I spent five days at the 76th annual “Mostra Internazionale D’Arte Cimematografica,” otherwise known as the Venice Film Festival. Yes, that is Venice, Italy. I know: I am very fortunate to live nearby!
I have been going to this festival for many years and have watched it grow from a time when I could have a casual conversation with actor Tim Robbins (about 20 years ago) to an event so crowded I could not get within 50 feet of Meryl Streep.
The importance of the Venice Film Festival has also grown. Some recent films featured here later became multiple award winners. For example, in just the last few years I saw premiers of Academy Award winners “Gravity,” “La La Land,” “The Shape of Water” and others.
Last week I watched 8 different movies. I think there are two potential “Best Foreign Film” nominees as well as some acting nominees in that list. It is probably by coincidence, but the films generally dealt with the difficult experience it is to be part of a family.
One film I saw was “The White Sheik” directed by Federico Fellini. This year is the 100th anniversary of the great Italian director’s birth, so a number of his works were featured at the Festival. “The White Sheik” was one of his earliest films, but it is full of Fellini signatures including great use of shadow and light, a few really bizarre characters and frenetic high energy scenes all supported by a good story with a strong message about trust and forgiveness in a family. Pretty sure you can find a copy through a streaming service such as Netflix. If you love cinema, it’s worth the effort to watch this one.
As for the other seven, here are my reviews, listed (according to my opinion) from worst to best.
- Ad Astra
I expected much more from this movie. I like Brad Pitt as an actor, I like Tommy Lee Jones as an actor and I like Donald Sutherland as an actor. Unfortunately they had little to work with in this really poorly done revision of “Apocalypse Now.” It isn’t billed that way, but it’s a clear swiping of the “Heart of Darkness” story and so badly written it was almost funny. Almost, but not quite. It was just bad. Example: one bit of dialogue
“You have to let me go, Roy.”
“Roy, you have to let me go.”
“You have to let me go, Roy.”
“Roy, you have to let me go.”
Please, Roy, let him go. Put us out of our misery. Poor Tommy Lee Jones had to say those lines. And don’t even get me started about the killer space baboons.
Don’t go see this movie; don’t even bother to rent it to watch at home.
I had no knowledge of the story of Jean Seberg. She was an internationally successful and much loved actress being followed by the FBI due to her support for a radical organization called The Black Panthers. That was happening in the late 1960’s and her life and career were destroyed by FBI activity. She committed suicide in 1979. The story is unpleasant, harking to a dark period in the history of US law enforcement. But it is not told very well in this film. I felt the characters were flat and predictable. I remember the Black Panthers and “Seberg” offers no information as to why the FBI was suspicious of them. The film stars Kristin Stewart (she was in the “Twilight” films) who delivers a flat and predictable performance. I did like Anthony Mackie in his role, but the movie itself really had no impact on me. It is worth renting but don’t go to a theater to see it.
BRIEF INTERMISSION FOR A BITE TO EAT!
You can find other Venice dining suggestions if you follow this link.
- The Laundromat
This is a strange film, delivering another unpleasant (true) story about insurance fraud, money laundering and just general economic mayhem inflicted on the rest of us by a few unscrupulous super wealthy crooks. Meryl Streep stars in this one, so of course she will get an Oscar nomination (she almost always does) and indeed she is terrific. Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas play the two crooks in a kind of Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern characterization (from Hamlet –look it up, or just think of the two grumpy guys in the balcony of the old Muppet Show on TV). They both delivered half good performances, but I expect more from each of them, given what excellent actors they usually are. There are some interesting film tricks in this one so it is probably worth going to see.
- La Verite’ (The Truth)
This is a French film very heavy on very heavy dialogue. “La Verite'” is the story of a stormy reunion between a mother and daughter. It stars Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche. Both are excellent and deserve some award hype. It also stars Ethan Hawke who was completely overshadowed by the actresses. In his defense, the film is about the women and he really did not have much to do. However, if you like art house films that deal with the difficulty of family, go see this one.
- Marriage Story
This is another heavy-dialogue-difficult-family film as Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver are experiencing their marriage fall apart. I think both of those actors are generally pretty good but they each deliver really superb performances in this move. I expect both will get multiple award nominations. The story itself is well told, offering both sides of a marriage destined to end. Go see this one because Johansson and Driver are really, really fantastic.
ANOTHER BRIEF INTERMISSION TO ENJOY A BIT OF VERY COOL ART
- Qiqiu (Balloon)
This film from Tibet tells a story of a family dealing with the (now revised) one child law imposed for many years by the Chinese government. The family struggles balancing the law with their religion and with their economic needs in a story that is both funny and touching. It is beautifully filmed and the performances are authentic and believable. If this film gets any help with international distribution, it will screen at art house cinemas. Go see it if you are lucky enough to have it come to your town. This is a truly excellent movie.
And the best movie I saw last week at the 76th Annual Venice Film Festival…
- Bik Eneich (A Son)
“A Son” is a marvelous Tunisian movie. A 10-year old boy needs a blood transfusion and liver transplant after he and his parents are caught in the crossfire of a terrorist attack. A very dark family secret is revealed and the parents are left to deal with law, religion, paradoxical rules in a rapidly changing society and their own past mistakes. A remarkable story, superb performances by everyone in the cast and simply stunning filming add up to a near-masterpiece of cinema. In the 20-plus years I have been attending the Venice Film Festival, this movie earned what is possibly the longest standing ovation I have seen. I expect this movie will win many awards and score wide international distribution.
See it. Maybe see it twice, as it is that good.