Venice (Out of Competition & International Critics' Week) – Two films featuring central characters who exist on the margins of society; one the absent-minded inhabitant of a Rome brothel, the other a Mexican sexagenarian tossed on the employment scrapheap. Paul Martin is left traumatised by a brace of movies which belong less on the cinema screens of Venice and more at the bottom of its canals.
It was a phenomenally rapid case of hero to zero for actor Giuseppe Battiston when I took in Notizie degli scavi ('News of the excavations' reckons good ol' Google Translate), the movie from veteran Italian writer-director Emidio Greco in which the former stars as 'the Professor', the dimwitted Man Friday of a most improbable Rome brothel. I had seen my first ever Battiston performance a few days previously in the threadbare but jovial enough Golden Lion competitor, The Passion, where he made a positive impression with his turn as batty former convict Ramiro, displaying comic flair and empathetic charm. However in Greco's movie that charm is entirely gone, as mysteriously absent as drug addiction, violent clients and venereal disease are from the brothel where the Professor lives and helps out.
Infuriating as the Professor is, constantly getting befuddled in mid-conversation to the point where you yearn to reach your open hand into the screen and give his empty head a fulsome smack, he is not handed much in the way of a story to inhabit. The bare sketch of a narrative finds him growing closer to the Marquise (Ambra Angiolini), a former resident at the brothel who recently attempted suicide and is convalescing in hospital. Cue interminable scenes of bedside visits, featuring such moments of unadulterated cheese as the Marquise placing her hand on the Professor's and harpsichord music immediately striking up.
Interminable is an apt word for Notizie degli scavi, as director Greco seems to have nodded off at regular intervals during the making of this movie, neglecting to yell “Cut!” and instead letting scenes trundle on for far longer than seems sensible; for example, when the Professor's emotional isolation is underlined by him standing on the periphery of a buzzing bar, and when he not once, but twice wanders round a set of ruins. Points, such as they are, amply made, you itch for a cut away, only for the edit to seem to take far longer in coming than the time it took me to lose my affection for that man Battiston.
Rating on a scale of 5 brothel creeps: 1.5
Release date: TBC
Directed by: Emidio Greco
Screenplay by: Emidio Greco, based on the short story by Franco Lucentini
Cast: Giuseppe Battiston, Ambra Angiolini, Iaia Forte, Anna Paola Vellaccio
Running Time: 90 minutes
It is probably a good thing that films like Martha exist. Because if you happen to meet anyone who has seen this directorial debut from Marcelino Islas Hernández and they launch into some spiel about what a wonderful film it is, then you will instantly know to steer well clear of them in future, their card having been sagely marked with the note 'pretentious berk'. This service of idiot identification is all Hernández' movie could ever be good for though, as it is a deathly dull viewing experience which left me utterly bewildered as to how in the name of Hades it ever sneaked its crappy way into the line-up of International Critics' Week.
Magda Vizcaíno stars as Marthita Gallegos, aka Martha, a Mexican woman in her mid-70s who works in a small office as a filer (“archivist” she haughtily corrects). Away from her shelves and her folders, Martha watches bad soap operas, smokes like a chimney, and tends to her sick neighbour, Sonia (Leticia Gómez, looking very much like a shocked elf). Then one day her boss calls her in and informs her she is being eased out of the company, to make way for a forward-looking, technological way of doing things. Youthful asymmetrical haircut, Eva (Penélope Hernández), is duly assigned as her replacement, only for something of a bond to be forged between the two women during the few days of transition.
Even bearing in mind its clearly tiny budget, it is quite breathtaking how shoddily assembled Martha is. The production values are about what you would expect from a porno tape shot in a supermarket car park, with the sound proving a particular bugbear, any characters placed towards the rear of the frame being as faint and distant as they would be if they were situated on another planet. Lingering on the porn comparison for a second, Penélope Hernández does submit herself to an ass-fucking/latent lesbian voyeur scene – this apparent gameness perhaps offering reason as to why she was cast, seeing as her performance is so shaky you wonder if she was only handed her lines in the ten seconds before shooting began. One shot even sees her flicking her eyes straight at the lens of the camera.
Is there anything positive to say about this movie at all? Well, so glacial is the pace that proceedings exert a kind of hypnotic hold over the viewer, like when you stare at the TV test card for too long. Meanwhile, director Hernández could conceivably be delivering some scathing attack on our bourgeois need for story, good acting, basic aesthetic standards. But even if that is the case, a knowing facsimile of a turd is still, to all intents and purposes, a turd.
Rating on a scale of 5 early retirements: 1
Release date: TBC
Directed by: Marcelino Islas Hernández
Screenplay by: Marcelino Islas Hernández
Cast: Magda Vizcaíno, Penélope Hernández, Leticia Gómez
Running Time: 77 minutes