There is a moment that comes every time I get the chance to attend the Venice Film Festival, just before it all starts, when the crowded screening times still seem perfectly feasible, and the deadlines are distant and abstract, almost pretty, like distant flocks of birds. Freewheel down the Lido (the barrier island of the Venetian lagoon where the festival takes place) on a recently rented bike, the weather is wonderful, the breeze warm and the tastiest with centuries of salty history I think that I’m more predictable, downright happy than any other day of the year.
Regulars know they are slightly conspiratorial about Venice, to keep some of its magical secret in case the universe realizes there has been a clerical error and has been taken from us. . Because even in a normal year – and who knows if we’ll have one more? – this festival is a rare privilege that no one really has deserved. And in times of pandemic, whatever the drawbacks of the Covid restrictions, a noticeably increased number of snarling riflemen presence and a glitchy and restrictive online booking system, it’s a little less than miraculous that we are here again, in the midst of all this beauty and sparkling lagoon light, which we have completely ignored for 10 days past in the washing darkness.
But then this year, 78th of the festival, from the start, the darkness was full of life. Pedro Almodóvar’s opening, “Parallel Mothers,” came like a comet, bursting off the screen in a burst of shameless melodrama so daring it practically blew the mask off my face – but don’t be. scared, if that had actually happened, one of the bailiffs would have been on top of me in an instant. Wearing a mask was one of the most assiduously controlled protocols; even offenders in the middle of the row were publicly humiliated by being immediately targeted with a red laser pointer, which must have looked like they were in the sights of a sniper.
“Parallel Mothers” stars Penélope Cruz in a performance that deserved the Best Actress award she won here. She plays a woman who bonds with her scared young roommate (Milena Smit) in a maternity hospital, then discovers that they are more inextricably linked than she could have imagined. It’s messy and over the top, a soap opera in its many twists and turns and revelations, and ultimately beautiful. Even though I am one of the few who have been fortunate enough to have attended festivals in Europe more or less continuously from Cannes, I saw in Almodóvar’s vision broad, generous and sincere something that lacked elsewhere – a cinematic experience that is brash and warm, that contains more dimensions of vigor than the laws of physics allow to convey through a flat image. Looking forward to the fantastic, funny and earthy performance of this, this.
Which was good, because Almodóvar’s film introduced the heavy motherhood theme that quickly became a recurring feature. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s stunning debut film “The Lost Girl”, based on a novel by Elena Ferrante, stars an irreplaceable Olivia Colman as Leda, the middle-aged mother of adult children, who, as Cruz’s character in “Parallel Mothers” sees links between his life and that of a younger woman (Dakota Johnson). With Leda previously played by Jessie Buckley, Gyllenhaal’s terribly accomplished first film actually gives us two complex performances of the same character, and while the actresses are not physically alike, there is something deeply persuasive about the story. continuity of gesture. and the body language that Colman and Buckley realize. And you don’t have to be a mother – or even a wife – to understand Leda’s contradictions, and to find unsettling recognition in a devious story of painful decisions – from some monstrously selfish angles – that induce eternal guilt. but who can never be fully regretted.
Speaking of which, “Spencer,” Pablo Larraín’s highly stylized and confrontational take on three days in the life of Diana, Princess of Wales just before her official separation from Prince Charles, gave us another unforgettable portrayal of the femininity in conflict, and another piece of unforgettable inspiration. from the cast of Kristen Stewart. Stewart’s thorny relationship with celebrity provides a fascinating metatextual layer to this highly irregular biopic in which, much like he did with Jackie Kennedy in “Jackie,” Larraín shatters genre conventions into a million pieces that shine. like opulent chandeliers. of Sandringham House – the location of the film, here a place as strangely unwelcoming as the Overlook Hotel.
Audrey Diwan’s “Happening” – the lower profile entry to the competition unexpectedly and gratifyingly selected by the jury of Bong Joon Ho as the Golden Lion winner – is the poignant but delicate story of a young Frenchwoman ( an exceptional Anamaria Vartolomei) in the face of the taboo of an unwanted pregnancy in 1963. “The Power of the Dog” by Jane Campion, which won her the Silver Lion for Best Director, is ostensibly the story of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Phil, a charismatic breeder and a tyrant in sexual conflict. But it also centers on a troubled mother, here a sober and immaculate Kirsten Dunst, and her oddly co-dependent relationship with her beloved son (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Even in the most overtly gender-influenced entry of the competition, Ana Lily Amirpour’s entertaining graphic novel “Mona Lisa and Blood Moon”, Kate Hudson plays wildly and successfully against the guy in her role as a stripper. crook, who is also a “bad mother” to her self-sufficient but lonely young son (an endearing Evan Whitten).
There were, of course, films that centralized men’s experiences: most notably, for those who see Venice as a testing ground for Oscar contenders, Paolo Sorrentino’s “Hand of God”, a film you don’t have to worry much. to be recognized as the kind of lavish, lovingly made autobiographical nostalgic journey that will undoubtedly become an international hit. More to my liking, though definitely less accessible, was Valentyn Vasyanovych’s formidable “Reflection”, a challenge – especially in its warning-worthy torture scenes – an account based on a painting by a Ukrainian father returning from a shattering stay in enemy captivity; Filipino filmmaker Erik Matti’s sprawling, uneven but captivating proceedings on corruption and journalism “On the Job: The Missing 8”; and a compelling and low-key offering from Venezuelan Golden Lion winner Lorenzo Vigas, “The Box,” which details a earthy teenager’s sudden entry into violent adulthood when he becomes attached to the ruthless stranger. that he believes to be his father.
Regardless, as evidenced by an awards list featuring three female directors (Diwan, Campion and Gyllenhaal) winning major awards behind the camera, when there were only five in total in the competition’s 21 titles. , it is quite striking to see how this Venice weighed heavily on women and women’s stories. And, perhaps because of the necessary compromises of this year’s festival format that made some last minute discoveries based on walking around a screening you’ve just heard about on an Aperol spritz a thing of the past, such themes had to be clearly spoken to connect.
Neatly spaced in our assigned seats, unable, due to the advance booking mandate, to enjoy the more spontaneous, buzz-based cinematic pleasures offered in Before Times, watching trapped characters – often women – whose stories were told less by the action than by the complex psychologies playing on their close-up faces, in Venice 2021 it sometimes felt like islands, looking at islands, on an island. But if we were not as well mixed as in the past on this small strip of beach land, and if we had to get used to not being so maybe in the near future, we were at least islands linked to each other under the light of the same projection beam. Venice is, after all, an archipelago.