Monday, 5 March 2007

Experiences from the festival - La Stella Che Non C'e` (The Missing Star) - review by Emma J Lennox

Director: Gianni Amelio
Screenwriter: Gianni Amelio, Umberto Contarello
Running Time: 103 mins
Certificate: 12
Released: No UK Release currently set

I have always been enamored of cinema's transcendental quality. For with film, more than any other medium, it is necessary to surrender your senses to the mish mash of imagery and sounds that allow you to experience a journey. The fleeting, momentary nature of cinema is captured in one genre in particular; the road movie. Picaresque and sometimes dream like, road movies can depict with celluloid what Kerouac describes as “the too huge world vaulting us.” Bored of Glasgow scenery and too poor to afford my own adventure, I escape to the GFT to see Gianni Amelio's La Stella Che Non C'e` (The Missing Star) to go on a journey with Vincenzo Buonavolonta` (Sergio Castellitto).

Using documentary style cinematography the film beautifully captures the wonderment of encountering another culture for the first time. Buonavolonta` is an Italian engineer who is trying to find a remote factory with the help of student translator Liu Hua (Tai Ling). The landscape depicted is not the traditional tourist sites but a largely unseen, street level portrait of the country. Amelio has mentioned Neo Realist Roberto Rosellini as an influence and this is evident in his use of non actors to populate the scenery and add an authentic flavour. Buonavolonta` finds an unexpected humanity among scenes of rural poverty and despite the protagonist remaining somewhat elusive his joy is shared with the audience. As the identifiable Westerner, there is surprisingly little information on Buonavolonta`'s character, with much of the portrayal left to the depths of Castellitto's acting. It is a tribute to his talent that the audience can accompany him on this enigmatic journey. The importance of the extraordinary passage is never fully explained though it seems personal rather than practical. Like many of his road movie counterparts Buonavolonta` has stalled in his life and is hoping to find meaning through his travels.

Heroes of the road are often tortured characters. They lack a sense of belonging and their identity is questioned whilst in transit. The road movie is an internal, individual voyage which uses physical landscapes as a metaphor for the changes experienced in life. Buonavolonta`'s identity is taken from him by the Chinese company who buy out his factory. By travelling through the country he is trying to get back part of himself and ends up finding more than he expected. Amelio is following a road movie tradition in Italian cinema which has created influential classics including Fellini's La Strada (1954) and Antonioni's The Passenger (1975). These films were less socially charged than their American counterparts and concentrated on poetic, character led pieces rather than narrative. La Stella Che Non C'e` is a visual experience with narrative meanderings which might frustrate conventional cinema goers. Yet in contrast to previous generations of road movies it remains light hearted and foregoes the 70's trend of cynicism and nihilistic conclusions.

La Stella Che Non C'e` has a profound, existential humour which has drawn comparisons to Sophia Coppola's Lost in Translation. There are similarities in the relationships and West meets East themes, but with a stationary setting, Lost in Translation focuses on a growing relationship, rather than personal development. Neither of Coppola's characters connect to their surroundings, instead they find solace in each other. Both films, however, feature an interest in multiculturalism which is a growing trend in recent releases; The Science of Sleep which includes three languages, the Japanese/ American war film Letters from Iwo Jima and Babel, in which the audience travels between the continents though the characters do not. The increase in perspectives may be a result of growing accessibility for multinational production companies. Conversely, it may indicate a growing curiosity due to individual restrictions on travel and escalating security laws. Whatever the case, I will always prefer a cinema that can take me somewhere unexpected, as Buonavolonta` confesses “I never imagined China to be like this.”

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