In the spirit of 1960s style collaborations between film auteurs, such as the Rosselini/Godard/Pasolini/Gregoretti's Rogopag (1963), Tickets (2005) is a modern-day combo featuring three driving forces of art cinema: the British Ken Loach, the Italian Ermanno Olmi and the Iranian Abbas Kiarostami. But while in Rogopag each director worked on an independent, self-contained segment, Tickets is a triple effort on a feature film set during a journey train between Austria and Rome. True, each director worked on very clearly defined moments of the journey, but they passed the baton to each other with weightless fluidity, thus enhancing the interactive web of characters that enter and exit the narrative as if they were moving on a perfectly timed conveyor belt.
The film is a gentle comedy that uses the internationalism of contemporary Europe as its background. Often resorting to acceptable national stereotypes to convey humour (a necessity in a film where so little actually happens), Tickets is infused with vintage populist appeal and humanism. Like the strangers that we encounter in diverse everyday situations in our lives, most characters have no names, which somehow arouses our interest in them.
The train journey starts with Olmi's segment when an older pharmaceutical businessman (Carlo de Piani) needs to get back home from Austria to Italy on an overnight train because terrorist threats forced the cancellation of his flight. So here we have a very private story with a media-hot topic as the background. Characters that will provide a linking thread to other segments are introduced at this stage, very subtly, starting off as extras whose diegetic presence grows organically.
When the morning arrives and the businessman alights his train, an overweight Italian woman (Silvana de Santis) takes narrative centre-stage with her aid Filippo Trojano (also called Filippo, the only character whose name we learn because of the woman's constant pestering and screaming at him). Finally, the last leg of the journey, as well as the most boisterous, arrives with a group of three Scots in Italy to see the Celtic football team play. This segment was directed by Ken Loach and it is the most politically inclined with an original encounter between naïve football lads and Albanian immigrants with no money for a ticket.
The train journey as a metaphor for life, passing of time and transformation is one of oldest in the book, but the directors here were not concerned in creating anything new, but simply enjoying making a simple film where life is perfectly recreated, a bit like seasoned jazz musicians meeting up for a jam session. This lack of pretence, accessibility and interest in audience enjoyment makes of Tickets one of those film moments that feels like a long, lazy Sunday lunch with friends on a sunny summer afternoon, when time slows down and everything seems to fall into place.
Plus: Monamour & Snack Bar Budapest (Italy, 2005/1998. Dir: Tinto Brass. Published by Arrow Films). Two titles by Il Maestro, the handle by which the king of arthouse erotica Tinto Brass is often referred to. Famous for being the director at the helm of Caligula (1979) and the cult movie Salon Kitty, these two films show exactly what's so good Tinto. In Monamour, a sexually frustrated wife seeks sexual solace in a French man while her husband attends to his professional obligations during a literature festival in the picturesque town of Mantova in Italy. "The signifier is the same as the signified" says a man, Umberto Eco-style, during a performance by a nude woman talking about her genitals, one of the several moments when Tinto winks at the audience. As the film progresses, it gets more bizarre and Fellini-esque with lots of prosthetic penises and fantasy scenes. Snack Bar Budapest is less sexually charged; it's a neon-lit, Dick Tracy-ish film noir with a good dash of sexual ambiguity that fits the gangster genre well. Tinto is something of a celluloid libertarian who believes sex should not be censored. He's also an equal opportunities ring-leader. In Monamour, for instance, he alludes to a polysexual type of freedom and proves himself to be in tune with modern behaviour with witty asides, despite the initial anachronic impression the film gives. Tinto's intent seems to be doing away with arty subtexts and go straight to the point as far as sexuality goes, while retaining a sophisticated aesthetic sense that normally only arthouse cinema has. Very clever. Such hybrid type of material is rich in irony, funny and always lush to look at. Unmissable.