The 68th was certainly a memorable year with the overall quality of the films being very high and the films for the lineup well selected. Some films surprised while some films disappointed, and most of them will be talked about in the coming weeks and months.
The longest running Film festival in the World kicked off its 68th Edition Festival at the Lido in Venice with the world premiere of George Clooney’s political drama The Ides of March starring Ryan Gosling, Clooney himself, Paul Giamatti and Phillip Seymour Hoffman,and was the first film shown in competition for the Golden Lion. Promoted as intense tale of sex, ambition, loyalty, betrayal and revenge the film was however less cynical and shocking than promised and contained a couple of weak plot points. The actors, especially the supporting cast, give overall great performances and the fast pace makes The Ides of March enjoyable.
Acclaimed Russian documentar Victor Kossakovsky presented Out of Competition his latest film Vivan Las Antipodas. Since most of our planet is covered by water there are only a few inhabited land to land antipodes like Spain and New Zealand and Hawaii and Botswana. The original idea and stunning visual images of some of the most beautiful places on earth, however, where not enough to fill the void of a story and to be appreciated outside formalist circles.
The first day generally features a lighter program which gives everyone the possibility to prepare for the heavy lineup to come until Sunday
Thursday was definitely Madonna-Day. She was welcomed like a rock star but her drama W.E. shown Out of competition earned a few laughs during the press screening. Highlights of the film were the excellent performance by Andrea Riseborough as Wallis Simpson and the glamorous costumes by Arianne Phillipps (A Single Man, Walk the Line). The rest however felt very forgettable to the point of being ridiculous, like the scene in which Wally (Abbie Cornish) arrives at her Paris Hotel where a personal message from Dodi Al Fayed awaits her. This might happen to Madonna but not to normal person.
Roman Polanski’s new film Carnage, shown in competition, was well received by audience and critics. The comedy, about two sets of parents that meet to solve a conflict between their sons and end up having the worst day of their lives, stars Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly. The festival director Marco Mueller has always been a big supporter of Asian cinema and the first Asian film in competition for the Golden Lion, Saideke Balai from Taiwan, is a good example of what these films can offer. We loved the big budget action-drama by Te-Sheng Wei, which narrates the true story of the Taiwanese mountain population rebelling against the Japanese occupation of the Island. It reminded us of The Last of the Mohicans meets Braveheart in the Taiwanese jungle.
Highlight of Day 3 were period drama Mildred Pierce by Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine), an HBO Miniseries starring Kate Winslet, Evan Rachel Wood, Guy Pearce shown out of competition and Greek drama Alps in competition. After his very successful Dogtooth, Oscar nomination for best foreign film, Director Yorgos Lanthimos presents a controversial drama about a Nurse, an Ambulance Driver, a Gymnast, and a Coach have formed a dead persons’ substitute company called “Alps”. They are a company for hire, playacting deceased persons in their daily routines, for the benefit of their grieving relatives, friends, and colleagues. After a slow start the drama was definitely very intriguing and one of the most interesting films at the festival.
Hong Kong director’s Tony Ching Siu-Tung The sorcerer and the white snake was presented out of competition. The fantasy drama narrating the classic Chinese tale of The White Snake was very entertaining but because of its genre and aesthetic, it will most likely not make it to the general audiences in Europe.
Italian actress Monica Bellucci arrived at the Lido to present her latest film That Summer (Un été brulant), by French director Phillippe Garrell, by many considered the worst film in competition. The terrible script makes the film unwatchable along with similar directing and acting.
On Saturday we caught up with A Dangerous Method by David Cronenberg, starring Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud, Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung and Keira Knightley as Sabina Spielrein. The film in competition for the golden Lion was underwhelming, not only considering Cronenberg’s previous work, and received average reviews across the board. Keira Knightley is not able to match the excellent performance of her co-stars, especially at the beginning of the movie, when Jung treats her for hysteria.
