In illustrating and motivating the selection for Venice 73, the director of the International Film Festival, Alberto Barbera, has confirmed the negative assessment of the Italian movie industry already expressed last year: the rising number of movies produced, he basically repeated, is inversely proportional to their qualitative level.
What’s new is that this year Barbera has tightened his belt: no longer four movies in Competition, like last year, but three, with a wise differentiation between the various genres: one film by an “intimist” filmmaker such as Giuseppe Piccioni, who returns to direct Margherita Buy in ‘Questi giorni’ in which four girls go on a journey to Eastern Europe; an experimental film (“a creation documentary” Barbera has defined it, “on the meaning of life”): ‘Spira Mirabilis’ by Massimo D’Adinolfi and Martina Parenti, filmed all around the world on a budget of barely € 120,000; and a comedy, ‘Piuma’, a coming of age film (an unexpected pregnancy: two teenagers who do not feel ready to become parents) by the well-established albeit “young” forty-year old, Roan Johnson, born in London but Pisan by adoption.
We can find some traces of Italy in Orizzonti with ‘Il più grande sogno’, a story from the suburbs of Rome by Michele Vannucci, or the documentary ‘Liberami’ by Federica Di Giacomo about exorcists in Sicily (Ronny Trocker, the director of ‘Die Einsiedler’ is Italian, from the Alto Adige region), and out of competition with ‘Tommaso’, the second work directed by Kim Rossi Stuart, ‘Assalto al cielo’, the Italian 1968 reinterpreted by Francesco Munzi and the preview-event of the first two episodes (to be broadcast on Sky next October, in 10 parts) of the TV series ‘The Young Pope’ by Paolo Sorrentino (we could also con- sider ‘Monte-Mountain’ by the Iranian Amir Naderi – a majority Italian production filmed in Alto Adige – to be Italian). But Italian cinema does not appear to be at the heart of the most important national festival.
Probably encouraged by the excellent performances at the Oscars of movies that have passed through recent editions of the Festival (‘Gravity’, ‘Birdman’, ‘Spotlight’), Barbera is looking more towards US cinema, giving the impression that he wants to appoint the Lido as the “antechamber” to the Academy Awards.
This sentiment, which is shared by Hollywood, can be perceived in the bumper crop of US mov- ies, complete with stars in tow, that make up over a third of the 19 works in competition in the main section.
The Competition (the jury is chaired by director Sam Mendes) opens with ‘La La Land’, the musical from Damien Chazelle (the director of ‘Whiplash’ which won 3 Oscars) starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. (Note: it is interesting and unusual that Rai Cinema which, at this edition confirms itself to be the main supporter of Italian cinema, participating with 15 films in the various sections, has linked its greater visibility to this film which it is distributing through 01). The US brand is also present in the long-awaited ‘Jackie’, in which the brilliant Chilean director Pablo Larrain tells a very American story, reconstructing the days after the assassination of President Kennedy by following his wife Jacqueline, played by Oscar winner Natalie Portman; and ‘Nocturnal Animals’ which marks the return to the big screen of designer Tom Ford for the adaptation of the cult novel ‘Tony & Susan’ by Austin Wright; ‘The Bad Batch’ by Ana Lily Amirpour with Keanu Reeves and Jim Carrey; the science fiction ‘Arrival’ by Denis Villeneuve with Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner. Also American, with the participation of Australia and New Zealand, is ‘The Light Between Oceans’ by Derek Cianfrance with Michael Fassbender and Rachel Weisz, whilst there is a German participation in the production of the new work by the director- philosopher Terence Malik, ‘Voyage of Time’, a documentary narrated by actress Cate Blanchett.
The closing movie, out of competition, is American as well: ‘The Magnificent Seven’ directed by Antoine Fucqua, starring Denzel Washington in the place of Yul Brynner in the remake of the famous western. Also out of competition is another giant, Oscar winner Mel Gibson who is bringing ‘Haksaw Ridge’ to the Lido, and Naomi Watts is playing alongside her real life companion, Liev Schreiber, in ‘The Bleeder’ by Philippe Falardeau.
If it appears that there is no match between the USA and Italy, European talent returns with some filmmakers who are dear to Venice like Wim Wenders with the 3D movie ‘Les beaux jours d’Aranjuez’, François Ozon with ‘Frantz’, Andrei Konchalovsky with ‘Paradise’ and Emir Kusturica with ‘On the milky road’ (starring our own Monica Bellucci).
New for the 73rd edition is the Cinema in the Garden section in the new theater that now fills the famous “hole” in front of the Casino and features free screenings of a selection of movies that (also) intend to fill, according to the intentions of the director Barbera, “the trench that had been progressively burrowed between arthouse cinema and popular cinema”.
There will be very diverse movies, from ‘Robinù’ a documentary about Scampia by Michele Santoro, to ‘The Secret Life of Pets’, the Italian premiere of the new animated film produced by Chris Meledandri; from ‘Summertime’ by Gabriele Muccino to ‘Gemul’ by Kim Ki –duc, to ‘In the Dubious Battle’ by James Franco.
Finally, we should mention the Golden Lions for Career Achievement assigned this year to actor Jean-Paul Belmondo and director Jerzy Skolimowski.