Ang Lee tickles his funny bone with a period comedy set at the festival of free love, Woodstock.
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17 May 2009 - 11:26 AM  UPDATED 16 Jan 2014 - 12:58 PM

When asked what his greatest challenge was in making the bittersweet period comedy Taking Woodstock, Ang Lee replied , "Keeping the extras in period. Young people today have different bodies and attitudes. And they shave their pubic hair."

Lee's longtime producer and screenwriter James Schamus elaborated for the press on Saturday (May 16) that "The hardest part was getting extras who were skinny but didn't look like they were working out all the time. And finding people who fit the look and still had pubic hair." (Presumably the filmmakers weren't on merkin patrol unless the extras in question appeared in the nude.)

Ang Lee: "You have to give those kids credit. Half a million of them and not one violent thing happened. I don't know if you could pull that off today."

The film is a mixture of 16mm, 35mm and even 70 mm film, the latter employed to depict an acid trip. Lee had originally intended to incorporate footage from Michael Wadleigh's classic documentary Woodstock but decided instead to give 16mm wind-up Bolex cameras to some of the extras. "Their footage was really quite good and the use of spilt screen was irresistible," says Lee.

Lee, who says he has made 6 tragedies over the past 13 years, on the difference between comedy and tragedy (presumably with tongue in cheek): "With a comedy, if people don't laugh, you've failed. With a serious movie, you can blame the audience for not getting it."

The audience for Marina De Van's midnight entry Ne Te Retourne Pas (Don't Look Back) felt that the writer/director herself didn't "get" that her initial premise can't bear the film's length or denouement. A sort of "Persona Goes to France and Italy," De Van's movie is the story of Parisian journalist Jeanne (Sophie Marceau) who has a husband and two children and a serious problem: she's turning into Monica Bellucci. (Don't you just hate when that happens?)

The special effects are as impressive as they are ill-advised -- an increasingly distraught Marceau looks in the mirror one day only to see her face morph into an arresting amalgam with her features on one side and Bellucci's on the other. This probably was costly and painstaking to achieve. It occurs to me that two of the finer specimens in the European gene pool pulled this off 36 years ago, long before the advent of digital photographic effects. Actress Chiara Mastroianni's face is an attractive but unnerving blend of her mother, Catherine Deneuve, and her father, Marcello Mastroianni.

Philipino director Brillante Mendoza is back in Competition after last year's porn theatre soap opera Serbis with Kinatay, in which a poor young criminology student gets drawn into a night of gory field work without meaning to. A German colleague was quite enthusiastic about the film, mentioning Dante and Dostoyevsky, a response that baffled me until I learned that he had 1) missed the first ten minutes and 2) forgotten his glasses. I, too, saw the film under less than ideal conditions: the projector was running.

Read our verdict of Taking Woodstock here