Austrian filmmaker Michael Glawogger presents his latest documentary as World Premiere in the Orizzonti section of the Festival. Whores’ Glory is about prostitution in three countries, languages and religions, each chapter showing aspects of the man/woman relationship in these cultures. Bangkok, Fardipur in Bangladesh and Reynosa Mexico were both visually captivating and home of shocking yet normal tales of Prostitution.
James Franco premiered his feature Sal in a Midnight screening in the Sala Grande. Accompanied by his cast including Val Lauren who plays Sal Mineo, James Franco made a speech to the audience thanking everyone for coming to see his film at midnight. The film, in competition in the Orizzonti section of the festival, tells the last day of actor Sal Mineo’s life, one time teen idol, killed in 1976 in front of his house in Hollywood. Reminding us of Last Days about Kurt Cobain, an Italian critic best summed it up by saying It is not easy being Gus Van Sant.
Highlight of Day was the World premiere of Shame, second film by artist turned filmmaker Steve McQueen. Michal Fassbender stars as Brandon, a New York city sex addict, whose live is turned upside down when his younger sister (Carey Mulligan) moves in. Both actors give terrific performances and McQueen’s directing is fluid and rigorous. The director defines Brandon as an unfamiliar but extraordinary recognizable character and compares him to hunger striker Bobby Sands of his first film Hunger saying one is imprisoned and tries to fast his way to freedom and the other one is so called free but imprisons himself. Both Fassbender and McQueen were overwhelmed by 10 minutes of deserved applause in the Sala Grande and became very emotional.
Emanuele Crialese’s Terraferma about fisherman and immigrants on a small Mediterranean Island, one of three Italian films in competition for the golden Lion, is well made but story and characters are full of clichés.
Al Pacino was honored with the Jaeger LeCoultre Glory to the filmmaker award and showed his Wilde Salomè out of competition while Todd Solondz’s latest film Dark Horse, starring Selma Blair, Christopher Walken and Mia Farrow is less dark and twisted than his previous work and did not generate the expected amount of attention at the festival.
Tao jie (A simple life) is a film where everything works from the main to the supporting characters and from the first line of dialogue to the last. Chinese yet universal, with moving performances by Andy Lau and Deanie Ip and a subject everyone can relate to, the film is a tender ode to human generosity.
The documentary Pugni chiusi by Fiorella Infascelli, narrates the story of Sardinian workers protesting the closure of their factory by self imprisonment on a former prison Island. Sadly the documentary does only scratch the surface and his win in the documentary category in the Controcampo Italiano section is not deserved.
Jonathan Demme’s documentary I’m Carolyn Parker: The Good, the Mad and the Beautiful presented in the Orizzonti section is about an exceptional New Orleans women and her five year struggle to rebuild her house after Hurricane Katrina. The director himself it as an amazing portrait of an ”ordinary” woman.
Last main evening premiere of the first week was Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy by Tomas Alfredson, starring Gary Oldman, Colin Firth and Tom Hardy. Alfredson had impressed audience and critics with his Vampire film Let the Right One In and was not able to live up to everyone’s high expectations with the adaptation of John Le Carrè’s Spy novel about a mole in the British Intelligence Services.
The surprise film was, not surprisingly, from China. The first screening of People Mountain, People Sea, in competition for the Golden Lion was postponed due to technical difficulties while the second screening with director present was evacuated after about an hour due to a burning smell.
Italian documentary Pasta Nera is about a forgotten period in Italy’s history when after WWII thousands of families from the North opened their home to children from the worst hit poor areas from the South. Well retraced through public and private archive footage and interviews of children and families involved, the documentary shows a unique tale of Italian solidarity.
Award winning British Filmmaker Andrea Arnold makes her first appearance at the Venice Film Festival with Wuthering Heights, her third feature film and based on the novel by Emily Brontë. The attempt to strip the story down to its barest elements is unfortunately more interesting in theory than on film and the mostly inexperienced actors don’t convey the passion the story needs.
