After 12 days of stars and starlettes, paparazzi and premieres Venice finally rolled up the red carpet and bid farewell to this year’s 71st Film Festival. Here are my highlights along with some of the winners and losers.
Events kicked off with a beach-front photocall for the Madrina, or Godmother, of the festival, TV and film actress Luisa Ranieri. The Madrina hosts the opening and closing award ceremonies and figure-heads the festival.
A star-studded red carpet premiere for slightly surreal Birdman followed. Starring Michael Keaton, Edward Norton and Spiderman’s Emma Stone, the adoring fans waiting outside were treated to autographs and selfies with the stars whilst I watched the designer-clad parade on the big screen to the side.
Mingling with the film’s stars were many of the festival’s jurors who judge each film in competition. British actor and juror Tim Roth got a raucous reception when he arrived spending several minutes greeting the crowd and autographing pictures.
As the festival picked up a gear paparazzi at Marco Polo airport went into overdrive with regular snaps of the new arrivals throughout the week.
And then came my first first Leone D’Oro award ceremony. Based on Venice’s symbol of a winged lion the Leone D’Oro (Golden Lion) award is given for a number of categories. The prestigious best film and best director awards are announced at the closing ceremony but additional statues were presented throughout the festival for contributions to cinema.
The first went to 84-year old American documentary filmmaker Frederick Wisemen for his 50 year long career giving voice to society’s marginalized people. Presenting the award to his old friend, French actor Michel Piccoli listed Wiseman’s films quipping that Wiseman was well-deserving of the award even though he’d never asked him to be in any of his films!
And then another first. My first ever red carpet film premiere! Not that I actually walked the red carpet, us mortals went in a side entrance, but it was exciting nonetheless and I suppose it saved on having to hire a spectacular designer dress!
The premiere for Italian film Anime Nere pulled no punches. Following a Reggio-Calabrian family poisoned by organised crime it held us captivated as the family struggled with past pain, present danger and plans for the future. And director Francesco Munzi and the cast drew the first sustained standing ovation of the festival from an emotional audience, mirroring the critics’ reaction at the press screening in the morning. You can read more in my review here.
Another high-point of the festival was “Al Pacino Saturday” with a double bill of Manglehorn and The Humbling. The 74-year old legend walked the red carpet with his partner Lucila Sola and her daughter before signing autographs for the large crowd of screaming fans gathered at the barriers.
Much anticipated Manglehorn sold out long before I could get a ticket, but I managed to scrape one for The Humbling about an old worn-out actor, Simon Axler, in the winter of his years. As Axler struggles to come to terms with the end of his career he undergoes rehab and has one last fling with Pegeen, a young bisexual played by Greta Gerwig. Al Pacino plays the character well, although as both Axler and Pacino dress the same, even down to the same jewellery, it was difficult at times to know whose decline we were witnessing. The audience’s reception after the screening was muted although Mangelhorn was, I believe, better received.
Each premiering film got a red carpet so most days saw several keeping the fans, press photographers and film crews busy as they shuttled between press-calls, premieres and screenings. International stars and new faces mingled in the limelight as the crowds screamed for a wave from their heroes or quietly asked eachother “Who’s that?”
Stars spotted on the 3 Coeurs red carpet included Charlotte Gainsburg, French legend Catherine Deneuve and Italian favourite (and James Bond alumni) Giancarlo Gianini.
Next up on the red carpet was Ethan Hawke with his double bill of Good Kill, about a disillusioned American drone operator, and Cymbeline, a little-known Shakespeare play. Again I chose to see the smaller film of Cymbeline but was left unmoved by the paint-by-numbers work. Written towards the end of Shakespeare’s career, Cymbeline mixed a bit of Romeo and Juliet’s love-torn lovers with the misguided wrath of Othello and a touch of old King Lear’s madness. Individually each story works. But together they don’t as we’ve seen it all before. So, sadly, although decently acted the film felt like a second-rate shadow of Shakespeare’s greats and the audience’s reaction was decidedly subdued despite the presence of the stars and director.
