Venice, the world's oldest and most sophisticated film festival, reached the age of 75 this year in perfect shape.
The festival, attached to the Venice Biennale, had a competition section of 21 films that worked in many directions, crossing genre boundaries, mixing themes such as history, western, war, and even the musical.
Festival director Alberto Barbera with a broader, more flexible artistic direction, managed to secure some of the most significant filmmakers of the moment, picking up many titles that Cannes left behind with its "no Netflix" and "no Amazon" policy.
Venice's line-up included Alfonso Cuarón's "Roma", Paul Greengrass' "22 July", the Coen brothers' "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs", and two movies on Orson Welles, "The Other Side of the Wind" and Morgan Neville's "They'll Love Me When I'm Dead", as well as Mike Leigh's "Peterloo", produced by Amazon Studios.
Paradoxically one of the Cannes' outcasts won the prestigious Golden Lion. Alfonso Cuarón's "Roma" marks the director's return to Spanish-language filmmaking, is clearly his most personal work, showing immense respect in portraying the women who raised him. The film is good-looking throughout, finely-observed, perfectly narrated, and more than capable of moving an audience to tears. Another Netflix production by Joel and Ethan Coen won Best Screenplay for their Western "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs". The Coens are among the most original filmmakers in the US and the film turns a familiar genre, the Western drama, into something miles away from the ordinary.
The FIPRESCI jury awarded two prizes: one to a movie in competition, László Nemes' magnificent "Sunset" (Napszállta). Set in Budapest on the brink of World War I, Nemes' film reveals a refined world speeding toward chaos. The direction is immaculate, making Juli Jakab clearly allegorical, a labyrinthine exploration of a world falling apart, it operates first and foremost on an imaginative level, which does not exclude the surreal; a stimulating vision, an eye-opening process.
The other FIPRESCI award went to a movie of La Settimana Della Critica "Still Recording" (Lissa Ammetsajjel) by Saeed Al Batal and Ghiath Ayoub.
Venice Film Festival has the reputation of fostering artistic rather than commercial filmmaking while still attracting major stars and directors from all over the world. It doesn't have a film market, like Berlin, Cannes or Toronto, and provides a less chaotic, less stressful atmosphere, in wonderful surroundings where filmmakers, critics, journalists, students and the general public can gather together in a quite relaxed and informal way. Though it takes place on the Lido, many of the films are shown again in Venice itself. There are screenings in eight auditoriums, including a newly-open Sala Giardino.
The geography of festivals constantly changes. Several years ago, Venice was in crisis, narrow artistic choices were made and very few celebrities walked the red carpet. The tension grew because of a lack of auditoriums in Venice and money to build new venues. (In fact, they tried to build a new Palazzo del Cinema but had to stop because asbestos was discovered.) The Rome Film Festival, which launched 13th years ago, was squeezing from one side and TIFF (Toronto) from the other. Venice, the oldest festival in the world, seemed as if it would sink into the Laguna. It seemed to be cursed. Becoming weaker and weaker.
With plenty of criticisms starting before his work, Alberto Barbera returned to Venice in 2012, after a ten-year absence. But the Festival, slowly, started sailing again in good waters. This year's edition has been extraordinary, the level of all the selections high, wonderful sunny weather, while the surprise re-opening of Hotel De Bains was an auspicious occasion for the Lido. Famous as the location for Visconti's Death in Venice, and for hosting many guests and events of the festival, Hotel De Bains was shuttered for many years. This year the hotel has been re-opened and La Biennale di Venezia organized in it a very thoughtful exhibition on the history of the Venice Film Festival, with rare materials from the Historic Archives of the Biennale
In the 60s and 70s, Venice was the most important festival in the world.
With its very positive recent selections, showcasing some of the year's most prestigious, Oscar-bound cinema – starting with "Birdman", "Gravity" through to "La La Land", "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri" and "The Shape of Water" – Venice is back to its best!
(Rita Di Santo)