Japanese film Himizu by Sono Sion entertained the audience with his tale about a fifteen year old boy who wants nothing more than to be normal but the adults around him make it impossible. Although the inclusion of the Japanese earthquakes seemed in some way forced and the story was not always coherent, the performances by the two young leading actors made it an enjoyable film to watch.
Black block by Carlo Augusto Bachschmidt is about the dramatic police blitz at the Diaz school, sad highpoint in the repression of the protests against the G8 summit in Genoa 2001. Lena and Niels (Hamburg), Chabi (Zaragoza), Mina (Paris), Dan (London), Michael (Nice) and Muli (Berlin) all experienced first hand the atrocities and the violence during the blitz and the tortures afterwards at the Bolzaneto Barracks and their testimonies are key element of this film and the G8 trials about the tortures and the police cover-up. Sadly the fact that most of the officers involved are still in their place adds to the documentaries importance.
Faust by Russian director Alexander Sukorov was certainly the film that most divided the Festival. Loved by some and considered unwatchable by others, we left the screening after one hour not bad considering the Jury resisted only ten minutes the first time. We were ready for heavy stuff knowing the source material by Goethe, however in our opinion the film can only be watched by preparing for it an entire day. Well, honestly who has the time besides a festival jury who needed a second screening?
Rabbitto Horaa was the first film we saw in 3D at the Festival and likely the first Venice premiere where one of the actors wore a Rabbit’s head. The Japanese horror film by Shimizu Takashi, out of competition, made a visually exhilarating use of 3D unlike most Western films; everything else however was not that great.
Killer Joe by William Friedkin earned big laughs by most of the audience at the press and industry screening and this might have been partly because after Faust the day before everyone needed a distraction. Matthew McConaughey stars as a police detective moonlighting as gentleman killer for hire, Emile Hirsch is a Chris, a drug dealer in need for money who hires Joe to kill his mother for the life insurance money and gives up his sister (Juno Temple) as collateral. However Chris’s perfect plan was not so perfect after all and Joe is not at all happy when he finds out that there is no money to collect.
L’ultimo terrestre, debut film by comic book artist Gian Alfonso Pacinotti is about a weird guy Luca(Gabriele Spinelli) who has to face his fear of women when an Alien Invasion is about to strike. Pacinotti cleverly put’s the emphasis on people’s reaction to the aliens, than the aliens themselves exploring people’s fear of diversity and the unknown. Pacinotti and his film are certainly a refreshingly welcome new entry to Italian cinema.
Texas Killing Fields, sophomore feature by Michael Mann’s daughter Ami Canaan Mann, stars Sam Worthington, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Jessica Chastain. Inspired by true events the film was overall fluent and full of twists despite of not very original directing and some holes and slowdowns in the plot.
Last film in competition for the Golden Lion is Duo Mingjin – Life without principle by Johnnie about three ordinary people who have nothing in commong but a great need for money to deal with their hardship until one day a bag with 5 million dollars of stolen money shows up forcing them to wonder anxiously between what is right and what is wrong.
The Ides of March [Rating:3/5]
Vivan Las Antipodas [Rating:2/5]
Saideke Balai [Rating:3.5/5]
The sorcerer and the white snake [Rating:2/5]
That summer [Rating:1/5]
A dangerous method [Rating:3/5]
Whore’s Glory [Rating:4/5]
Dark Horse [Rating:2.5/5]
A simple life [Rating:5/5]
Pugni chiusi [Rating:2.5/5]
Carolyn Parker, The good, the mad, the beautiful [Rating:3/5]
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy [Rating:3/5]
People Mountain, People Sea [Rating:3.5/5]
Pasta Nera [Rating:3.5/5]
Wuthering Heights [Rating:3/5]
Black Block [Rating:5/5]
Rabitto horraa 3D [Rating:3/5]
Killer Joe [Rating:3.5/5]
L’ultimo terrestre [Rating:3.5/5]
Texas Killing Fields [Rating:2.5/5]
Duo mingi [Rating:3/5]
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