Releasing ‘Private Ryan’

Dubber strike blocks pic that wows Venice fest

VENICE — Bringing Hollywood and Europe together in a rare synthesis, the world’s most successful filmmaker and Italy’s most international star — Steven Spielberg and Sophia Loren — were the focus on opening day of the 55th Venice Intl. Film Festival.

The European premiere of Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan,” backed by an impressive talent rollout, got the fest off to a high-octane start on Thursday. But the rest of Italy will have to wait to see the war drama until a truce can be called in the country’s ongoing dubbing actors strike.

Richard Borg, the Italian chief of UIP, which will handle the acclaimed DreamWorks/Paramount feature in Europe, confirmed that the national release date has already been nudged back from its original Oct. 2 slot to Oct. 23.

But even that’s not definite. If the strike is not resolved quickly enough to allow time to dub the feature into Italian — a considerable enterprise given its nearly three-hour running time and numerous major speaking roles — the release will be set back even further.

Major coverage

The massive media coverage and avalanche of interviews being generated by the film’s Venice launch — where it screened in English with Italian subtitles — and an accompanying entourage that includes Spielberg, stars Tom Hanks, Edward Burns, Tom Sizemore and screenwriter Robert Rodat, will continue to impact public awareness for the next two to three months.

But the benefits clearly risk being diluted the longer UIP is forced to stall the release.

Meanwhile, the reception for “Saving Private Ryan” among press gathered on the oppressively humid Lido augurs well for its European release. Many here are calling it Spielberg’s masterpiece and one of the greatest films ever made about war.

However, some critics polled after Venice press screenings suggested the film was jingoistic, sentimental and too exclusively American in perspective, despite acknowledging its virtuoso achievements.

A similar initial reaction was drawn from notoriously difficult-to-please Euro critics when another Hanks starrer, “Forrest Gump,” preemed on the Lido a few years back. But that pic’s stellar foreign B.O. performance was as unharmed as the Spielberg pic’s looks likely to be.

“I think a film’s a film, and if it’s going to have an emotional impact, then that is going to go beyond political and national boundaries,” Spielberg said at a press conference. The promo tour of the director and stars continues in the coming days with stops at the Deauville fest and next week’s London premiere.

In selecting Spielberg’s film to inaugurate Venice this year, fest director Felice Laudadio has called it a glowing example of how special effects and bravura filmmaking craft can be applied, not to the blockbuster popcorn pics he has banished from the Lido, but to the kind of storytelling that traditionally made American movies great.

Back to basics

“What I really did with this film was deconstruct the technology to bring us back to the basics and put the war on film as crudely and graphically as a combat photographer would have done 54 years ago,” Spielberg offered.

“It’s the vocabulary of war, of what my father’s generation had to live with and survive through. I shot the movie as graphically as I had to in order to depict the way veterans of that war told me they had experienced it. There were no big new advancements in technology to aid us in putting the war on screen.”

“By and large, to our generation of filmgoers, World War II was fought by old guys in black and white movies like Van Johnson, Richard Widmark and John Wayne,” said Hanks. “For guys like Matt Damon, Ed Burns and myself, who did this movie, it just put it into context that these were not mythic human beings but average guys.”

Prior to the gala screening, the Venice fest was officially opened by Italy’s deputy premier Walter Veltroni in a lackluster ceremony during which a Golden Lion career achievement award was presented by former French culture minister Jack Lang to Polish director Andrzej Wajda.

But the evening’s most emotional moment came with the career nod, presented by Michelangelo Antonioni, to beloved national icon Loren. The actress stole the show without being there and was described by Vittorio Gassman in a tribute reel as “our constitutional and institutional diva.”

“I’ve received many awards in my life and in my career, but this is surely the most prestigious and significant,” said the two-time Oscar winner in an acceptance statement read by her husband, producer Carlo Ponti. “Italy, especially the Italian film world, holds first place in my heart, and the Venice festival has always represented an important goal.”

Ponti accepted the award on Loren’s behalf with the couple’s sons, Carlo Jr. and a very tearful Edoardo. The actress canceled her Venice trip after being taken ill last month during a flight from Los Angeles to New York and being instructed by doctors to rest.

“Sophia is fine,” Ponti said. “She’s not here because she is afraid to fly again so soon. But it’s more psychological than physical. She just has to forget her fear and realize that she’s fine.”

Eagerly anticipated titles premiering in Venice over the weekend include John Dahl’s “Rounders.” The director will be in town for the screening with cast members Matt Damon (taking a break from filming Anthony Minghella’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley” near Rome), Famke Janssen and possibly Edward Norton if his shooting schedule permits.

(Adam Dawtrey contributed to this report.)

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