VENICE WATCH: Laurie Anderson dwells on death; 'Behemoth' shows China's pollution nightmare

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    VENICE, Italy — The 72nd Venice Film Festival, which runs through Saturday, is bringing red carpet premieres, innovative movies and Hollywood glamour to the Italian city. Here's what has been catching the eye of The Associated Press:


    At 75 minutes, Laurie Anderson's "Heart of a Dog" is the shortest film competing for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. But it packs an emotional wallop.

    Anderson weaves a personal meditation on life, creativity and death around stories about her painting, piano-playing terrier Lolabelle.

    Anderson, a composer and performance artist who had a pop hit in 1981 with "O Superman," likens the film to a series of short stories.

    "Some are about a dog, some aren't," she said. "Some are about how we tell stories and what a story is. That's really what the movie is about. And in the middle of the movie ... is an account of the bardo, the Tibetan Book of the Dead. What happens when you die?"

    Two deaths are discussed in "Heart of a Dog," of Lolabelle and Anderson's mother. Another loss hangs over the film — the 2013 death of Anderson's husband, rock star Lou Reed.

    Reed appears briefly in the film, and one of his songs plays over the end credits.

    "He didn't see this film, but I think he would have liked it," said 68-year-old Anderson.

    "He helped me a lot in my life and a lot in my process ... he knew all the things in the film," she added. "He'd watched me write them and talk about them and I think he would have really loved to be here in Venice."

    —By Cristina Jaleru


    Zhao Liang's "Behemoth" is set in the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia. But you would be forgiven for thinking it was set in hell.

    The documentary dwells on the giant coal mines and steel mills that have chewed up the region's grasslands. The camera lingers on furnaces, smoke and slag heaps worked by grime-encrusted figures. In voiceover, the director describes a nightmarish journey through a landscape reminiscent of Dante's "Inferno."

    Zhao said Friday that when he visited the region, once roamed by nomadic herders, "to me, it looked like hell."

    "So, I took my camera to take some shots and try to tell the world what the situation is," the director said through an interpreter at the Venice Film Festival, where "Behemoth" is the only documentary among 21 movies competing for the Golden Lion.

    Industry has transformed China in recent decades, raising living standards for millions but generating pollution on a vast scale. The film shows the devastating health effects of industrial pollution, which has left many workers with lung disease.

    Zhao's social-issues documentaries have not always been released in his homeland. "Behemoth" might make uncomfortable viewing for Chinese officials, but Zhao thinks everyone has to share the blame for the country's environmental degradation.

    "It's a consequence of our desires," the director said. "We want more and more, so we've helped to create this pollution problem. It's also a consequence of this blind development path that we keep on following.

    "I think the monster, the Behemoth, is actually us, with all our crazy desires."

    —By Zara Eldridge and Jill Lawless

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