Director compares 'Meek's Cutoff' to Iraq war

Western chronicles a mountain man who misled wagons

VENICE - "Meek's Cutoff," a western with a female point of view from director Kelly Reichardt, was the talk of the Venice Film festival Saturday both because of its unusual take on the tried and true western genre and because actress Michelle Williams, who plays one of the film's protagonists, had paparazzi flashbulbs popping when she showed up in a pale Jason Wu silk chiffon embroidered gown.

Also on Sunday, the festival featured the in-competition world premieres of "Di Renjie" (Detective Dee) from Tsui Hark and Pablo Larrain's "Post Mortem."

Observers said Williams' chic look injected a bolt of glamour into the festival that has been short on it this year, at least compared to normal Venice standards. And the film itself, which screened in the festival's main Sala Grande venue, attracted the attention of critics with its innovative storytelling about a group of settlers lost in the Oregon desert in 1845. Williams plays the role of settler Emily Tetherow.

In a briefing Reichardt said that the film, based on a true story of mountain man Stephen Meek, played by Bruce Greenwood, who misled a 200-wagon party into a difficult-to-navigate area with no water, had modern-day political parallels from when the project started, around the same time the controversial photos of U.S. soldiers position with Iraqi war detainees emerged.

"Just following a leaders who doesn't know what he's doing, who's maybe ignorant or stupid, that can happen at any time," she said.

"Di Renjie," a compelling thriller about an exiled detective, played by Andy Lau, called back into service to help solve a series of murders, is the first in-competition film in Venice for Tsui, who won the festival's Future Film Festival collateral prize in 2000 for "Shun liu Ni liu" (Time and Tide).

"Post Mortem," meanwhile, is an unlikely love story from the director whose last film was "Tony Manero," about a seriel killer obsessed with John Travolta's character from "Saturday Night Fever," which screened out of competition in Cannes two years ago. "Post Mortem" features the relationship between an awkward morgue worker, played by Alfredo Castro, and his cabaret dancing neighbor who disappears during the military coup that felled Chilean leader Salvador Allende