The world's oldest film festival, founded in 1932, welcomed visitors to its traditional and unique home on the Lido di Venezia, an 11km sandbank island which protects the fragile Venice Lagoon from the Adriatic Sea.
Long established as one of the most important and glamorous events on the cultural calendar, the festival is organised by the world-renowned art Biennale and is thus officially still known as the "International Exhibition of Cinematographic Art of the Venice Biennale" (Mostra Internazionale d'Arte Cinematografica della Biennale di Venezia, in Italian)
Since Alberto Barbera resumed the position of Director (which he previously held from 1999- 2002)six years ago, Venice has been revitalised as the unofficial kick-off of "awards season," playing host to numerous productions which have gone on to great success at the Oscars, Golden Globes, BAFTAs etc, including Gravity, Birdman, Spotlight and last year's opener La La Land.
The 2017 edition once again confirmed its status as Hollywood's preferred launchpad for prestige projects including curtain-raiser Downsizing (directed by Alexander Payne), Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh), Suburbicon (perennial Lido-lover George Clooney) and the festival's noisiest succès de scandale: Darren Aronofsky's unclassifiable provocation mother!.
mother!'s Jennifer Lawrence, Three Billboards´ Frances McDormand and Sally Hawkins -- from Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water -- may have been pipped to the Best Actress Volpi Cup by Charlotte Rampling (from Andrea Pallaoro´s Hannah), but all left the Lido firmly in contention for Oscar recognition. Mission accomplished, then, for Barbera and his crew.
The sky is meanwhile now the limit for The Shape of Water -- an appropriate Golden Lion winner, given the drenching cloudbursts which intermittently descended on the Lido. A true crowdpleaser and critical favourite, its victory was a rare example fo a major international festival jury plumping for a "genre" film ahead of the more traditional arthouse exercises. This was also a timely win, coming so soon after the deaths of horror maestros George Romero and Tobe Hooper.
Del Toro has always drawn richly from such illustrious forebears, his influences stretching all the way back through the decades as he skilfully blends tones and moods, references and innovations. The Venice Classics section of restorations this year included one of the greatest combinations of horror and comedy -- James Whale´s The Old Dark House (1932) -- alongside an international array of gems from the past, often with film-makers and stars present.
In terms of the festival, the Lion of Venice is now very much of the two-headed variety, looking both backwards at past glories and forward to new frontiers. Signor Barbera's most prominent innovation was a competition for Virtual Reality projects, presented on its own little island a short hop from the back of the vast PalaBiennale venue.
For more than two centurites up to 1630, the Lazzaretto Vecchio isle housed a hospital for victims of plague and leprosy. During #Venezia74 its visitors had a rather happier time, with Tsai Ming-Liang's The Deserted earning particular praise. Maybe it will now go viral. (Neil Young)