Festivals         Venice International film festival 2017 (30th August-9th September)

The multiple magic of Venice


Venice film festival is always an exciting place, with high concentration of good films across all sections, star-studded red carpet, full cinemas and, generally, laid-back, exuberant and warm Mediterranean atmosphere, luckily, devoid of fan crowd hysteria without which some other big festivals wouldn’t even exist.At least, I didn’t notice much red carpet hysterical noise (typical of Cannes, for example), in spite of the daily presence of divas and‘sexy hot stars’, perhaps due to the more humane logistical cinema entrance system, which is less hierarchical and more accessible, perhaps thanks to the kind and unusually patient entry ticket staff (unexpected of the Mediterraneans), or perhaps thanks to the ever-present Adriatic sea breeze. Speaking Italian helps, too.

I suppose that the beauty of Lido itself, its entourage and the magic of the city of Venice help, too. One can’t resist being mesmerized by the magic of Venice – even if this is the umpteenth time to visit it – especially when semi-empty,clamour-freevaporettostake you back from Lido to Venice after the late night screeningsand the only sound heard is that of the sea canal wavesin the moon-lit Venice. For a moment, it seems confusing which magic is more real – the one on the Lido screens or the one right in front of you as you gaze from vaporetto. But it is precisely this magnificent magic of blending – filmic, architectural and natural– that leaves you undecided which “screen” to look at first,making the very moment of choosing all the more enchanting. Rare festival setting is so magnetic, adding to the mystique of the whole festival. And this is not betaken for granted. Those who do, have stopped believing in the magic of film art, too.


This spellbinding full-moon ambiance was occasionally marredby,almost daily, torrential rains, but instead of spoiling the festival good mood, they only made it more adventurous (you meet some of the most interesting people trying to shelter from rainstorms in a compact square meter allowed for smokers), driving more people to leave the beaches and giardini and head to cinemas. If they could find tickets, that is.



Venice film magic (or the lack of it?)& red carpet Hollywood

The film programme is highly varied, if one doesn’t expect to discover many master-pieces. But then, which festival showcases even one masterpiece, let alone more of them, in today’s cinema creativity impasse? Good films have become rare and art enthusiasm has subdued, so big festival discussions of film professionals nowadays sound like the talks of Wall street bankers (it’s all about money, budgets, profits and distribution deals) rather than genuine artists talking about the quality of artistic works. Yawn. Yes, film is in crisis, but not only because of the lack of money, but because of too much obsession with it: too many films are being made, most of the small-budget ones can’t get a breakthrough outside festival circuits, resulting in theobsession with money and creativity crisis. But, as you know, we live in the age of imagination deficiency and short-span attention (if you’ve read the text this far).



The 74thMostraInternazionaled’ArteCinematografica di Venezia was opened by Downsizing, a sci-fi comedy, a sort of satire of modern-day Lilliput, by Oscar-winning Alexander Payne, the director known for his excellent Nebraska, All about Schmidt, Descendantsetc.The grandiose opening of la Mostra can be about anything else but ‘downsizing’, as it has become something of an Oscar winner harbinger (or an omen, at least),

if you recall the success of Gravity, Birdman and La La Land, all opening Venice festival films.George Clooney, Jennifer Lawrence, Sally Hawkins, Mat Damon or, possibly even, Frances McDormand and Judi Dench, are all racing for Oscar advantage.

The competition line-up, packed with 21 films by such auteurs as Guillermo del Toro with Shape of water, Paul Shrader withFirst reformed, Abdelatif Kechiche with Mektoub, my love: canto uno, Darren Aronofsky with the horror Mother,

Martin McDonagh withThree Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Andrew Haigh’sLean on Pete, Frederick Wiseman, and Samuel Maoz, known for mesmerizing Lebanon, and returning after a long time with the new film Foxtrot, was not an easy task for the jury, headed by AnetteBening. The festival director, Alberto Barbera, explaining his choice of the woman president, exclaimedthat it was high time to stop the long list of male presidents and invite a brilliant, talented and inspiring woman to head the jury of the international competition programme, referring to AnetteBening, the actress with four Oscar nominations so far, not shunning away from challenging and daring roles.


Hollywood stars dominated the red carpet galore, with great attention being received by RiteshBatra’sNetflix Our souls at night, which reunites Robert Redford and Jane Fonda for the fourth time, but not since 1979’s The Electric Horseman, on which occasion they both, fittingly and long deservedly, received the honorary awards. Amidst the ovations of the packed Sala Grande’s cinema, childhood screen memories started rolling in front of my eyes: The Chase, Barefoot in the park, Three days of the Condor, The Way We Were, The Sting, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid, Out of Africa…And I felt dizzy with too much magic.


The innovation of 74thMostra was also the segment “Virtual reality”, showcasing, as the title explicitates, the new technology films, set outside Lido, on the small island ofLazzarettovecchio, which the audiences could access by boats in order to enjoy the interactive experiences enabled by new technologies. The programme echoed the success of AlejandroIňaritu’s installation Carne y arena, exhibited earlier this year in Cannes.


Parallel sections

Much was expected of this 74th Venice edition, especially after the lukewarm Cannes edition, but only a few films managed to catch my attention.Due to my late arrival, I missed Zama, the first film in seven years from Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel, one of the most interesting directors of today (La Cieneaga, La mujer sin cabeza…). But I managed to catch another Argentinian film, Invisible,screened in Orizzonti, the Romanian new wave-style minimalist social-realist Argentinian feature by the long-awaited return of Pablo Giorgelli (who triumphed with prizes, including the Cannes Camera d’Or for his equally minimalist “Las Acacias”). With a scarce verbal narrative, long takes of the socially marginalised and simply depicting Ely’s daily routines (magnificently played by Mora Arenillas), this is the film that sticks in your mind.


Parallel sections of Orizzonti and Giornate degli autori (Venice days) displayed vibrant new films, spiraling from outright masterpieces (such as Invisible) to promising debuts, such as Jusqu’a la guarde, a debut by Xavier Legrand, which won 2 prizes: Horizons Silver Lion for best director and Luigi de Laurentis award.


Nico, 1988, the best Horizons film prize, by Italian director Susanna Nicchiarelli, known for her 2009 debut Cosmonauta, is a moving biopic of the late German singer, who was part of the cult Velvet Undeground band and Andy Warhol’s muse. Set between Paris, Prague, Nuremberg, Manchester, the Polish countryside, it focuses on the last two years of Nico’s life – 1987 and 1988. Nico died in 1988 while on vacation with her son Ari on the island of Ibiza.

Charlotte Rampling received the best actress award for Andrea Pallaoro’sHannah, giving a memorable speech, thanking Italy for being the greatest inspiration, as well as thanking her masters Visconti, Liliana Caviani etc. for making her the actress that she is.

Much awaited work by the talented Italian director Andrea Segre, systematically dedicating his work to migrant issues (his poeticIo sono Li won many international awards, including the financially rewarding Živko Nikolić prize for best film at the Montenegrin 2012 MOFFEM festival in Kotor), L’ordine delle cose received the Human Rights Film Network Special mention. The new featureis an interesting take on immigration, but it fails to deliver, in spite of the bigger-budget production (or precisely because of it) which makes the film look more like a poor Hollywood slick thriller parody – all cosmetics without any substance - rather than a genuine art film by a, once, promising talented author.



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