For quite a few years now, I have attended at least a portion of the annual Venice Film Festival. This year it ran from August 29th through September 8th. I was only able to stay there three nights this time, but I did see four films and had some terrific meals.
First, the films, in the order I watched them.
The Mountain, directed by Rick Alverson and starring Tye Sheridan, Jeff Goldblum and Hannah Gross.
Synopsis from IMDb: The story of a young man who, after losing his mother, goes to work with a doctor specializing in lobotomies and therapies.
First, let me say that I like quirky movies. That’s one reason I go to a film festival, after all. Second, let me say the last time I walked out on a film was probably 30 years ago. Well, and you might see where this is going, I walked out on The Mountain. I really can’t come up with any mildly positive things to say about it. The story was boring, the acting was unemotional and stilted, the cinematography was poor, and there were just too many long shots of nothing. I mean a shot of doorway with a chair next to it that lasted 25 or 30 seconds. I generally am patient with artsy tricks like that, but not in this case. I sat through about 40 minutes of it and regret that I could have had two glasses of wine in that time.
(Picture copied from IMDb)
Anons (The Announcement), directed by Mahmut Fazil Coskun and Ercan Kesal. Starring Ali Seckiner Alici, Tarhan Karagoz and Murat Kilic
Synopsis from IMDb: The night long journey of 4 soldiers discharged from the army.
That synopsis actually is pretty wrong. It was a farce about an attempted military coup in Turkey that failed. I was interested in that story line because I lived in Turkey for two years (a very long time ago, but it is a country I still think about) and well, there WAS as failed military coup not too long ago. Actually, I see that event as more a purge by Turkey’s crazy Dictator-President, but let’s not get political.
This film was good but not great. The depiction of the band of military men who were pretty much screw-ups was at times entertaining, but I think the story got kind of confused. In one scene there might have been a brutal murder, in the next scene a farcical look at how even the best plans can go badly awry. In the end, I was not sure if the film was meant to be sad or funny. Still, I watched the whole thing, so that’s something, right? This movie was awarded what is called “The Special Jury Prize” in the Horizons Category.
Tel Aviv on Fire, directed by Sameh Zoabi and starring Kais Nashif, Lubna Azabal and Yaniv Biton.
IMDb: Salam, an inexperienced young Palestinian man, becomes a writer on a popular soap opera after a chance meeting with an Israeli soldier. His creative career is on the rise – until the soldier and the show’s financial backers disagree about how the show should end, and Salam is caught in the middle.
This was, hands-down, the best film of my weekend. It was funny and poignant and featured a complex intertwining of real action and scenes from the imaginary TV show. The writing was nearly perfect, offering interesting characters, believable conflicts and a very clever ending. At a Q&A session after the screening, director Sameh Zoabi, who seemed a bit surprised by the enthusiastic reception he received, said when he was growing up in Palestine, soap operas was what he watched on TV (because his Mom controlled the remote!), and he wanted to pay homage to that genre. Kais Nashif was awarded the prize for Best Actor (again, in the Horizons Category).
I think it is likely Tel Aviv on Fire will get some international distribution, if it comes to your town, it is definitely worth seeing.
The Sisters Brothers, directed by Jacques Audiard and starring John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed
IMDb says: In 1850s Oregon, a gold prospector is chased by the infamous duo of assassins, the Sisters brothers.
(Copied from IMDb)
I am pretty sure this film will be very popular. The directing is excellent, in particular the gun fight scenes. In fact Audiard was awarded The Silver Lion Prize for Best Director. I thought John C. Reilly was fantastic, and Riz Ahmed was also quite good. Joaquin Phoenix had what I think was a pretty easy part – a savage drunk in a western – but I think he overdid it. Jake Gyllenhaal was not bad, but had a very strange and off-putting accent that I just could not figure out.
I read the book of the same title (written by Patrick deWitt) and absolutely loved it. I think Audiard’s screenplay was why I did not feel the same about the film. Specifically, in the book the dialogue between the two brothers was witty and concise and very entertaining. Not so much in the film. Also in the book Eli (John C. Reilly in the film) developed a touching relationship with his horse that made the character much more interesting. The film made a feeble attempt to show that, I think, and the Eli character suffered a bit in my opinion.
Nonetheless, I believe The Sisters Brothers will be well received by audiences and urge you to see it when it gets wide release.
Now to the meals!
Keep in mind the Film Festival in Venice is out on the island called Lido. It is mostly residential, but has a very long, very nice beach that attracts thousands of visitors during summer season. Like the main part of Venice, the many restaurants serving tourists on Lido can be both horribly overpriced and terribly under quality. Not these three.
Bio Sound System Vegan Vegetarian Bistrot
I get that is probably the worst name ever for a restaurant but don’t let that fool you. The food here is quite simply amazing. Yes everything is either vegan or vegetarian but the guys in the kitchen (which is open for you to watch what they are doing if you are interested in that sort of thing) really know what they are doing. I have dined here many times and will continue to do so as long as I am a regular Venice visitor. The picture of the salad on the left, above included quinoa, feta cheese, basil, loads of finely chopped bell peppers, three kinds of tomato and more. Fantastic.
Located right across the street from Lido’s ultra chic Hotel Excelsior (you can not afford a room there, no), this family-run restaurant serves Tuscan specialties. The middle picture is a pasta dish served with mixed mushrooms and assorted veggies. You might be able to pick out a chili pepper in the photo, as well. Because Tavernetta is located in such a convenient spot for the Film Festival, I always eat here. The food is excellent and in spite of its popularity with a high-maintenance movie crowd, the service is relaxed and spot on.
Trattoria Trento La Cantinita
This spot, very close to one of the cinemas where films are screened used to be a simple Italian trattoria. About a year ago they changed the menu for evening meals to feature Burgers and Tex-Mex fare. I am always on the look out for good Mexican cuisine over here. It has been a long time in coming, but Europe is finally starting to get a few excellent Mexican restaurants. Frankly, this is not one of them. The chips and salsa were very good, as was the guacamole that came with it. But the tacos missed the mark. I also tried the veggie burger (another thing I research frequently) which was not bad but not great. During non dinner hours, they serve standard Italian dishes here.
Sadly, this might be the last time I attend the Film Festival in Venice as it seems pretty likely I will be moving back to the USA next year. Nothing is certain on that front, but if it happens I guess I will just start writing about the Sundance Film Festival!