One of the positives of the festival, though, is that it draws films from across the world, with a wide variety of subjects, experience and budget. Some titles and stars were backed by multi-million dollar Hollywood budgets whilst others were made with minimal budgets.
Made with just €75,000 pounds crowd-funded Italian film Io Sto Con La Sposa (On the bride’s side) stirred the festival to another long standing ovation for its true story documentary of 5 Syrian refugees attempting to get to Sweden to claim political asylum. Based on the assumption that Customs officers wouldn’t ask a bride for her papers, the group, helped by Italian, Syrian and Palestinian supporters, drive from Milan to Sweden masquerading as a wedding party, risking deportation for the refugees and up to 15 years jail for their Italian friends. The film is a moving portrayal of how civil disobedience is justified when faced by the behemoth that is European Law. Its a must see.
Note : director Gabriele Del Grande has just confirmed that Io Sto Con La Sposa will be playing in cinemas across Italy from October 9th this year so check listings and make sure you get a ticket!
In contrast, Leone D’Oro competitor Pasolini directed by Abel Ferrara based on the last 24 hours of real-life Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini’s life left me rather flat. Maybe its because I didn’t know the history or the reputation of the legendary director who made surreal semi-pornographic films in the 60s and 70s but I found it confusing, disjointed and just a little too arty. Not even Hollywood great Willem Dafoe, initially touted as a winner of the Volpic Cup for Best Actor, or Italian heart-throb Riccardo Scamarcio could save this one for me.
Outside the cinemas the festival was a hive of activity as actors, directors and promoters mingled in the hotel lobbies, festival village and at the water taxi station beneath the Hotel Excelsior. Surprisingly access was pretty open to the public which made star-spotting, autograph hunting and photographs relatively easy.
And so to the final film of my festival – Perez starring Luca Zingaretti. Its another mafia-themed film, but this time from the legal side of the courtroom. Demetrio Perez is a public defender working in the courts of Naples but his life is disintegrating. His wife has divorced him. His daughter is dating a mafia man behind his back. And his clients dismiss him as useless. He’s gradually losing himself in a bottle of malt whisky until finally, after a failed mugging at gun-point, he’s had enough and starts to fight back.
The film is beautifully shot in and around the glass-towers of Naples’s business district, and despite a slightly comic plotline involving a bull, a mute farmer and some diamonds, is a decent film from writer and director Eduoardo di Angelis.
So all that remains is to open the envelope and tell you who won the awards.
And the winners are……
Volpi Cup for Best Actor – Adam Driver in Saverio Constanzo’s psychological thriller Hungry Hearts
Volpi Cup for Best Actress – Alba Rohrwacher in Hungry Hearts
Leone D’Argento (Silver Lion ) for Best Director – Russian filmmaker Andrey Konchalovsky for The Postman’s White Nights set on the shores of a remote lake in Northern Russia and using non-professional actors.
The Grand Jury Prize (runner up Best Film) – The Look of Silence documentary by Joshua Oppenheimer. The film is a follow up to astonishing The Act of Killing which documented how the unpunished perpetrators of war crimes and genocide still live side by side with the families of the people they tortured and killed in Indonesia during the 60s.
Leone D’Oro Best Film – A Pigeon sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence by Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson. The film is actually 39 separate but connected sketches, some ridiculously comic, others heartbreakingly sad. At present there are no plans to distribute the film.
Anime Nere got 2 critics awards
Io Sto Con La Sposa got 2 critics awards and a human rights award
With luck you should catch some of the competitors at other festivals, award ceremonies and in cinemas over the next few months so you can judge for yourself whether the jury got it right. In the meantime the red carpet is packed away, my star-studded life goes back to normal for the next 12 months and planning for the 72nd Venice Film Festival will, no doubt, be starting again in earnest soon. Happy viewing, see you there again next year!
Note : Award photos for Io Sto Con La Sposa with permission from filmmaker