“It’s great to be back in this place and feel the joy,” Brendan Gleeson tells me at the Excelsior Hotel on Venice’s Lido. “It can’t sink. It just can’t.”
Gleason is talking about an ancient city that, more than 200 years ago, Byron thought was imminently ruined, but he was talking about the famous Venice Film Festival. Gleason is set to join Colin Farrell on the red carpet for Martin McDonagh’s eventually well-received The Banshees of Inishrin. Elsewhere, the festival gave early favorites in the race for the lead acting Oscars. There was no clear conclusion on at least one brewing controversy. The standing ovation discourse reached silly proportions. Ah, the cinema!
The long slender Lido, a short Vaporetto hop east of the old town, was full of controversy, but there was little doubt about the sensation of the first week. The Irish Times was lucky enough to see Cate Blanchett take her (six minutes, according to Variety) standing ovation at a red-carpet screening for Todd Field’s vertebra-rattling TUR. Wearing a black velvet corset by Schiaparelli – adorned with a hothouse full of flowers – the Australian actor looked like someone who couldn’t believe such a wild gamble had paid off.
After a 16-year hiatus in his In the Bedroom and Little Children, Field studies a wildly renowned conductor, now running the Berlin Orchestra, as he finds elements of his sordid past in an apparently perfect life. Is. With what looks like a covo for the eponymous protagonist, the film eventually invites Lydia Tarr to publicly self-mutilate. Some controversy may gather around its daring association with canceled culture, but few will resist Blanchett’s courageous, sometimes monstrous display. Mahler’s focus on the Fifth Symphony produced apt reminders of death in Venice. The end is for the ages. Within hours, bookies had placed Blanchett as the 10/3 frontrunner for the Best Actress Oscar. Had she won, she would have become one of only four women to have won three acting awards. Katharine Hepburn, with a record four wins, would then be within reach.
Festivals are also all about gossip, and street (canal?) corners, this year, don’t worry Olivia Wilde, were full of crap about darlings. Was Shia LaBeouf sacked or did he leave? Did the female lead Florence Pugh break out with Wilde? Did the director’s romantic relationship with the male lead Harry Styles fuel the squabble that may or may not have happened? The awkward chatter culminated during a press conference in which Pugh was conspicuously absent.
“Florence is a force to be reckoned with. We’re so grateful that she’s able to make it tonight despite being in production on Dune,” Wilde said of the upcoming red carpet premiere. The moderator then refused to allow a question about LaBeouf. Five minutes after Wilde discussed Pugh’s non-appearance, the actor he was, The New York Times reported, “Photo Descending down on a deck in Venice, dressed to the nines in purple Valentino”. It’s hardly worth mentioning—but we do it anyway—contemporary Abraham Zapruder who claimed he (four minutes, it says here) accidentally caught footage of Styles on Chris Pine’s lap during a standing ovation. Had taken. Lest there be a lawyer studying, we make clear that this almost certainly did not happen.
So, other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the drama? After all the uproar, Move Over Darling turned out to be a bit stupid. Pugh (excellent as ever) and Stiles (tolerant) play the perfect couple living by a perfect lawn in a perfect corner of the 1950s United States. It turns out that there is no dark secret and everyone is what they seem. Of course I’m joking. Moving on to a lumbering twist on at least three science-fiction classics, Don’t Worry Darling — gracefully shot and lavishly dressed — like a mediocre episode of The Twilight Zone, the drama is so thin that you can’t stand it. Can see daylight through tendrils. Only for fans of classic cars.
Nothing to do with gabbing. What quality titles did Venice launch to the world? Home film watchers—though there are McDonagh’s opponents in the old country—most will be pleased to hear that The Banshees of Inishrin returns to the earthy rural beats of his early theater work. Farrell and Gleason set up old tomes on a western isle that collapses for no good reason while civil war rumbles on the mainland. The metaphor is a bit over-ripe, but the borderline absurd comedy between the two leads is worked out beautifully. Keri Condon and Barry Keoghan provide strong support. Ben Davis’ cinematography creates something of a bewildering John-Hinds-postcard aesthetic. Did you ask about the standing ovation? It seems that the Banshees, at 13 minutes palm red, had the longest clapathon of the week and it eventually spread to those lurking outside the Salle Grande. Now it’s time to stop talking about this.
