The difference is that the living are a right-wing political commentator and a presidential speech-writer. Cornered on a tv talk-show by the mother of a GI killed in Iraq, the White House man declares his wish that her son could come back to testify to his pride in sacrifice for his country. The President himself takes up the refrain, “If these boys could only come back to tell us ….”
And they do. In their numbers. They stumble from their coffins, poor putrefying maimed things, casting aside the flags draped over them. They do indeed want to testify and can only die when they have cast their votes against the administration that has sent them to their deaths. The White House reluctantly let them vote - after all, they can rig the count as they have done before. But when the zombie army sees they are yet again being deceived, they call in reinforcements – the dead of Vietnam and the Second World War.
Dante handles this unique and risky combination of tawdry genre and passionate human indignation faultlessly. He exploits all the banalities of the genre, the conventional combination of shivers and giggles, at the same time as he ferociously assaults the deceptions of politics and politicians. Even more brilliant is his achievement of creating these very contemporary and present zombies without disrespect or loss of dignity to the young dead men whose fate he protests in this extraordinary and unprecedented manner. He permits himself a small joke: stones on two of the military graves that open commemorate the late Jacques Tourneur and the living George A.Romero, two great masters of the zombie genre.
To see the cinema engaged and embattled in this new way is heartening for our messy and misguided century; and a further striking example was VIVA ZAPATERO! in which the charismatic and unsparing Italian satirist Sabina Guzzanti exposes the rise of oppressive censorship in Italy, through her experiences following the banning of her satirical show “RAIot”. When her devastating impersonation of Premier Berlusconi – aided by the British Rory Bremner as Tony Blair – proved too effective, she was (along with other over-frank commentators) taken off RAI screens. Undeterred she has taken her show on live tours, which, together with this vivid and lively documentary, make her a much more dangerous opponent of Italy’s blithe march to a new fascism. (Even during Rotterdam, the birth pill was newly banned to ensure the fundamentalist Catholic vote for the Berlusconi regime).
The hero of the story is a stubborn, unsmiling village lad of 17, who determines to go to the city to bring back the father who has left the family home, though he has sent back 1000 yuan to help them out. Stumping on his way, a pair of ducks in a basket on his back as his only capital, he cannot be diverted from his purpose either by the unexpected friends or the unwished enemies he meets on the way. 27-year-old Ying Luang has the great film-maker’s gift ot being able to establish a character or a mood through a glance or gesture; to convey all the content of an altercation unheard but merely viewed from far off. Every shot, through its composition or its dynamism, is compelling. This is film-making at its best, and a rare reward for any festival.
Two slight comedies were worth note. In the German-Swiss EDEN, Michael Hofmann shows an exceptional dexterity in black comedy. An entry in the “food-comedy” genre, it is the story of a very fat master-chef who, having brought cuisine to a high erotic art, develops a platonic love for a café waitress. Their friendship enrages the waitress’s dim husband and the small-town petit-bourgeoisie. Indignation escalates to violence against the unfortunate chef; but the couple finally arrive at a wryly happy outcome. The climactic moment of black slapstick comedy makes the whole film worth while. EDEN took Rotterdam’s audience award.
India is an unlikely provenance for a romantic comedy about wife-swapping, but in MIXED DOUBLES, Rajat Kapoor (the third generation in the famous Indian film dynasty) acts and directs, combining some broad comedy with delicate observations of domestic sentiments.
Another very different view of the problems of adolescence was the Chinese WALKING ON THE WILD SIDE (director Jan Jie) which unsparingly related the social breakdown of a town suddenly transformed by the rise of the market economy and independent coal mining enterprises in the early 1990s
There was the expected repertory of star films that have already been widely reviewed from previous festivals and elsewhere – Ang Lee’s much nominated BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, Amat Escalante’s SANGRE (Mexico), Carlos Reygadas’ controversial BATALLA EN EL CIELA (Mexico), Roland Vranik’s BLACK BRUSH (Hungary), Steve Buscemi’s LONESOME JIM, Cristi Puiu’s THE DEATH OF MR LAZARESCU, Steven Soderbergh’s BUBBLE, S.Pierre Yameogo’s DELWENDE, LEVE-TOI ET MARCHE, Michael Haneke’s CACHÉ, Patrice Chereau’s GABRIELLE,, Manoel de Olivera’s MAGIC MIRROR,