The marital drama “Last Night,” which deals with questions of temptation, betrayal and defining infidelity, opened the Rome Film Festival on Thursday but a red-carpet protest by hundreds of Italian movie-industry workers stole the show.
Hundreds of actors, directors, screenwriters and other workers of the Italian culture industry invaded the festival, forcing organizers to scrap the red carpet ceremony with Keira Knightley, Eva Mendes and other cast members from “Last Night.”
The stars and film director Massy Tadjedin did make an appearance in what they said was a show of solidarity with their fellow movie-industry workers.
The high-profile stunt was part of an ongoing dispute, with the workers protesting funding cuts to the culture sector by the government.
“Culture is a right,” read one banner, “The credits are about people who work,” said another.
“Last Night” offers no easy answers to the themes of betrayal and loyalty it seeks to explore.
The movie is about a married couple — young, beautiful, successful — struggling to confront temptation: For Knightley’s character it’s an old, never-quite-forgotten French love; for her husband, played by “Avatar” star Sam Worthington, it’s a seductive work colleague played by Mendes.
Their moral struggle plays out over the course of one night they spend apart, on the backdrop of hotel bars and trendy New York apartments.
In a press conference earlier in the day, Knightley said the movie doesn’t take a view on whether one is worse — physical infidelity or an unconsummated but highly emotional affair — and that she could not say.
“We discussed that a lot,” the British actress told reporters in the Italian capital.
“Sometimes I went into it thinking the mental infidelity was worse, then we’re shooting and I think, ‘No, No, the physical’s much worse,” she told reporters. “I come out and I have no idea.”
The actress said the movie “provokes discussion” and credits it for not taking a moral standpoint or tell the viewers what to think. “This is a film that requires the audience to make their own minds up,” she said, adding that all people at one point in their lives have faced the scenarios the characters find themselves in.
Tadjedin, the director, said whatever opinion one forms of the movie’s central dilemmas and its characters “depends largely on your definition of infidelity” and that “hopefully in the film we don’t try to judge.”
In the movie, which was also recently shown at the Toronto Film Festival, Worthington’s character Michael finds himself on a business trip with the colleague he is attracted to, and who is attracted to him. Mendes said she played the tempting co-worker, Laura, without making her an obvious sexual target, so not to demean or take away from the man’s struggle. Meanwhile in New York, Knightley’s Joanna runs into Alex, a French writer who is in town for business, and who is also the past love she has given up but always kept secret from her husband.
All relationships are different, said Mendes, and there are a lot of gray areas.
“It’s too black and white to say, ‘No, this is worse than that,’” Mendes said. “Maybe something that’s acceptable in your teens or 20s is unacceptable in your 30s or 40s.”
“It’s really circumstantial,” she said.
“Last night” also stars Guillaume Canet as Knightley’s past flame to complete a diverse cast that includes an American, Mendes, the Australian-raised Worthington and a Briton, Knightley. Tadjedin says she chose New York because it is a place where the diverse characters could come together.
It was not clear how the protest would affect the rest of the festival, which runs through Nov. 5, and is held at the auditorium built by architect Renzo Piano.
The demonstration Thursday drew dozens of household names in Italy.
“It’s a difficult moment, and we just want a little sensitivity,” said Carlo Verdone, a popular director of comedies. “There are promises, but how many of these promises have been kept? Zero.”
Culture Minister Sandro Bondi called the protest “unjustified,” according to the ANSA and Apcom news agencies. He said the protesters “act in the name of culture but have nothing to do with it.”
Cabinet undersecretary Gianni Letta, the right-hand man of Premier Silvio Berlusconi, said the protest could end up being counterproductive.
“This way one discourages international investors,” Letta told ANSA. “I would have avoided ruining the red carpet.”
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