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Making a splash in Venice

Nepotism is the norm in Italy: Casey Affleck’s brother Ben premieres his film “The Town,” and Vincent Gallo stars in three films, including his own “Promises Written in Water,” which he wrote, directed, and produced — and when the credit — “Music by Vincent Gallo” — appeared on the screen, it got an appreciative laugh from the audience, a mix of press and industry. And I really wanted to like the black-and-white film, which used interesting conceits like sentences in a café conversation repeated several times by Gallo — a cigarette always in hand à la French new wave — in slightly different ways to highlight the cinematic mechanism. We also get an intriguing slow pan of the beautiful nude body of actress Delfine Bafort. However, the story was just too mysterious and slight to be compelling, in spite of Gallo’s ability to be fascinating even when one whole scene focuses only on him pacing around and sighing.

Dreams merge with reality in Jan Svankmajer’s charmingly surreal “Surviving Life,” a “psychoanalytical comedy” in animation and live action where the protagonist is living a second life through recurring Oedipal dreams and goes to the analyst to discover their meaning so he can induce them. This year fantasy and desire mingle with blood and violence—and lots of explicit sex, in features like Anthony Cordier’s “Happy Few,” in which two couples switch partners with the inevitable issues — and there is surprisingly little comedy.

Whatever the fare, the Venetian Lagoon still reigns as the most wonderfully evocative place in the world to see movies. The setting of the classic “Death in Venice,” the Lido still looks much the same despite the recent closing of the iconic Hotel Des Bains and requires a boat ride past a panorama of dreamlike fairy-tale palaces and their darkly shimmering watery apparitions. Cinema gives us the ability to inhabit other lives and times, and Venice’s otherworldliness is fulfilled this year in variously daring and evocative on-screen dreams and nightmares in which art, fiction and reality merge.

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