This latter Biennale Cinema has been a winning edition in tune with the current scenario and the dystopian social world of the contemporary, the great cinema that makes people dream and also reflect on the problems that surround us. The 80. Venice International Film Festival presented a selection of important films and strong emotions, which filled the Lido rooms with voices from all continents. Producers, distributors, directors, critics, teachers and a young and attentive audience, despite the absence on the red carpet of the most known American stars, currently on strike in Hollywood. Director Alberto Barbera expressed satisfaction with the latest numerical data that confirm a significant growth compared to 2022 in admissions (230.000) and purchased tickets (85.000). There are many interesting titles and several masterpieces, including the premières and restored films in the Venice Classics section. Here we focus on some of the many films of the Festival that have left a mark, an emotion, a memory or a desire.
Masterpiece awarded with the Golden Lion – in Italian cinemas from January 2024 – the beautiful “Poor Things” by Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos has been confirmed. Emma Stone, amazing in the role of Bella Baxter, is a charming Victorian woman brought back to life by a scientist, Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe), in the footsteps of Frankenstein’s realization story. Bella, prototype of a feminist, is hungry for life and cannot wait to start a fantastic evolution all over again thank to her new body, which for her represents also a “coming of age” due to the extraordinary adventures that she experiences. Bella cannot resist trapped in the house with her “inventor” and flees to Lisbon with the unscrupulous lawyer Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo), on a dystopian grand tour which takes her to Paris, where she will be also able to explore her sexuality.
Always in the wake of the fantastic and visionary, in a magnificently gothic black and white, which does not make us regret the color, the film “El Conde” by Pablo Larraín – winner of the Best Screenplay Award Guillermo Calderón and Pablo Larraín – drags us into a black vortex with the story of a resurrected centenarian Pinochet (Jaime Vadell), Chile’s general/dictator, who, in the fiction, is not dead but is a vampire who flies in the night, who feeds on human hearts and shares his terrible secret with his wife and a disturbing Russian butler. His five children claim his hidden riches and fight over the inheritance. The must-see film, which will be soon on Netflix, is a distressing farce, with dry and ironic dialogues, quotes from other famous directors including F. W. Murnau with “Nosferatu”; an inexorable ride into the abyss of power and evil.
Not competing but amid the highlights of the Out of Competition is “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” by Wes Anderson, a short 40 minutes film, based on a story by Roald Dahl. As always, the director amazes, stimulates the viewer intellectually, enchants with his magnificent color palette, his surprises, the inevitable narrative codes, the animated sequences and his representations that make fun of situations like a television studio during a live. “Grand Budapest Hotel” ‘s director tells about the Englishman Henry Sugar (Benedict Cumberbatch) who meets an Indian guru (Ben Kingsley) with extraordinary abilities: he knows how to walk, and, above all, he can read books while blindfolded. The film, which unfolds like a documentary, in reality becomes a very entertaining story that multiplies itself into many Chinese boxes. The narrative voice of the writer Dahl is the wonderful and gentle one of Ralph Fiennes, who appears at the beginning of the story in slippers and sitting on an armchair in his studio. Do not miss it at the cinema and on Netflix when it will come out.
It is not among the winners in Venice, but “Dogman” by Luc Besson – arriving in theaters in October – is a film about a powerful, very moving and dramatic story. The talented Caleb Landry Jones plays the protagonist Douglas, an outcast of society, who lives isolated with many dogs, prostrated by violent experiences and deep emotional disappointments. Doug, who believes in dogs and not in the human being, after having lived many lives, is an extraordinary creation by the French director, who conquers us with a poignant melancholy and a profound sense of justice. And, last but not least, the seventy stray dogs are equally exhilarating and wonderful, it is thus impossible not to be on their side, like Doug does.
For those who love Ryuichi Sakamoto’s music, the première of the film “Ryuichi Sakamoto | Opus” was pure and nostalgic emotion. The film, included in the Out of Competition, is a tribute by Neo Sora, a New Yorker who grew up in Tokyo, on the composer who passed away last 28th March 2023. A refined and beautiful film that witnesses his last concert of twenty pieces that encompass all of his magnificent career, a path that led him from a sophisticated pop, through ambient, to soundtracks, such as the ones for “Furyo” by Nagisa Oshima, or “Tea in the Desert” by Bernardo Bertolucci. The film, shot with three 4K cameras and Bill Kirstein’s superlative black and white photography, is a close, unique and immersive encounter: a true gift that offers the magical sensation of being alone with the composer within his large studio, perceiving every emotion of the musician, following the wrinkles of his thoughtful face, the half-closed eyes behind his iconic round glasses, his beautiful hands marked by years. In reality, the film was wanted and meticulously edited, together with the director and his crew, by the composer himself in 2022, when, due to his illness, he could no longer perform in live concerts. «From 8th to 15th September 2022, I worked on something important to me: filming Ryuichi Sakamoto | Opus» stated the composer as it is reported on the presentation of the documentary. «The project aimed at recording my compositions, while I was still able to play, in order to preserve them for the future. We rented studio 509 from the NHK Broadcaster Center to record: a place that I believe offers the absolute best acoustics in Japan». Concluding this necessarily partial account of Venice 80, I would like to close with this great artist in sweet balance between East and West to share, other than the beauty of his film and his innovative music, an absolutely fantastic experience that only great cinema screened in theaters can offer, and that Venice 80 celebrated with the world première.
80. Mostra Internazionale d’Arte Cinematografica di Venezia https://www.labiennale.org/it/cinema/2023/venezia-80-concorso
Manuela Teatini, film maker and journalist, focuses on visual arts, in particular cinema, photography and contemporary art. She has written freelance for years with VOGUE, Uomo VOGUE, ELLE and other cinema, art and new trend magazines. She is the author and director of the docufilms “ART BACKSTAGE. La passione e lo sguardo” (2017),” MASSIMO MININI. Story of a Gallerist “(2019),” GIOVANNI BOLDINI. Il Piacere. Story of the Artist” (2021) awarded at the Terra di Siena International Film Festival 2021.