In Venice, Australian director Warwick Thornton’s short film about Aboriginal spirituality, True Gods, came at the beginning of Words with Gods, an omnibus film collated by Guillermo Arriaga (who wrote 21 Grams and Babel). Thornton's film was one of the best. It depicts a heavily pregnant Aboriginal woman (Miranda Tapsell, one of the leads of The Sapphires) holding her belly as she walks in the desert before giving birth under a tree.
Beautifully shot by Thornton, a cinematographer-turned-director who shot The Sapphires and his own Cannes award-winning love story, Samson and Delilah, True Gods suggests that as the woman looks up to the heavens, that the universe and the earth she sifts through her fingers are as much God as anything.
Initially, Thornton had struggled to find the right story and Arriaga rejected his ideas. While the burly men argued fiercely, Thornton admits that in the end he was wrong and it all turned out for the best. Choosing what to do had proved complicated.
“There are 50 indigenous languages left and all of them have their own spirituality,” Thornton explains. “Really, they are their own cultures so to make a film about aboriginal spirituality is like making a film about the dictionary. It’s that complex. So I initially I went back to where I come from, the desert, looking for stories and I wrote a couple of scripts but Guillermo didn’t like them and I didn’t actually like them. I didn’t feel comfortable doing those stories but he pissed me off because he was telling me the truth. It’s just one of these strange abusive relationships that’s full of tears and love, which actually works dynamically. He knows he has to be hard on me because I can be slightly lazy.”
Arriaga’s own short film, God’s Blood, about atheism, was far more bombastic and screened last. Interestingly, Nobel Prize-winning Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa decided on the order in which the shorts should be shown. The biggest laugh undoubtedly came from Spain’s Álex de la Iglesia, who examines Catholicism somewhat irreverently in The Confession. His feature documentary, Messi, about the Argentinian footballer, screens later in the week.
One of the festival's best-received films has been Far from Men (Loin des Hommes), the second feature by French writer-director David Oelhofen, where Viggo Mortensen adds French and Arabic to his considerable repertoire of on-screen languages. Set in Algeria during a rebellion in 1954, the film is based on the Albert Camus short story, The Guest, which translates exceptionally well to the western genre. It follows two men from opposite sides, Mortensen’s Daru, a reclusive teacher, and Mohamed (Reda Kateb), a villager accused of murder, who in the midst of an icy winter are forced to flee together across the Atlas Mountains as they are pursued by horsemen seeking justice.
As with the Australian western The Proposition, the score was composed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.
“I adore their music, The Bad Seeds” enthuses Oelhofen, who here directs his second feature. “They came to the film because one of the producers is Australian, Matthew Gledhill, and Warren Ellis lives in Paris. I very much like Nick and Warren's approach to scores and I was particularly thinking of their work on The Assassination of Jesse James. I like the fact that they do not make music that somehow emphasises or accompanies action but recreates moods and atmosphere. That’s what we wanted: music that goes along with the evolution of the relationship between the two characters. This is the reason the music starts goes from being almost out of tune and becomes melodic as the two men get to know each other.”