Thursday, December 9

Venice Film Festival 2021 Recap: A formidably good year at the Lido | Venice Film Festival 2021

Critics are supposedly very difficult to please. There is a joke told in the 19th century drama. Lost illusions, which premiered in Venice this week. Two critics are in a boat when they see Jesus walking on the water. One says to the other: “Look at that, he doesn’t even know how to swim.”

Yet this year at the Lido, critics were giddy with joy at a formidably good festival. Last year, the Show It happened during the gap between the European locks, leaving viewers grateful and receptive to an excellent selection, but this year’s harvest has miraculously surpassed it. The competition jury, led by Korean master Bong Joon-ho and including Chloé Zhao, director of the 2020 Golden Lion winner. Nomadland – will have a hard time picking plums from this year’s cornucopia.

The contest featured big names – Pedro Almodóvar, Jane Campion, Paul Schrader – as well as big surprises. One was Official competition, a frothy but caustic comedy about a volatile author (Penelope Cruz) trying to tame the egos of two different pompous male stars (Antonio Banderas, Oscar Martínez). Cruz and Banderas gleefully ridicule their own images, and the film features a pair of visual jokes outrageous enough to leave viewers open-mouthed in disbelief.

Pablo Larraín and Kristen Stewart at the premiere of Spencer at the Venice film festival.
Pablo Larraín and Kristen Stewart at the Spencer premiere. Photography: Maria Laura Antonelli / Rex / Shutterstock

An excellent directorial debut for actress Maggie Gyllenhaal also came out of nowhere: The lost daughter, from Elena Ferrante’s book. Olivia Colman is magnificent as an academic on vacation in Greece, whose past heartbreak overtakes her when she meets an American family on the beach. Jessie Buckley plays her younger self, and the film has the tense and disturbing atmosphere of the best European art cinema.

One of the most anticipated titles was Spencer, starring Kristen Stewart as Diana, Princess of Wales, having an absolutely miserable time during a family Christmas in Windsor. Stewart’s performance starts out as a precise and conscious impersonation, but goes beyond that to crisp, poignant, and often funny effect, especially when he engages in psychological fencing with Timothy Spall, excellent as a palace squire. Steven Knight offers a sharp and witty script, and Chilean director Pablo Larraín executes it with chamber-theater elegance. The crown much is not.

The hole.
Il Buco by Michelangelo Frammartino and Giovanna Giuliani. Photography: Venice Film Festival

In the farthest realms of art film exploration, there was a film of brilliance inspired by Italian director Michelangelo Frammartino, who made the extraordinary nature film. The four times. On The hole, he and co-writer Giovanna Giuliani recreate a Calabrian caving expedition from the early 1960s, seen from afar on camera and through the appreciative eyes of a nonagenarian cow herder. But the camera also dives into the depths of the royal cave, the walls take on a beautiful sculptural glow, when there is some visible light. Here’s a magical and unique movie that does what you dream cinema does: actually, it makes you see the shape of the world differently. It was the most visionary movie here.

In the past, Venice has had a reputation for having slightly soft content, but not this year. By Audrey Diwan Happening it was a realistic drama about a young woman struggling to have an abortion in the early 1960s in France; he does not throw blows and strikes a chord, especially given the current regressive changes in Texas. Differently challenging was Valentyn Vasyanovych Reflection, a cold, formally accurate and relentlessly brutal drama about the conflict in Ukraine, centered on a surgeon who is captured by Russian forces and witnesses unimaginable horrors. It had audience members hiding their eyes and then scratching their heads. It’s clearly the work of a brilliant director, whose genius has yet to find the sweet spot between uncompromising vision and at least moderate accessibility.

Hatzín Navarrete in La Caja (The Box).
‘An extraordinary discovery with an implacable gaze’: Hatzín Navarrete in La Caja. Photography: The Match Factory

Similarly puzzling was Sunset of the Mexican director Michel Franco, whose arsonist New order It was a highlight here last year. Tim Roth and Charlotte Gainsbourg star in the story of a man who decides to extend his vacation in Acapulco and abandon his daily life, just when his family needs him most. Starting out as an existential mystery, then taking some bizarre detours, it may not be Franco’s best film, but it confirms how daring and confident the director is.

More accessible was Xavier Giannoli‘s Balzac adaptation Lost illusions, with a galaxy of eminent French names (including Jeanne Balibar, Cécile de France, and Gérard Depardieu in pleasantly bullish fashion) that evoke the splendors and miseries of mid-19th century France and its heyday of journalism. The film is a high-end, old-school production, but it does one thing very well: It points out just how prescient Balzac’s novel was about the fate of capitalism and the media, with Restoration Paris strikingly resembling our digital age, trolling. , influencers. and all.

