The Venice International Film Festival reviews are in. Viva Italia!

The Venice International Film Festival reviews are in. Viva Italia!


EDITOR'S NOTE: Writer Tommaso Tocci is covering the Venice International Film Festival for Press Play this year and so we have created this landing page which collects all of those links together. Here they are.




I haven’t seen a longer queue for a Venice press screening this year than the one for Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, which premieres today in Competition. It makes sense—the film carried with it the promise of wild excitement, some young American stars who attract a lot of attention (Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson) plus James Franco, who knows a thing or two about attracting attention as well. The sort of loud mainstream baggage the film brought to the Lido was somewhat awkwardly paired with the long-lasting cinephile appeal Korine has garnered with his cultish body of work (Gummo screened here in Venice in 1997, and he has been throwing audiences off balance ever since).

And Spring Breakers certainly did not disappoint, positioning itself in a fascinating dead zone of expectations. Those who came to see the aforementioned young stars partying and making a mess of their college spring break found exactly that—only cranked up to eleven, speeding past darkness to reach a kind of deranged grotesque. On the other hand, those who came for Korine found the director’s trademark themes bathed in glittering softness, apparently downplayed even in the undeniable aesthetic of excess on display here.

Similarly to this year’s intriguing Project X, the beginning of Spring Breakers seems to tap into a form of "alienated awareness," as it confronts the viewer’s gaze with a spirit of defiance. Opening with a prolonged montage of a beach party—naked bodies, hip-hop, alcohol, etc.—Korine knows that context is everything: he takes his time before getting to the story itself, letting a couple of other introductory sequences accumulate to establish a mood and philosophy. This has always been his main asset, after all; he loves spaces, locations that need to be filled, the feeling of emptiness, the collective void.

With its repetition and estrangement, this sharp collage makes it clear that our four girls hate their college life and are staking everything on the upcoming spring break, hoping to somehow alter their entire existence. The problem, though, is money—they don’t have enough to properly enjoy their trip to Florida. Their solution is, of cours,e an armed robbery (a gem of a tracking shot from the outside of a diner, with the action only intermittently visible through the windows), and the fact that this still seems like reasonable thinking on their part says a lot about what comes later in the movie.

Once the girls get to St. Petersburg, it’s suddenly the James Franco show: he plays a gangsta-hustler-dj with golden teeth, tattoos and dreadlocks, too conceptual and on-the-nose to work in any self-respecting movie. Here, though, it’s all part of the meta-grinding fun. And at moments it actually achieves a higher poignancy, transcending this character's joke of an exterior and finding something truly unsettling about him: as in a piano rendition of a Britney Spears ballad framing a slow-mo montage of drug rips, or a painstakingly long enunciation of things he possesses, from guns to perfume, as the ultimate reclamation of individual identity. Listen to him shouting Look at mah shit! and for a moment you’ll spring free from the alienating cage of this film.

This is a director who’s always been great at using ugliness (urban or personal) as a vehicle for meaning. With Spring Breakers he seems to have updated that notion to include the worst degradation of low-brow residue in contemporary American culture. Everything is pink, red, and glossy; Britney Spears is evoked nostalgically and ironically as a lost icon. Teen starlets are used as bait. Gangsta culture is a cartoonish reminiscence. It’s a bit like a farcical distortion of Drive, if that film's references were from ten minutes ago. And yet, for all its uneven pacing and debatable cunningness, Spring Breakers is an energetic and formally daring effort.

Tommaso Tocci is an Italian film critic, copywriter and translator. Follow him on Twitter.

VIDEO ESSAY: American Harmony

VIDEO ESSAY: American Harmony


Watch this video on Vimeo (optimized for mobile devices).

When moviegoers think of quintessential American cinema, the images and ideas that spring to mind are that of a passionate John Cusack holding up a boom box serenading his love in Say Anything or of Sylvester Stallone triumphantly running up the Philadelphia Art Museum's snowy steps in Rocky. In fact, if one looks at any "Best Of" list concerning American cinema, they are usually built around these iconic moments of heroic elevation. What else are the movies for, if not to transport us to moments of unbelievable success and joy? But most American people don't fit the titular roles of Rocky or Norma Rae or Erin Brockovich. The America of yesterday and today is still full of the occasionally inspired but mostly ordinary individual.  Perhaps that is why the recent works of Harmony Korine fall under the heading of being "uniquely American."

After exploding onto the American indie film scene at the early age of nineteen with his screenplay for Kids, Korine quickly churned out two of the 1990s most polarizing works: Gummo and Julien Donkey Boy. Both of those films challenged the conventional narrative and presented audiences with unnerving and unwelcome notions. Then Korine spirited overseas to film his strangely touching commune drama Mister Lonely. And since 2009, the filmography of Korine–Trash Humpers, Act Da Fool, Curb Dance and Snowballs–has morphed into a visual canon of the purest form. Korine's camera has become much more subjective and invasive. The cinematography has turned far grittier. The editing rhythm now depends on the individual pulse of an idea or image.

nullThe subjects and characters that Korine presents exist outside the mainstream frame of heroes or villains. The silver screen heroines of Hollywood are now replaced with the rebellious, foul-mouthed street teens in Act Da Fool. The team of charming casino robbers or frontier-bound cowboys is now replaced with the outcast garbage can fornicators in Trash Humpers. By stripping away any safe scenario that would be found in a typical "movie," Korine forces the audience to reevaluate their primal reactions to some of the most obtuse and harrowing images. Therefore, these films transcend the visual mechanics behind the “normal” American narrative. Added, the locations that Korine uses for these films–decrepit housing, low-income neighborhoods–represent an underexposed cross-section of very real America (when compared to popular Hollywood content).

It's easy to write off Korine’s visual works as misanthropic. It’s even easier to file them under the often-misused label of "Trash Cinema." Yet if one looks closely enough to actually discover the embedded ideas expressed in these works–work, love, tragedy, success, and failure–it's not hard to appreciate Korine's deconstruction of the strange symphony that is the day-to-day American life.

Nelson Carvajal is an independent digital filmmaker, writer and content creator based out of Chicago, Illinois. His digital short films usually contain appropriated content and have screened at such venues as the London Underground Film Festival. Carvajal runs a blog called FREE CINEMA NOW which boasts the tagline: "Liberating Independent Film And Video From A Prehistoric Value System."