From Don’t Worry Darling to Don DeLillo, Timothée Chalamet to timely documentaries, Rafa Sales Ross offers her take on all the buzz from the Lido.
Nestled in the isle of Lido, the Venice Film Festival has dedicated the past few years to solidifying itself as a major player in the fall-festival circuit. It had always had the prestige, but director Alberto Barbera has managed to turn the festival into a major launchpad for streamers looking to make a splash in the awards season. This year, Netflix brought some of its biggest hitters to the Italian city, including the opening film, Noah Baumbach’s White Noise, and Andrew Dominik’s controversy-fuelled Marilyn Monroe biopic Blonde.
Many films arriving at the Lido seemed hell-bent on tugging at the heartstrings. The Whale, Darren Aronofsky’s long-awaited follow-up to his divisive mother! (2019), sparked the clunkily termed ‘Brenaissance’ – the overdue return of 1990s darling Brendan Fraser to deserved prominence. He plays Charlie, a morbidly obese English teacher hoping to reconnect with his estranged daughter (Sadie Sink). Adapted from the hit play of the same name, the film does not have the visual flair usually associated with Aronofsky and, as a result, the contained drama struggled to justify its screen adaptation. Rob Simonsen’s score is cranked to operatic volumes and a cheap artifice dilutes any chance of real connection. A similar technique is employed in The Son, Florian Zeller’s paltry successor to the Oscar-winning The Father (2020). Another stage adaptation, the film stars Hugh Jackman and Laura Dern as the struggling parents of a severely depressed teenager, but without the refinement that elevated Zeller’s previous effort.
Venice did showcase some films capable of intertwining social critique with emotional depth. With one of the most thrilling opening sequences in recent years, Romain Gavras’ blood-pumping directorial debut Athena dips into Greek tragedy to build a piercing commentary on police brutality. Laura Poitras, the Academy Award-winning director of Citizenfour (2014), juxtaposes the art and activism of acclaimed photographer Nan Goldin in the beautifully titled All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, a pained chronicling of the opioid crisis in the US. And in Innocence, Five Broken Cameras (2011) co-director Guy Davidi harnesses his own experience of evading conscription in the Israeli Army to tell the previously unheard stories of young people whose lives were cruelly defined by social structures that sacrificed their values and, ultimately, their future.
Two lauded documentarians chose Venice to launch their first forays into fiction. The lean A Couple sees Frederick Wiseman adapt the extensive diaries of Leo Tolstoy’s wife, Sophia, to create a lyrical study of marriage that finds the universal through the private. Alice Diop’s piercing Saint Omer also has one foot in a real-life account – the film is based on the criminal case of Fabienne Kabou, a French-Senegalese mother who left her infant daughter to drown. A quietly harrowing examination of the savage nature of motherhood, Diop’s drama is certain to make some noise as it heads into the competition slate of the London Film Festival.
Literary adaptations played a dominant role in the festival. The aforementioned Netflix mammoths, White Noise and Blonde, were both drawn from eponymous literary works (by Don DeLillo and Joyce Carol Oates respectively). Whereas the former follows a peculiar family as they navigate the paranoia that accompanies impending armageddon, the latter centres on the iconic Hollywood star (portrayed by Ana de Armas), a woman who has never experienced the warm companionship of familial bonds. Baumbach’s dark comedy is guaranteed to charm unsuspecting Netflix scrollers willing to give it a chance; Dominik’s incendiary biopic proved more polarising.
And then there was Bones and All…
The battle of the lanky lads drove eager fans to camp outside the Venice Film Festival red carpet for hours on end, hoping to see Timothée Chalamet and Harry Styles. Super-fans crowded the narrow alleyways next to the imposing Sala Grande, where Luca Guadagnino’s Bones and All and Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling received their world premieres. While Guadagnino opted for a gothic approach to a YA bestseller about a pair of cannibals in love, Wilde’s follow-up to Booksmart (2019) arrived in Venice under a heavy blanket of gossip. Still, the dystopian film starring the former One Direction singer and Miss Flo(rence Pugh) managed to sway a good handful of sceptical critics, despite its half-baked attempt at social commentary.
We are yet to learn which films have earned the graces of the jury presided by Julianne Moore. But, with another stacked edition almost in the books, the Venice Film Festival has proven once again how deserving it is of its prestigious status. When can we start the countdown for 2023?
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