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MASKS on, double-vaccinated, socially distanced, thermal cameras at every entrance and tubs of hydro-alcoholic hand gel beside every door — that was Venice Film Festival in the age of Covid.
This year’s top prize went again to a young, female director, this time Audrey Diwan for an abortion drama Happening in a “unanimous decision,” said jury president Bong Joon Ho (Snowpiercer).
Venice has not been a riot of laughs this year, rather a bleak festival in which the stars have been thin on the ground.
Happening was quite an upsetting and provocative proposition. A powerful drama about a 23-year-old college student in France in 1963 who finds herself unwittingly pregnant. Determined to do something about it, she immediately finds every door in her world closed to her.
A moving study of a struggle for the right to abortion ensues. The film is often a tough watch, almost breathless, but compassionate and unflinchingly honest.
The subject is not new, but the battle of the young woman is potent and feels all too relevant today with abortion still illegal in many countries and under renewed threat in others. Happening serves as an urgent reminder of the need to protect and keep fighting for women’s rights.
The Silver Lion (second prize) went to Paolo Sorrentino’s The Hand of God, a breathtaking, autobiographically inspired coming-of-age story of a boy growing up in the tumultuous Naples of the 1980s. The movie was also one of the three main prizes scooped by Netflix in the competition, the other two went to Jane Campion’s The Power Of The Dog for Best Director and Filippo Scotti for Best Young Actor in The Hand Of God.
The only British interest was the Best Screenplay prize for Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter, based on the novel by Italian writer Elena Ferrante, with a marvellous performace by Olivia Colman. Colman was nominated for the Best Actress Award won by Penelope Cruz for her role in Pedro Almodovar’s Madres Parallelas (Parallel Mothers).
Among other titles of interest was Mexican director Michel Franco’s moving Sundown. It follows a wealthy British man (Tim Roth) going through an existential crisis while on vacation with his family in Acapulco.
Cannes loss was Venice’s gain as notable submissions from Pedro Almodovar and Paolo Sorrentino, who skipped Cannes, raised the quality bar.
The shambolic festival organisation, however, led to many complaints lodged by most of the press with much anger in evidence especially among the young journalists with lower priority accreditation. There was even a momentary talk of a strike given that the director of the festival failed to recognise the problem or apologise for the muddle.
Rita Di Santo
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