap-Financing Co-Production Market fortified the boutique Venice Film Market, where trading, often in preparation for Toronto, was steady.
 
In trading at the Venice Film Market, where attendance was in line with 2013 at about 1,450 participants, competition player “Tales,” from Iran’s Rakhshan Bani-Etemad, was eliciting strong interest in Benelux and the former Yugolslavia, said Noori Pictures’ Katayoon Shabadi. Germany and Turkey are in discussions on Toronto player “The Grump,” said Chris Howard at Finland’s the Yellow Affair. US distributor and Canadian producer Silver Sword Intl. closed seven more US markets on documentary feature “Spitfire Liberator: The Alex Herbst Story.”

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