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Genre-defying films wow at Rome Film Fest

'Her', 'Fear of Falling' capture limelight at halfway mark

13 November, 17:03
Genre-defying films wow at Rome Film Fest (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 contribution.