Once again, the world’s spotlight turned on the annual Venice International Film Festival’s 72nd edition, held 2nd – 12th Sept 2015 and the city simply lapped it all up. Boasting a star-studded line up and a terrific array of 55 films starting with English mountain tragedy ‘Everest’ as the opening night film, it closed with Chinese film, Guan Hu’s drama ‘Lao Pao Er’ (Mr. Six). Raising interest in Chinese movies further was Song Pengfei’s ‘Underground Fragrance’ which won the Federo award
This year’s jury featured an accomplished host of actors that included Pawel Pawlikowski, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Diane Kruger, Lynne Ramsay, Elizabeth Banks, Francesco Munzi, Emmanuel Carrere headed by ‘Gravity’ director Alfonso Cuaron. A restored version of Federico Fellini’s film Amarcod was shown at the festival while the poster for the festival featured Nastassja Kinski. The event honoured Brian De Palma with the Glory to the Filmmaker Award.
Hailed as one of the most unpredictable yet coveted film awards, it’s, Golden Lion was won by the Venezuelan gay drama ‘Desde Alla’ (From Afar). It tells the story of Armando, a middle-aged businessman who suffered trauma from his father when he was younger and is now buying sexual favors of young men on the streets. One day, he meets Elder, a young street hustler with whom he forms a dysfunctional relationship.
The Chinese Trio
Three Chinese films captured the limelight at VFF 2015 dealing with the highly relevant theme of the clash of generations in a fast developing society in uniquely interesting ways. Mr. Six centers on a once notorious street hoodlum Mr. Six played by Feng Xiaogang, who lives a lonely existence in a Beijing. His son played by Li Yifeng, has scant respect for his father and moves out of his home. However when he is taken by a group of rich kids for scratching their luxury car, his father unleashes his fury. Directed by Guan Hu, the commercial film was praised by the festival’s director Alberto Barbera for its “strong original elements" and "a capacity to reflect on the transformations in China's society. Also exploring a similar theme is the four and half hour biopic ‘Jia’ or ‘The Family’ by Liu Shumin featuring first time actors.
Chinese first-time director Song Pengfei’s ‘Underground Fragrance’ sensitively portrays the life of three residents struggling for their dreams in Beijing. Played by Luo Wenjie, Zhao Fuyu, Li Xiaohui and Lin Xiaochu in the main roles, it was awarded Best Film in the Venice Days, an independent section at the festival by Federo (Federation of Film Critics of Europe and the Mediterranean).
High Altitude Opener
Venice's opening slot has developed a formidable hit-making reputation. In 2013, it sent the space saga "Gravity" into orbit and the film went on to win seven Academy Awards. Last year's opener, the midlife crisis comedy "Birdman," scooped up four Oscars, including one for Best Picture, and revived Michael Keaton's career.
This year's festival opens with Baltasar Kormakur's thriller "Everest," which stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Robin Wright, Emily Watson and Jason Clarke in the fact-based story of peril on the world's highest mountain. Producers' hopes are as high as a Himalayan summit.
Some of Hollywood's biggest names will be walking the red carpet on Venice's Lido island -- and hoping it's a rehearsal for Oscar night.
Among potential prize contenders are Johnny Depp, all but unrecognizable as a Boston mobster in Scott Cooper's "Black Mass;" Eddie Redmayne as a transgender woman in Tom Hooper's "The Danish Girl;" and Idris Elba as an African warlord in Cary Fukunaga's "Beasts of No Nation."
The combination of Tilda Swinton, Dakota Johnson and Ralph Fiennes could make waves in Luca Guadagnino's drama "A Bigger Splash," while Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult find love in a dangerous time in Drake Doremus' futuristic feature "Equals."
And last year's Venice hero, Keaten, returns alongside Mark Ruffalo and Stanley Tucci in Tom McCarthy's "Spotlight," about Boston Globe journalists investigating sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
Venice is offering up meaty fare from heavyweight global auteurs among the 21 films that Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron and his jury will consider for the festival's top prize, the Golden Lion.
Israel's Amos Gitai depicts the traumatic 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in "Rabin, The Last Day," while Russia's Aleksandr Sokurov -- a previous Golden Lion winner -- tells the story of the Louvre museum -- and of Europe -- in "Francofonia." Italy's Marco Bellocchio bites into the vampire-themed "Blood of My Blood."
Russia’s contender for Golden Lion
Russian director Alexander Sokurov, winner of the
Russian director Alexander Sokurov, who won the top Venice Film Festival prize for "Faust" in 2011, is in the running again with "Francofonia", a tour of the Louvre museum guided in part by Napoleon and Marianne, the symbol of the French republic.
The film, co-produced with the French museum, is Sokurov's second foray into inventive cinematic looks at the inner workings of a great museum.
His "Russian Ark" of 2002 covered the history of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, from tsarist times to the present, with the technical panache of shooting the entire movie, from start to finish, in one take.
Sokurov's latest won generally favorable reviews and as of Friday was the favored film to win the top Golden Lion award on Saturday in a poll of Italian film critics and newspapers published in a daily festival newsletter.
