By Valerie Milano
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 9/4/21 – The 78th Venice International Film Festival opened on Wednesday, September 1, 2021, at the Sala Grande, Venice’s gala theater to a half-empty galley due to COVID-19 social distancing regulations and with a sea of masked faced hiding the identities of the more famous members of the crowd, including Isabelle Huppert, Cynthia Erivo and Sarah Gabon. With the face coverings, even the flamboyant Spanish director Pedro Almodovar and his muse Penelope Cruz – star of Almodovar’s Parallel Mothers, Venice’s opening night film – was more serious than sprightly.
But it was clear everyone was very pleased to be back. Almodovar was here last year but few others were able to make the 2020 Venezia, which was held in-between coronavirus lockdowns in Italy. If the opening night crowd seemed quiet at first, it was likely because few really believed they were here in-person at the Venice Film Festival. The opening night film was Almodovar’s Parallel Mothers, starring Penelope Cruz and Milena Smit.
Bong Joon-ho, whose film Parasite won Venice in 2019, catapulting the movie to a historic best picture win at the 2020 Oscars, was visibly moved as he took the stage. Saying how grateful he was to be able to judge “the best new films in front of an audience” he noted that “Corona will be over soon but cinema will be with us forever.” Members of the Venice Jury, director Bong Joon-ho, director Saverio Costanzo, actor Virginie Efira, actor Cynthia Erivo, actor Sarah Gadon, director Alexander Nanau, director Chloe Zhao and Alberto Barbera pose for a family photo on the first day of the 78th Venice International Film Festival.
Jane Campion, the first female director to win the Palme d’Or in Cannes, who returns to Venice this year with The Power of the Dog, her first feature film in 12 years, followed Bong with a tribute to this year’s lifetime achievement winner: Legendary Italian comedian, actor, and director Roberto Benigni (Life is Beautiful).
Campion said Benigni’s irrepressible joy – which she compared to “an exploding bottle of Prosecco” was particularly needed “at this difficult time for filmmakers and for people all over the world.” Recalling his giddy response to winning the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for Life is Beautiful in 1999, when the Italian actor climbed over the backs of the seats in front of him in a clamor to get to the stage, she called the 68-year-old filmmaker “a comic genius with heart and sincerity.”
There are 24 films in competition for the Golden Lion, including Pablo Larrain’s Spencer, Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter, Paul Schrader’s The Card Counter, Paolo Sorrentino’s The Hand of God, Xavier Diannoli’s Illusions Perdues, the Brothers D’Innocenzo with America Latina, and Ana Lily Amirpour’s Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon. There always can be surprises, so it will be interesting to see what the Venice Film Festival Jury decides.
Out of Competition are some interesting films: Denis Villaneuve’s Dune, Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel, Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho, Hagai Levi’s Scenes From a Marriage (Episodes 1-5) with Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac, and the closing night film – Robert Ando’s Il Bambino Nascosto.
There is a special section for other films entitled “Orrizzonti” in which are Thomas Kruithof’s Les Promesses (starring Isabella Huppert), Yuri Ancarani’s Atlantide, Mohammed Diab’s Amira, and Laurynas Bareisa’s Pilgrims.
On Friday, September 3, Pablo Larrain’s Spencer screened, as well as Denis Villaneuve’s Dune. Critical reactions vary on both films. Of course, Spencer has attracted much attention because of its starring actor, Kristen Stewart, who was in attendance. Critics have generally praised Stewart’s Princess Diana performance in this biopic which focuses on the three-days at Christmastime in 1995 when she decided to divorce Charles, Prince of Wales.
Villaneuve’s Dune has a huge cast of well-known actors in his remake of the sci-fi epic, starring Timothée Chalamet, along with Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Jason Momoa, Oscar Isaac, Stellan Skarsgärd. Javier Barden, David Dastmalchian, Josh Brolin, Stephen McKinley, Charlotte Rampling. Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Chang Chen and Baba Olusanmokun. Critics say the new Dune movie will thrill ardent fans and disappoint others.