By Michael Roddy
VENICE (Reuters) - An Italian film about a man who works other people's jobs to give them a quick break showed a gentle side on Wednesday to the economic collapse, but other offerings at the Venice film festival have portrayed a much darker side of poverty.
"L'Intrepido", directed by Gianni Amelio and starring Italian comic Antonio Albanese as an unemployed man who works as an unofficial substitute, provides a few laughs as well as more wistful reflections.
Filling in for a construction worker, the hero makes himself look busy doing nothing. When he is driving a tram, he tells a woman who asks how many stops till the end of the line that he has no idea because he's getting off at the next one, where the regular driver takes back over.
Other festival offerings, such as the Greek film "Miss Violence", show people whose lives are twisted beyond repair by poverty and the violence and emotional despair it spawns.
Even in "L'Intrepido", the substitute worker's conservatory-trained, saxophone-playing son tells his father times are tough: "We are all geniuses in school but losers outside."
Alberto Barbera, the festival's artistic director, said that in selecting this year's films he and others making the choices "were impressed that a lot of things we saw...were dark".
"Filmmakers decided to face the fact that we are living a sort of a crisis of all the values of our civilization," Barbera told Reuters in an interview.
"It's not only a matter of financial crisis, of the economies getting bad and so on. It's the fact that we lost a system of values that kept our societies alive so far and now we don't have any more."
In "Joe", set in the American south, an ex-convict played by Nicolas Cage mentors a boy from a violent background, but is caught up himself in the violence of a poverty-stricken world.
The Italian film "Sacro Gra" shows life in the deprived areas outside Rome's ring road. It is the second of an unprecedented two documentaries in competition this year, along with director Errol Morris's "The Unknown Known" about former U.S. secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Jay Weissberg, a critic at U.S. trade publication Variety, said poverty and the economic crisis had clearly made their presence felt in Venice but he was surprised the themes were not more prevalent.
"I think the Greek films more than most of the other national industries have been at least obliquely dealing with the crisis in a way that most other national industries have not, which I still don't understand," Weissberg told Reuters.
"Is it because the studios think nobody wants to see it because they want to escape from it during the movies or what? I don't have an answer to it."
Yet Greek director Alexandros Avranas's "Miss Violence" is anything but escapist fare. Before the opening credits have finished, a girl celebrating her 13th birthday commits suicide by jumping to her death from a balcony of the family flat.
The father, played by Themis Panou, exercises his authority over his sprawling family in their claustrophobic apartment. After losing his job, he is almost always there to control the family, who only seem to earn money through prostitution.
Avranas said that the picture is meant to be set in Vienna but the incidents portrayed could happen anywhere.
"We have entered this vicious cycle and it is difficult to be a revolutionary" who can resist oppression, whether it be a domineering father or the state, he told a news conference. "You see this within each family but within each society as well."
(Additional reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)