When it comes to predicting this year’s Golden Lion, it’s a tough call. Many people are supporting The power of the dog, Campion’s modern western with Benedict Cumberbatch, and for the entertaining The hand of God, Paolo Sorrentino’s typically exuberant evocation of his upbringing in 1980s Naples. Schrader’s thriller The card counter he surely has a chance, as does his star Oscar Isaac for best actor. As of this writing, there are even rumors that a 208-minute Filipino drama yet to be seen is a last-minute wild card.

Josh Brolin and Timothée Chalamet in Dune.
Josh Brolin (left) and Timothée Chalamet in Dune. Photograph: Moviestore Collection Ltd / Alamy

There are two other hot contenders. Box (Box) is by the Venezuelan screenwriter and director Lorenzo Vigas, whose From afar won the Golden Lion in 2015. Set in Mexico, his new film is a simplified story of a teenager investigating the death of his father, who enlists as a lieutenant to a man seeking sweatshop workers. It stars non-professional newcomer Hatzín Navarrete, an extraordinary discovery with a relentless gaze, and it’s one of those movies so straightforward that you hardly realize how superbly crafted it is: an intricate little masterpiece.

And then this Captain Volkonogov escaped by Natasha Merkulova and Aleksey Chupov, which is unlike any other Russian movie I’ve ever seen. The Russian film actor of the moment, Yuri Borisov, plays a KGB officer in Leningrad in the 1930s, who has a sudden surge of consciousness, spurred on by the ghostly appearance of a colleague executed in a purge. His drama is evoked in a dizzying flurry of incidents at once grim and comic, an unlikely mix of action suspense and fantasy. You can’t help but feel uneasy about the horrors of Stalinism being treated in such a flamboyant and imaginative style, but for me this was the great discovery of this year’s competition, and a certificate to burn brilliantly on the art house circuit.

Anya Taylor-Joy at the premiere of Edgar Wright's Last Night in Soho.
Anya Taylor-Joy at the premiere of Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho. Photograph: Rocco Spaziani / UPI / Rex / Shutterstock

Along with all of this, there were a few top titles that pulled audiences out of the competition. All the attention was on Denis Villeneuve’s long-awaited sci-fi epic. Dune, which scored points for visual beauty and thematic seriousness, rather than entertainment value. And there was the blatantly traditional western of Potsy Ponciroli Old henry, a drama of a farm under siege, with Tim Blake Nelson growling in tones of pepper and tobacco.

And finally, a triumph of artisan popcorn: Last night in SohoBy Edgar Wright deluxe fantasy about a goofy fashion student (Thomasin McKenzie) who goes to London and has creepy visions of an early 1960s alter ego, played by Anya Taylor-Joy. Rita Tushingham, Terence Stamp and Diana Rigg are the true icons of the 60s involved, and the script, by Wright and Krysty Wilson-Cairns, cleverly mixes jukebox and ghost story with a #MeToo-era perspective. Fabulous visual deception adds to exhilarating and crafty pop excitement.

The highlights of the festival

Antonio Banderas, Penélope Cruz and Oscar Martínez in Official Competition.
Antonio Banderas, Penélope Cruz and Oscar Martínez in Official Competition. Photography: Manolo Pavon

Best Movies
Captain Volkonogov escaped; The hole; The card counter; Box.

Best performances
Olivia Colman (The lost daughter), Oscar Isaac (The card counter).

Best set
Penelope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, Oscar Martínez (Official competition).

Best Newcomer (Directing)
Maggie Gyllenhaal (The lost daughter).

Best Newcomers (Acting)
Anamaria Vartolomei (COM)Happening); Hatzín Navarrete (Box).

Best musical emotions
Britpop 60’s assortment in Last night in Soho, including Petula Clark’s Downtown, which also appeared in the documentary Becoming Led Zeppelin. The connection: Future Zeppelin members played on the ’60s hit, but not as loud as they would once they got together, effectively inventing heavy metal in the space of a dizzying year.

Man of the moment
Oscar Isaac, barely off screen this year, either clean shaven (The card counter) or fiercely bearded (Dune, TV series Scenes from a marriage).

Red carpet moment
Oscar Isaac again, this time beardless and paying tender attentions to the arm of Jessica Chastain. Most stars wouldn’t have gotten away with it; Isaac sparked a viral wave of gossip about old-school Hollywood and the return of Clark Gable.

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