Sokurov told Reuters in an interview that he was drawn to create movies about great museums because they are repositories of the world's culture, and to the Louvre in particular because "it's a theater in itself, it's like Shakespeare...It is a wonderful setting for the film".
Sokurov tells the history of the museum -- which opened to the public in 1793 during the French Revolution -- in part through the eyes of Napoleon played by actor Vincent Nemeth. Napoleon is quoted in the film as saying one of the reasons for his conquests was to gain access to artworks.
Napoleon shows up several times, pointing to himself as he is portrayed in various paintings, while Marianne (Johanna Korthals Altes) urges the camera forward while shouting the slogan of the revolution, "Liberty, equality, fraternity".
Sokurov said that what Napoleon, and the other great patrons of the Louvre, had realized was that world art is a fragile treasure that must be protected for posterity
He emphasizes this in the film by showing a cargo ship loaded with what are said to be containers of precious artworks, foundering in heavy seas.
The film does not explicitly mention the recent depredations of the Islamic State militant group, blowing up priceless art works in Syria and Iraq, but Sokurov's cameras slyly show Assyrian art works, to make the point.
"Art is a helpless child -- we need him and we created him and he never grows up," Sokurov said. "Art has its father and its mother and creators but it's sort of a helpless child that needs to be protected all the time."
Among the quirkier-sounding offerings are Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson's animated feature "Anomalisa" and musician Laurie Anderson's canine-themed feature debut "Heart of a Dog."
Tragic and transformative real-life events loom large in the festival's strong slate of documentaries.
Zhao Liang's Golden Lion contender "Behemoth" shows giant mines gouging the Chinese steppe, while Evgeny Afineevsky's "Winter On Fire" charts the mass demonstrations that toppled Ukraine's government in 2014.
Amy Berg's "Janis" traces the short, sensational life of singer Janis Joplin, while aerial-photography master Yann Arthus-Bertrand celebrates humanity in the kaleidoscopic "Human," which has premieres in Venice and at the United Nations in New York on Sept. 12.
No festival worth its salt would be complete without a soul-searching debate over the future of cinema. This year's comes courtesy of streaming service Netflix, which is moving into fiction films with "Beasts of No Nation."
Netflix plans to release the African child-soldier drama simultaneously on-demand and in cinemas in October, a development that has alarmed distributors and movie theater owners.
Venice director Alberto Barbera is unapologetic about including it. He says cinema is undergoing "seismic shifts" and film festivals have to reflect them.
The 72nd edition saw the world premieres of several much-anticipated films of the year such as Johnny Depp‘s Whitey Bulger biopic Black Mass, Tom Hooper‘s awards hopeful The Danish Girl, Thomas McCarthy‘s sex abuse drama Spotlight, Baltasar Kormákur‘s survival thriller Everest, and Cary Fukunaga‘s Netflix project Beasts of No Nation.
Also represented are directors Noah Baumbach (the documentary De Palma), Martin Scorsese (the short film The Audition), Amy Berg (the documentary Janis), Charlie Kaufman (Anomalisa), and actors Kristen Stewart (Equals), Robert Pattinson (Childhood of a Leader), Tilda Swinton (A Bigger Splash), and Gary Oldman (Man Down).
Argentinian director Pablo Trapero won the Silver Lion for his El Clan based on a true story from the 80’s of a sinister clan making its living by kidnapping and murder in a traditional neighbourhood in Argentina.
The grand Jury Prize went to Anomalisa, a stop-motion animation film by American directors Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson. Italian actress Valeria Golino, in the Italian film Per Amor Vostro by Giuseppe Gaudino, and French actor Fabrice Luchini, in L'Hermine by French director Christian Vincent, took the best actress and best actor awards.
The Orizzonti selection, dedicated to the latest cinema trends, gave its Award for Best Film to Free in Deed by U.S. director Jake Mahaffy while the Orizzonti Award for Best Director went to U.S. director Brady Corbet for his The Childhood of a Leader.
Red Carpet Stars
The Venice red carpet provided many glam moments this year. But among the divas who caught our eye was Amber Heard in a strapless, flower-motif Alexander McQueen gown, Johnny Depp’s new wife and arm candy, who was the Belle of the Ball’ at the premiere of ‘The Danish Girl’. She looked particularly cute in a black strapped number by Stella McCartney, matched by a burgundy Bulgari Serpenti clutch. Diane Kruger Jaeger-LeCoultre’s brand ambassador wore an intricately beaded pearl-white Prada gown. The luxury watch brand opened a retrospective photographic exhibition on Lido Island to mark its 10-year partnership with the festival which was attended by thespian Catherine Deneuve. Dakota Johnson in a bespoke, jewel-studded off-shoulder Marc Jacobs dress. Kristen Stewart sparkled in a grey and silver shimmery dress by Chanel at the premiere of Equals, Elizabeth Banks showed off a sleeveless, white lacey Marchesa dress with floral details. Hilary Rhoda, while Chopard’s lissome new ambassador caught the eye wherever she went. They were to reappear in many other avatars showcasing creations by other designers such as Zimmerman, Rodarte, Elie Saab, Miu Miu, Valentino, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Stuwart Weizman and others much to the delight of their adoring fans.