By Françoise Pyszora

This year the Venice Film Festival introduced a short film section, Corto-Cortissimo, screening 17 films in competition, with a jury comprising Abel Ferrara, Chiara Caselli and George Benayoun.

There were films from Italy, Israel, the UK, Germany, Canada, Australia, France, Norway and the U.S.. Sofia Coppola's Lick the Star is a 14-minute directorial debut about a menacing group of 13-year old High School girls plotting to poison the boys. The group spends its lunchtimes bullying, gossiping and ritually ousting the 'loser of the week'. Sofia Coppola is determined to show adolescence at its worst in this aesthetically conventional but refreshingly light and entertaining look at the teenage world. David Ondaatje's 12-minute Waiting for Dr. MacGuffin is a far more cleverly constructed nightmare sequence about an elderly man's anxiety during a visit to the dentist. The film begins in black and white as Kristo and his wife, Valda, walk towards a door at the end of a long dark hallway, and shifts to colour as Kristo is led deep inside the dentist's office where the dental assistant performs strange preparatory procedures on the frightened old man. Kristo's fears are expressed through a series of bizarre hallucinations; each time he seems to have escaped, Kristo wakes up to find he has been dreaming and that it is all still ahead of him. Each dream is differentiated, using colour and sound. This deliberate manipulation of colour, sound and pacing communicates the patient's mounting psychological unrest. Stylistically, the film is a nod to the work of Alfred Hitchcock, incorporating references to The Lady Vanishes, Strangers on a Train and Spellbound, but in such a conscious way that the director cannot be accused of plagiarism. A British entry in the short film competition came from Barney Cokeliss who was born in London in 1971. His 11-minute film Queen's Park Story is a fairy tale with a contemporary setting. Gus sells ice-cream in the park where Lily goes to paint. Romance blossoms but Lily finds out that Gus is a notorious womaniser, and refuses to see him anymore. The film is a fascinating mix of fantasy and reality from this young director. The most impressive low-budget feature at Venice this year screened in the Critic's Week section of the festival. La Mère Christian was a directorial debut by the French actress Myriam Boyer, who was born in 1948, and has acted notably in Alain Corneau's Série Noire and Claude Sautet's Un Coeur en Hiver. La Mère Christian is set in post-war France, a country still suffering from the effects of the German Occupation. The action takes place almost exclusively in Mère Christian's dilapidated but homely café by the riverside port in Lyon in the late 1940's, following a few days in the life of the café proprietor, Mère Christian, played by Myriam Boyer herself. The film focuses on the rituals of everyday life amongst ordinary people at a time when the standard of living was generally much lower than it is today...

Full article published in Filmwaves - Issue 6, Winter 1999. Subscribe now!