Venice Downplays Tsai Ming-liang's 'Stray Dogs'

Barbera says Italy does not recognize Taiwan as a country

VENICE – A dispute at the Venice Film Festival over the nationality of Tsai Ming-liang’s competition entry “Stray Dogs” is being downplayed by fest director Alberto Barbera.

While Tsai and his producer Vincent Wang submitted the film as hailing from Taiwan and France, the festival has labeled it as coming from Chinese Taipei and France.

This has sparked protests in the Taiwanese media as well as drawn a letter from a Rome-based Taiwanese official to the Venice fest.

“He sent us a very courteous letter saying: why is this work listed as Chinese Taipei rather than Taiwan?” Barbera told Variety.

The reason is that the Italian government does not recognize Taiwan as a country, Barbera said.

“So we can’t either, and have to write Chinese Taipei,” he explained.

The problem of assigning nationality to people or products from Taiwan goes back to when the island broke away from China in 1949 at the time of the communist takeover. Many regard Taiwan as a separate sovereign state. China, however, considers Taiwan to be a rebel province with which it will eventually be reunited.

Chinese Taipei is the awkward diplomatic compromise used by the Olympic Games and other international organizations which try to steer a middle ground between recognition of the communist superpower, the People’s Republic of China (China) and the self-governing island, the Republic of China (Taiwan).

Barbera said the Venice Biennale, the arts foundation that oversees the fest, contends with this Taiwan issue quite regularly, not just regarding movies but also other art forms.

So far there has been no comment from Tsai, or any indication how much he intends to push this issue.

“Stray Dogs,” pictured, is the only Chinese-language picture in the competition. It follows a homeless family and paints a picture of the awfulness of life in contemporary Taipei.

Described by Barbera as “experimental,” it is a very slow film almost entirely devoid of narrative.

Tsai, who was born in Malaysia, but has been based in Taiwan for decades, confirmed in Venice on Thursday that he intends “Stray Dogs” to be his last film, even though he is only 56.

“I can’t make movies for consumers and for a system that is too fast and only thinks about money,” he said. “It just stifles my creativity,” added the auteur who won the Golden Lion in 1994 with “Vive l’Amour.”

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