10 cinematic highlights from the 72nd instalment of the international film festival
The Venice Film Festival has kicked off amid blazing sun on the island of the Lido, opening with large-scale thrills in the form of Baltasar Kormakur’s 3D disaster-adventure pic Everest. The festival screens some classics of sensationalism this year, honouring Scarface director and king of ‘80s excess Brian de Palma with a tribute and showing a restored print of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s intensely controversial Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom. But all eyes are mainly on the competition strands, which have started into some of the best of new cinema and awards-season contenders. Here’s what we’re most excited about...
A Bigger Splash
In I Am Love, Tilda Swinton played the regal wife of a prominent Italian family embroiled in a deliriously heady affair with her son’s friend. She joins forces again with director Luca Guadignino for A Bigger Splash - another web of perilous erotic entanglements that is a remake of ‘60s French film La piscine. Swinton plays Marianne Lane, a rock legend who is holidaying with her partner on the volcanic Italian island Pantelleria when her old record producer flame crashes the vacation with his daughter (Dakota Johnson), igniting old desires and disarray.
Les 3 Boutons
Trailblazing French New Wave legend Agnes Varda completes Miu Miu’s series of ten shorts commissioned from female filmmakers and tackling the politics of women’s appearances. Les 3 Boutons, which premiered in the festival’s Venice Days strand, collides the worlds of haute couture and farm life in a surreal revisionist fairytale about a 14-year-old whose postman delivers a gargantuan swathe of silk to her as she is milking a goat. Not sure she wants to enfold herself in a ballgown and all it signifies, she searches for a sense of self as its buttons are lost.
Blood of My Blood
Italian director Marco Bellocchio, who started his career with radical films in the ‘60s when he was an anarchist and friend of Pasolini, returns to the Venice competition with Blood of My Blood. Inspired by the discovery of the ancient prisons of Bobbio, which are now closed and abandoned, the centuries-spanning drama promises to be an elegantly gloomy affair and stars Alba Rohrwacher as Benedetta, a nun who seduces a young priest. When his army officer brother visits the convent-prison he too falls under Benedetta’s spell, and she’s condemned as a witch to be walled up alive. Shifting to the present, ghosts now haunt Bobbio.
The Danish Girl
Eddie Redmayne dons an auburn wig for The Danish Girl, the hotly anticipated biodrama from The King’s Speech director Tom Hooper, which is adapted from the book by David Ebershoff. Already sparking talk of Oscars and controversy for not casting a transgender actor, the film is set in 20s Copenhagen and charts the experience of Lile Elbe, one of the first people in the world to undergo sex reassignment surgery. She was married to Danish illustrator Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander), and started to wear women’s clothing after filling in for one of her models.
Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adaptation and Synecdoche, New York: some of the most game-changing films in American cinema have come from the mind of Charlie Kaufman. The screenwriter and sometime director is at Venice with his first film in seven years—and his first animation. With its plot about a motivational speaker who loses more of himself each time he transforms someone else until the voice of a girl sparks an inner revelation, the stop-motion puppetry tale promises to tap the bent for strange wonder that makes Kaufman so great.
Russian auteur Alexander Sokurov’s 2002 Russian Ark was a technical feat, shot in a single take in St Petersburg’s Winter Palace. His latest Francofonia has already had its first, enthusiastically received screenings in Venice. Shot in another of the world’s most revered museums, the Louvre, and interspliced with archival footage of the Nazi occupation of Paris it sees ghosts again take us through centuries of troubled history. A docu-fantasia or cinema-poem and a wry, all-too-current rumination on how “Europe” was made or imagined, it spans out from the meeting with the gallery’s head of a Nazi officer in charge of grasping the Louvre’s collection.
The Childhood Of A Leader
Brady Corbet has starred in many striking and memorable indies from Gregg Araki’s Mysterious Skin to Simon Killer by Antonio Campos, so we’re intrigued to see what he does with his directorial debut The Childhood of a Leader, an adaptation of a Sartre story that gets its premiere at Venice. Set at the start of the last century in the French countryside, it shows how a future fascist dictator can be formed, as a son whose father is involved in the Treaty of Versailles negotiations torments his mother with increasingly wilful outbursts. Robert Pattinson and Stacy Martin star.
Mexican director Arturo Ripstein, a former assistant to master of surrealism Luis Buñuel, is known for his films of strange melodrama about seedy characters down on their luck. Based on a real crime mystery, Bleak Street promises to inject some exuberant weirdness into Venice with its tale of two midget wrestlers who go out to celebrate victory in the ring with a pair of ageing prostitutes, who may have a more poison-laced scheme in mind than simply a night on the tiles.
In Jackson Heights
Jackson Heights in the NYC borough of Queens is one of the most diverse neighbourhoods in the US. Doc-making legend Frederick Wiseman completes his trilogy about communities with an intimate snapshot of the lives of some of the many immigrants—some with green cards, and some undocumented—who have made the area their home. Highly topical, deeply human and punctuated with vibrant, life-affirming humour, it captures the drive and frustrations of those determined to make it in a new home, the ongoing power imbalances that underpin phenomenons such as gentrification and the community networks that resist them.
A future dystopia bled of all colour in which emotions are a diagnosable disease requiring eradication, and numbness is rigorously enforced is the world in which sci-fi Equals from director Drake Doremus plays out. Premiering in the main Venice competition, it sees illustrator Silas (Nicholas Hoult) and co-worker Nia (Kristen Stewart) find their genetic deactivation overridden by feelings and their existence consequently in danger. They must decide whether to repress these changes or risk escape from this stylised hell of austere white.