Dublin’s Element Pictures was back in the competition with a terrifying, funny chamber piece from Joanna Hogg. The Eternal Daughter stars Tilda Swinton, the director’s collaborator for more than 35 years, as both mother and daughter move into a gloomy Welsh hotel that, in its earlier incarnation as a private home, had conflicting memories for the older woman. Shot on Quiet during post-production of Hogg’s acclaimed The Souvenir Part II, the film explicitly references Rudyard Kipling’s classic Ghost Story Way, but viewers will also think of many of MR James’ stories in which a crusty academic Faces awkwardness while vacationing in Damp. Bits of Britain. When future histories are written about pandemic-era cinema, this moving, strange film deserves to serve as an example of the best way to handle those restrictions. Hogg nods at haunting conventions—fog, moon, hidden ceiling sculpture—while subtly teasing the protagonist’s perfectly processed personal trauma. A cheap gem featuring one of cinema’s great dogs.
One of the best documentaries in Venice ventured under the obvious title The Ghost of Richard Harris. The photo of Adrian Sibley cannot be blamed for its enormity, interrupting the conversation between the sons of the actor. Here’s Vanessa Redgrave (she was clearly “adorable”). Introducing Jimmy Webb, the composer of his big hit MacArthur Park, telling us how he fell on a Rolls-Royce. Lelia Doolan, the veteran Irish producer, talks about identifying her as an unknown and then we find Leila and Richard chatting at the door of a stage for several decades. The young Harris reconciles the memories of contemporary Doolan. The film is full of pitfalls, but never shied away from the often sad realities.
Paul Schrader has fallen into an admirable late high in the last decade. Starring Joel Edgerton as the eponymous horticulturist – a former white supremacist rose of Grand Dame Sigourney Weaver – Master Gardener looks to complete a trilogy initiated by First Reformed and released by The Card Counter. Edgerton and Weaver are both excellent, but particular praise should go to non-binary actor Quintessa Swindell. Already shown to profit in the TV series Euphoria, she is charming and persuasive as the niece of Weaver’s niece, who is seeking redemption among the mulch. scary. hypnotic. morally bound.
At the world premiere of Luca Guadagnino’s inspiring Bones and All, there was raucous outcry on the red carpet for the arrival of the resplendent Timothée Chalamet in a backless Haider Ackerman top. Based on a novel by Camille DeAngelis, the film treads a line between cute YA tropes — supposedly individualists finding themselves part of a secret cadre — and something a little more disturbing. At least one attendee at my screening seemed audibly distressed as the teen drama turned to cannibalism. Chalamet is strong, but the film stars the excellent Taylor Russell as a young woman still processing her desire to feast on meat. The Italian director takes risks with disturbing material and pays rich dividends.
Two films marked as players in the upcoming awards season were shattered upon arrival. Brendan Fraser hasn’t been as busy in recent years as he deserved, his role as the 42-stone depressive in Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale (though Stranger Things alumna Sadie Sink, cheers for her co-star) A proper warm welcome was given to. The red carpets were loud at least). Buried under layers of padding, Fraser manages to convey extreme sensitivity and torturously sorry. He will get an Oscar nomination and he may win. Unfortunately, the screenplay of a play by Samuel D. Hunter is fictional, sentimental and pathetic.
That film had at least one catchy central performance — and a real-life comeback story — to recommend it. In contrast, Alejandro González Iárritu’s Bardo (or False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths) was consistently troubling as its pretentious alternative title. Daniel Jiménez Cacho plays a Mexican documentarian who reflects on life as he prepares to accept an award from an American body. He remembers a woman having (literally) scrambled eggs for breasts. He shrinks down to the size of a child. At one point a coworker noted that the protagonist’s most recent work—called, yes, “The False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths”—has “cracked up” on her not triggering her fear of death out of boredom. To be fair Inaritu is showing some self-awareness here, but that doesn’t make Federico Fellini’s three-hour variation on 8½ less risky or less boring. Uno e mezzo se cum oto e mezzo (out of diacy).
There was more. One of the greatest documentary filmmakers, Frederick Wiseman, turned to drama with a rigorous, concise study of Sofia Tolstoy’s A Couple titled. Penelope Cruz was completely at home in Emanuele Crielles’s L’Immencita, a successful attempt at “My Sweet Betty Ma’am” School of Memory Play. A doc on Laura Poitras’s All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, photographer Nan Goldin, totally caught on. Abel Ferrara directed the aforementioned Shia LaBeouf as the flawed, but charming, titular saint in Padre Pio—a film that had as much to do with intra-Italian politics as the Catholic Church.
And much more is yet to come. TÁR has a hand on the Golden Lion, the top prize here, but Florian Zeller’s The Sun and Andrew Dominic’s Blonde lurk on the horizon. Cinema is still spoiling us.