I'm Not Scared
I'm Not Scared (Io non ho paura) might sound like the title of a new horror flick, but while there are several pretty intense moments and one in particular that literally had the audience jolt back in their seats, it isn't. Could have been, though, and the original novel by the film's screenwriter, Niccolò Ammaniti, was conceived as a thriller. But director Gabriele Salvatores got to talking with Ammaniti and they decided to de-thrill the story a bit for the film.
We open with vast, sweeping fields of bright wheat set against a chalky gray-blue sky. Children run through the fields, leaving paths in the swaying stalks. The camera is at their hips, then swerves off alone, then back. There's a race on, but a chamber orchestra is doing variations on Pachelbel's Canon, imploring us to just look at how beautiful it all is. And it is. This is not a bad way at all to begin a long day of movie-viewing at 9 in the morning. What the unsuspecting viewer doesn't know yet, though, is that we are going to be seeing quite a bit of these fields of wheat and hearing a whole lot from that orchestra. Great swaths of wheat and music will return again and again and they won't be doing much to push the narrative along.
Giuseppe Bocchino on a giant screen set up outside the Berlinale Palast
That said, this is a fine coming-of-age, loss-of-innocence film. Michele (Giuseppe Bocchino) is a boy of ten who looks after his younger sister when the half a dozen or so children of a tiny village in southern Italy get together for their races and games. This particular race has taken them to an old abandoned house, and it's there that Michele, alone, discovers a deep hole in the ground covered with a sheet of corregated tin. Rolling back the metal cover, Michele sees a human foot way down there in the dark mud, poking out from a blanket. Has he just discovered a corpse? He tosses a rock down but misses the foot. It doesn't move. He lowers the cover again, finds another rock, raises the cover - and the foot is gone.
Someone is down there, chained, all but naked and barely alive. It's a secret Michele keeps all to himself, or so he thinks, until he learns to his even deeper horror that the whole village, except for the children, already knows about it.
Some of the best scenes in I'm Not Scared poke around a bit in the dynamics of Michele's family. His father (Dino Abbrescia) has a job in a larger town somewhere. We don't know what that job is, where that town is, and in fact, we don't really know when or exactly where this story is taking place. It could be the present; it could be the 1970s. That's part of the beauty of the set-up. We're in some timeless, southern Italian summer, but unfortunately, as Michele learns, this village is not the idyll of all those wheat and music shots. His mother, wonderfully played by the Spanish-Italian actress Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, makes him promise that as soon as he's old enough, he must go somewhere else, somewhere very far away.
Sánchez-Gijón, by the way, got the biggest round of applause at the press conference when she stopped everything to issue a big "thank you" to Germany for its steadfast stance against the approaching war on Iraq. She lambasted Spanish and Italian prime ministers José Maria Aznar and Silvio Berlusconi for throwing their support behind the US-led war despite the fact that the vast majority of their own citizens oppose it.
For his part, little Giuseppe Bocchino talked about how much he enjoyed acting in his first film and how much he hopes he'll get another shot at another role some day. Despite my hunch that I'm Not Scared, an admirable work, is probably not going to pick up any major awards at the Berlinale, I've got another hunch that we will indeed be seeing him again. I certainly hope so.
I'm sure there's not a whole lot about Adaptation I can tell GreenCiners that you don't already know. In fact, even though this was my first time for me to see it - finally! - there were very few surprises for me as well. One of them was how much I thoroughly enjoyed middle third or so. I knew this movie would be a brain-tingler, but I didn't know it was going to be this much fun.
And another was how I felt myself disconnecting from the movie, very much against my will, during the final act. Having read so much about Adaptation, I knew what was coming and was actually looking forward to it. On paper, it works: Charlie Kaufman sets out to make a non-Hollywood film based on Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief, to resist the rules (of course, Donald Kaufman, his twin brother, would call them "principles") of screenwriting as laid down by the likes of seminar guru Robert McKee (and yes, just as I'd heard, Brian Cox is grrreat!), and, wouldn't you know, ends up with a slam-bang thriller ending, complete with car smash-ups and guns a-blasting.
