Doesn’t time fly? We’re now over half way through the festival, and many of the big hitters have had their moment in the Venice sun. Certainly, the big Hollywood names have come and gone, soaking up the rays before heading off to Toronto to continue the long road to awards season. We’ve already seen a few contenders, now let’s settle in and enjoy the rest of the show.
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Normal business resumed on the fifth day as the sun returned, delighting tourists and horrifying poor journalists forced to queue under it at midday. As for the films, it was a day of solid fare, nothing tipping over into excellent, and nothing falling off a cliff, unless you count the little slice of Lubitsch I rewarded myself with (excellent just to be clear).
It’s the day of the Danes, sort of. With storm clouds a-gathering over the Lido, we look to our Scandinavian brethren for solace. Firstly, in the form of The Danish Girl, a film that has Oscar hopeful tattooed all over it. The most Danish thing about it is probably the title given that it’s a British production directed by an Englishman and starring an Englishman and a Swedish woman, with music composed by a Frenchman. Such is the world of international film these days.
The Danish Girl is the laudable attempt by a big glitzy Hollywood film to take on an ignored area. It’s the story of Lili Elbe, the first person to undergo gender re-alignment surgery way back in the 1920s. Danish, obviously, Lili was born Einar Wegener, a prominent landscape artist. Tom Hooper’s film, he of The King’s Speech and Les Misérables fame, brings his glossy period style to bear in a gorgeous to look at and ever so tame account of Lili’s gradual journey from the body forced on her. Thankfully, it’s blessed with a couple of star performances to add a little life.
Eddie Redmayne, hot from last year’s Oscar win, burns up the screen as Einar/Lili, managing the transformation with jittery conviction. He’s matched every step by Alicia Vikander as Einar’s wife Gerda, an artist in her own right. With the less obviously showy part, she works wonders to provide the anchor needed to moor down the occasional flighty lapse into period beautification. If only it didn’t try so hard to be a prestige drama.
With little else to do until lunch, I jumped back into the same screen to catch The Wait, a Sicilian set drama also competing for the Golden Lion. With Juliette Binoche and a Sorrentino-esque tendency to throw in pop songs and postcard shots, it promised far more than it delivered. Instead, The Wait lived up to its name, turning into a gruelling test of endurance as Binoche sits in a country villa with her son’s girlfriend, promising his return any day. It’s clear something has happened, but first time director Piero Messina takes so damn long getting to the revelation. He has an eye for shot composition, but please don’t make it such a drag next time.
Now comes the second Danish connection of the day, this one more authentically so. Tobias Lindholm has been at the heart of a wonderful little cottage industry in North Europe of late. Aside from his work as Thomas Vinterberg’s co-writer on film’s like The Hunt, he was one of the driving forces behind the excellent political TV drama Borgen, and directed and wrote 2012’s A Hijacking that out Captain Phillipsed Captain Phillips. Keeping with the real life focus and working once more with Pilou Asbæk, alongside a collection of other faces familiar to fans, he’s turned to the field of combat for A War.
In unflinching style, he follows a Danish military unit in Afghanistan, and the fallout that follows a snap decision from Asbæk’s commander. The film takes on complicated issues deftly, drawing out the contradictions of combat while neatly offering a window into the impact back home. It’s a wonderful little example of the kind of thought provoking cinema that can feel so far away after summer blockbuster season. It drew several minutes of standing ovation in my screening which seemed like a pretty good place to stop for the night, especially for someone racing the rain without an umbrella.
It was Johnny Depp time on the Lido today. Hordes of screaming fans descended to watch the veteran (I guess we should call him that now he’s in his 50s) star walk the red carpet for Black Mass, a gangster film touted as his return to form following a long barren run. It wasn’t just the chance to see whether he can revive a career long in the doldrums, at least in terms of decent films. The comb-over he wears for his role as Boston kingpin James ‘Whitey’ Bulger has drawn much comment. Alas, he chose not to arrive in character, instead looking disappointingly like the heartthrob he is.
Ok, so the title in this first diary entry from the 72nd Venice Film Festival, the oldest surviving of its kind, is slightly misleading. As I didn’t arrive on the Lido until day 2, you’ll find no update on opening day shenanigans. I can tell you that disaster epic Everest provided the initial glamour, and that Jake Gyllenhaal looked rather fetching in a dishevelled way, staring down from the massive billboards littering the area surrounding the Sala Grande, Venice’s main screen. From early reports, it doesn’t sound like I missed too much either. A serviceable, if hardly spectacular opener, it seems unlikely to follow in the footsteps of recent years which saw the likes of Black Swan, Gravity and Birdman get things underway.