(By Christopher Livesay)
(ANSA) - Rome, November 13 - Genre-defying films by American
directors have bedazzled critics and moviegoers alike at the
Rome Film Festival, now at its halfway mark.
Since its European premiere Sunday over the opening
weekend, Spike Jonze's Her has caused the greatest amount of
buzz in the Italian capital thanks to standout performances by
Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson, who lit up the red
carpet, as well as Q&A with journalists after the screening.
To one audience member who told Phoenix that his film was
by far the best of the festival, the laconic star quiped, "she's
my aunt," charming the crowd.
Phoenix plays a lonely man entangled in a love affair with
a computer operating system seeking to be more human, whose
voice is played by Johansson.
Film weekly Hollywood Reporter said simply "this was Her
weekend at the Rome Film Festival," flagging Jonze, known for
other acclaimed, non-traditional films such as Being John
Malkovich (1999) and Adaptation (2002), as an early frontrunner
in the competition.
But at the screening Q&A, one journalist commented that
with more of the festival to go it was too soon to dub a winner
at the eight-year-old event.
On Monday it was a film by another American director to
steal the limelight: Jonathan Demme's Fear of Falling, the
Oscar-winner's first feature in five years, which won thunderous
applause from a packed cinema.
Making its world premiere, the film is an adaptation of
Henrik Ibsen's The Master Builder, a barbed 19th-century
commentary of the pursuit of riches.
Acclaimed New York character actor and playwright Wallace
Shawn, who wrote the script for the big screen, plays the lead.
And as the clock struck midnight following the screening,
the audience celebrated his 70th birthday and sang "Happy
Birthday" along with cast members Lisa Joyce and Jeff Biehl.
The young festival has also been the venue for a number of
joint initiatives with other Rome institutions, including MAXXI,
the National Museum of 21st-century Art.
With the museum's support, attendants were treated on
Monday to the world premiere of the documentary
Twenty-One-Twelve the Day the World Didn't End, by a leading
artist of Italy's Arte Povera movement, Michelangelo
Pistoletto, and Portuguese filmmaker Marco Martins, who teamed
up for a discussion after the screening.
This year's event is widely considered pivotal by film
critics who note its fledgling status, with open aspirations of
competing with its larger cousin the Venice Film Festival, the
world's oldest film festival, where Rome Film Fest Director
Marco Mueller was at the helm until 2011.
Heading the main eight-member jury is filmmaker and
photographer James Gray, a Cannes regular.
Joining him to assess the 18 films in competition are
Chinese director Zhang Yuan; French actress and director Noemie
Lvovsky; Italian director and writer Luca Guadagnino; Argentine
director Veronica Chen; Russian actor and producer Aleksei
Guskov; and Iranian director Amir Naderi.
Together they will choose the winner of the Marc'Aurelio
Award for best film, plus name the best director, four acting
awards, a special jury prize, best script, and best technical