Adaptation's two producers, Cage, Jonze and Kaufman
But everything up to that point had been so engaging on all the levels you'd want to be engaged on that, when it swerves, it also sort of lifts itself from the ground and floats away. Why is that? The Player plays out a very similar joke but it actually gains momentum towards the end instead of petering out. It may have something to do with the consistency of The Player's characters, the rootedness of their actions in all that we've known about them so far, as opposed to the radical change in Susan Orlean and John Laroche, now the object of the Kaufman brothers' attention, and hence, the engine driving the action in the final sequences. But we know that they aren't who they "really" are anymore, so, for all the air-quotes up to this point, suddenly, there's one crucial meta-level too many.
Even so. Great fun. And another reminder that even though we know all her ticks and tricks, Meryl Streep is a wonder to watch, and yes, Chris Cooper really ought to get that Oscar nomination. So much attention is paid to Spike Jonze as the "offbeat" director of the moment, it's too often overlooked that Jonze is actually a sure-handed and superb director of actors. The evidence is piling up, though, so recognition for that may yet come through.
Adaptation's two producers, Cage, Jonze and Kaufman
Jonze, the real Charlie Kaufman and Nicolas Cage gave a much more generous press conference than they're known for giving. Again, we didn't learn a whole lot that we didn't know already, but they were patient and polite - another minor surprise. A few tidbits:
Jonze and Kaufman, who first met six years ago, talk on the phone nearly every day, whether or not they're talking about another project to work on together. And they do plan to work together for the foreseeable future, but either they actually have no specific project lined up next or they're unwilling to talk about it at this point. But, as Kaufman put it, "we have the same intentions."
As for Cage, yes, it was hard playing both Charlie and Donald. Switching from one to the other and back again five or six times a day was "both playful and painful." When asked which he liked most, he had a really nice answer: "When people say they like Donald best, I find myself getting jealous. So I must tend to favor Charlie."
Lynn Hershman-Leeson's Teknolust is a Liquid Sky for the 90s. The problem is, of course, the 90s are a couple of years behind us already. But Teknolust wears the same sort of low-budget subcultural quirkiness on its sleeve and the hook of both films is that someone or some thing feeds on the biological by-products of sex, needs them to survive.
Tilda Swinton plays a genetic researcher named Rosetta Stone (oh, boy) who bears an eerie resemblance to Joyce Carol Oates and has secretly cloned herself three times. And of course, Swinton also plays the clones: Ruby, Marine and Olivia, each living in separate sterile rooms color-coded by their names. This movie has lots and lots of Tilda, in other words, which is certainly fine by me.
Tilda Swinton (Marine), Tilda Swinton (Ruby) and Tilda Swinton (Olive)
What it's missing, sadly, is a director. Delightful as it is to see, say, Karen Black again or Josh Kornbluth, it's a pity no one is helping them out as they flounder around up there on the screen. Jeremy Davies, I suspect, you can't direct at all; he simply does that resurrected hippie-space-out thing of his no matter what film he's in. But as for the others, one early scene in particular screams out in need of help. Swinton as Rosetta and the director of the lab find themselves in the unfortunate situation of having to recite a page or two of expositional dialogue - loss of privacy, DNA as patented data, all that - and try to cover the robot-like recital with laughter, and folks, it's just painful to watch.
But ok. Take all that as par for the course and there's still fun to be had here. Of the three cloned sisters, Ruby is the one who gets to go out and harvest the daily sustenance, replenish the X chromosome count for herself, Marine and Olivia. Somehow, this means she needs sperm. So she heads out and harvests by seducing men with lines from classic movies she absorbs in her sleep and returns and makes teas and injections. And so it goes until these men she's having these fleeting moments of ultra-safe sex with begin to pop up in hospitals with an odd virus; symptom: bar codes on their foreheads. The feds are called in and the chase is on.
One of the oddest things about the film is how very "San Francisco in the 90s" it all looks. It's not just that the themes - cloning, viruses, even e-commerce - seem to have lost their significance (though they haven't, really, of course), it's also the look-n-feel of the film; Teknolust is to, say, Adaptation what Webzines are to blogs. All in all, the best thing to do with this film might be to submit it as a pilot for a sitcom. Seriously.