Traditionally, the oldest international cinema forum, the Venice Film Festival, starts at the end of August. This year’s edition was the 76th in turn and continued in the period from the 28th of August to the 7th of September and it took place, as usual, in Palazzo del Cinema on the island of Lido. The purpose of the film festival is to attract the attention of the public, promoting international film productions in all their forms as the art they are, and to present the industry in the light of freedom and dialogue. And it manages to do so quite successfully for years now! In 2019, 21 titles were part of the foundation of the contest programme, including period dramas, comic villain thrillers, several debuts and a journey beyond the Earth. Who stole the Golden Lion and how these exciting festival days went by is what we are going to tell you about now.


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Everything starts with The Truth

In the first evening after the opening of the festival the viewers were able to enjoy the first European film by Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda, The Truth. Starring in the film are Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche and Ethan Hawke, and it was competing in the main programme. The Truth tells the story of the already old, but still surrounded by fans French actress called Catherine, who publishes her memoires. Soon after this, her daughter, Lumir, returns to Paris from New York with her husband and their small child. The reunion between the mother and daughter, however, is not seen on the bright side of memories and it soon transforms into a confrontation.

This was not director Hirokazu Koreeda’s first participation in the Venice Film Festival. In 1995, he won the award for best director with his film Maborosi. And last year, he was awarded the equally prestigious Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival for Shoplifters.


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A Hollywood-style fairy tale

One of the films that caused repercussions surpassing the island of Lido was a Hollywood production by Todd Phillips, the long-awaited psychological thriller Joker. The film, starring Joaquin Phoenix, tells the story of comic actor Arthur Fleck, who, having suffered from a deep psychological breakdown, turns into the Joker – Batman’s eternal rival and one of the most easily recognisable villains in cinema.

And if you are wondering how a man, even though a good actor, manages to embody the role of a villain, then the answer is “Hard.” In order to play Arthur Fleck’s role, Joaquin Phoenix loses a lot of weight. The following step, after losing weight, is reading a particular type of literature through which he tries to step into the Joker’s shoes. And he is definitely doing a great job! Even though some critics claim that the film probably won’t be as successful as other comic productions, the viewers are of the exact opposite opinion and after the premiere of Joker, they welcome it with thunderous applause. Perhaps the public is simply fed-up with superheroes!


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 The most difficult role

Having walked down the famous Croisette Boulevard in Cannes in the company of Quentin Tarantino three months ago, charming Brad Pitt also decided to conquer Venice. In fact, it was director James Gray who chose him for the leading role in his film Ad Astra.

 Ad Astra tells the story of astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt), who travels to the edge of the Solar System with one main purpose – to find his father (Tommy Lee Jones). There, however, Roy comes across a mystery which threatens the survival of our planet. From then on, his journey challenges human existence and our place in the Universe. Is manhood measured by being strong and unshakable through hardship, or is it about being honest but vulnerable? Perhaps everybody can find the right answer for themselves after watching the film. During the film festival in the Italian city, Brad Pitt himself shares that being an astronaut and taking part in the most realistic journey into space that the film industry has ever seen has actually been the most difficult role in his career so far. No, we didn’t think that Brad Pitt goes through any difficulties in his life either! And this can only mean one thing – the film is very good! It must be very good!


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Accusations made

Naturally, a film festival, regardless of its location, cannot go without any conflicts. At least some, in some shape! The main character in one of the conflicts in this year’s Venice Film Festival was… Roman Polanski. His notoriety (connected to the #MeToo movement) made many people rebel against the fact that his film was allowed to participate in the film festival. Keeping in mind, however, that this is exactly a film festival, and not the moral court, Polanski’s film J’accuse was presented before the public. In fact, after it was officially proclaimed that Polanski’s production, whose name is probably not by chance at all, was going to take part in the festival, this was rather expected. On the one hand, because of the director’s point of view which was aiming to raise the topic of antisemitism by reconstructing moments of the tragic Dreyfus Affair, and on the other hand, because of Polanski’s very public figure after he was found guilty of sexual abuse.

The film J’accuse was presented without its director as Polanski didn’t make it to Venice. Despite this fact, however, the viewers liked the film and applauded it for quite a while in order to show this. And to our surprise (or maybe not so much), J’accuse was characterised as the director’s best film after his undoubted masterpiece The Pianist (2002).


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On women and cinema

Last year’s edition of the Venice Film Festival was heavily criticised by feminist groups and human rights organisations for the lack of female directors in the official competition. It was then that a reluctant agreement about equality between the sexes was signed, but the festival’s director Alberto Barbera commented that he would rather resign than introduce equality quota. Quite expectedly, the same argument arose this year again, even before the festival itself. In return, Alberto Barbera replied that this year the festival includes many films about women’s problems in different countries in the world even though not all of them are directed by women. And in fact, out of 21,there are only 2 films that are directed by women. The ones that were in competition in the official selection were The Perfect Candidate by Saudi director Haifaa Al-Mansour and Babyteeth, which is the director debut of film actress Shannon Murphy.

Just for the record, last year the Venice Film Festival showed only one film directed by a woman, and this year in Cannes we saw four of them. Are we going to see more productions directed by women in the following film festivals? We hope so…


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Thinking of tomorrow

And while arguments between directors, actors, actresses, organisers and critics could be accepted as something common if not even normal, then this time in Venice we witnessed something rather extraordinary. Environmental activists fighting against climate change chose as their place of protesting namely the Venice Film Festival as they occupied the red carpet on the day of the award ceremony. More than 300 people dressed in white jumpsuits were holding flags and posters and they took over the spot where film stars usually pose for photographers. Part of the protesters were the “No Big Ships” group from Venice, who oppose the entry of large cruise ships in the city’s lagoon. The occupation of the red carpet took 7 hours without any official response from the organisers of the festival. And before you decide that they were not supported by any celebrities, we are in a hurry to share with you the words of the legendary vocalist of the Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger, who took part in the thriller The Burnt Orange Heresy: “I’m glad that they are doing this, because they are the ones who are going to inherit our planet and we are in a very difficult situation.”


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See you soon, Venice!

After all the triumphs, glamour, arguments, protests, applause, excitement and disappointment… how does a film festival end? Well, with awards!

The highest prize in the Venice Film Festival, the Golden Lion went to the film Joker, starring Joaquin Phoenix. The Grand Jury Prize was surprisingly given to Roman Polanski’s J’accuse. The Silver Lion for best director was awarded to Roy Andersson (Sweden) for About Endlessness and the Golden Osella Award for best screenplay was given to N7 Cherry Lane by Yonfan. Two Volpi Cup Awards for best actor and best actress were in the hand of Italian Luca Marinelli and French Ariane Ascaride, accordingly. Two honorary awards for lifetime achievement were given to Spanish director Pedro Almodovar and British actress Julie Andrews.

This is how the 76th annual edition of the oldest film festival ended! For ten days, the world was a film set and Venice was a Universe! We will see you next year, dear island of Lido!


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Text: Annie Georgieva

Photos: Instagram

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