Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water has won the Golden Lion at this year’s Venice International Film Festival. We’ve been gathering reviews here, and we’ll carry on, too, as the film screens in Toronto throughout the coming week.
This year’s jury, presided over by Annette Bening and including Ildiko Enyedi, Michel Franco, Rebecca Hall, Anna Mouglalis, David Stratton, Jasmine Trinca, Edgar Wright, and Yonfan, also presented the following awards:
Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize: Samuel Maoz’s Foxtrot. Click the title for reviews.
Silver Lion Best Director: Xavier Legrand’s Custody. “An almost unbearably-tense, no-holds-barred drive through the nightmare of domestic terrorism, Custody is a can’t-look-away hybrid of grueling reality and heightened cinematic technique,” writes Screen’s Fionnuala Halligan. “The mix is jarring, as intended, and this wrenching, heart-stopping film illustrates domestic violence and obsession in a way that makes the fear real. Yet the director also cites The Shining and Kramer vs. Kramer amongst his influences, and they’re easily identified here too.”
“Sadly,” finds Ethan Vestby, writing for Cinema Scope, “Custody soon becomes conventionally dull once the child, Julien (Thomas Gioria), actually comes into the picture. Put under the shared custody of his parents due to his father’s good behaviour in court, he’s soon emotionally terrorized by the patriarch during his allotted visitation time, as Dad is still bitter over his wife and 18-year-old daughter’s abandonment of him. Julien becomes unwillingly sucked into his father’s emotional vortex, which seems like it might be leading towards an unfortunate resolution for his mother Miriam (Lea Drucker).”
“Legrand here takes the basic idea and the two adult stars from his Oscar-nominated short, Just Before Losing Everything from 2013, to explore similar territory as it lays bare the tensions, lies and faulty defense mechanisms of the separated parents as well as their teenage kids,” writes Boyd van Hoeij in the Hollywood Reporter. “Confidently assembled and acted with impressive precision, this striking debut feature finally doesn’t fully convince psychologically but is nonetheless a more than solid calling card for Legrand.”
More from Marta Bałaga at Cineuropa, where she also interviews Legrand. Update, 9/11: “The intensity is too much to bear in the best possible way,” writes Jared Mobarak at the Film Stage. “Legrand knows exactly where to position his characters and what’s necessary to break them. It’s a steady crescendo of suspense despite his source of danger never shifting.”
Updates, 9/15: “One of the most harrowing films I've seen in a long time, Custody is notable for slightly adjusting its point of view so that the spectator is caught off-guard by the extent of Antoine's (Denis Ménochet) abusive behavior,” writes Michael Sicinski. “Once you have seen Custody and gone through its emotional grinder, it's hard not to look back at the opening scene as a kind of travesty. How could the magistrate award joint custody? But that's the point: the rage and paranoia that drives Antoine is mostly invisible outside the confines of the domestic space.”
“Legrand operates in the raw social realist tradition of such auteurs as Maurice Pialat and the Dardenne brothers, stripping away sentimentality in favor of direct, observational filmmaking,” writes Variety’s Peter Debruge.
Updates, 9/21: “With just one prior short under his belt,” writes Paul O’Callaghan for Sight & Sound, “Legrand appears to have emerged out of the gate as a ready-made auteur. It may be that Custody lacks the narrative complexity to hold up to repeat viewings, but it’s one hell of a calling card, and perhaps the most dazzling fusion of grim social realism and giddy genre thrills since Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.”
“As the film progresses,” writes Luke Gorham at In Review Online, “Antoine is shown to be clearly unstable, unraveling with increased speed until the film’s final third, in which the horror influences here abandon any pretense of subtlety. Controlling men are among the least pitiable humans, and Legrand smartly and organically builds on cinematic expectations of conflicted characters, demonstrating wonderful control and sense of pace, before definitively exposing Antoine for what he is—a true monster.”
Update, 9/25: “Every year,” writes Jessica Kiang at the Playlist, “in addition to a new crop of Oscar-tipped hits and established auteur works, the fall festival season features one or two titles that truly merit the term ‘discovery,’ that come into their premiere with little buzz, but gather momentum as they move through the season, collecting silverware like a magnet picks up scrap iron. This year that breakout position definitely and deservedly goes to Legrand and Custody.”
Update, 9/27: “Running a tight 90 minutes, there isn’t a wasted second in Custody,” writes Stephen Saito.
Volpi Cup for Best Actress: Charlotte Rampling, for her performance in Hannah. “Hannah is a bit of a paradox,” finds Michael Sicinski, writing for Cinema Scope: “it is an exceedingly quiet movie, and at the same time a bracing one, with a volatile, superstar performance at its heart. Charlotte Rampling plays the title character, a woman whose life has been dramatically upended just as she and her husband (André Wilms) should be settling into their mundane golden years. Instead, he has been sent to prison, and Hannah, while initially playing the supportive wife, becomes increasingly uncertain of her role. In fact, this is a film with performance at its core.”
“Sixteen years after François Ozon’s Under the Sand appeared to offer the actress her definitive later-career showcase, she shows no signs of artistic complacency in Italian director Andrea Pallaoro’s close, piercing character examination,” writes Variety’s Guy Lodge. “Vulnerably balanced on a slender emotional ledge for ninety minutes, Rampling’s low-pitched but emotionally unstinting performance must implicitly fill in many of the blanks in an enigmatic story of a respectable, retirement-age woman gathering (or perhaps gradually disassembling) her life after her husband is arrested and imprisoned on uncertain charges.”
“Rampling gives an emotionally rigorous display of bruising internalization, without an ounce of vanity,” agrees David Rooney in the Hollywood Reporter. “While Italian-born director Andrea Pallaoro showed promise with his 2013 debut Medeas, an elegant contemporary twist on Greek tragedy, this second feature is an exercise in miserabilism that withholds far more than it yields.”
More from Camillo De Marco at Cineuropa. Hannah now begins screening in the Contemporary World Cinema section in Toronto. Update: “If Virginia Woolf had bothered to write Clarissa Dalloway as the wife of an incarcerated felon, she might have looked something like Rampling’s Hannah,” writes Nicholas Bell at Ioncinema. “Achingly morose, Hannah is an arrhythmic piece of beautifully composed, carefully deliberated miserabilism.”
Volpi Cup for Best Actor: Kamel El Basha for The Insult. Reviews.
Best Screenplay Award: Martin McDonagh for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Reviews.
Special Jury Prize: Warwick Thornton’s Sweet Country. Variety’s Guy Lodge: “Marked by the same poise and care with which Thornton’s 2009 debut Samson and Delilah exposed the present-day marginalization of Australia’s Aboriginal community, the director-cinematographer’s second purely narrative feature probes the same social injustice in the bitterly divided frontier society of 1929, where one black man’s necessarily violent act of self-defense brings the white population’s most toxic racist dogma to the fore. The spare, classical chase drama that ensues is seeded with barbed observations on colonialism, cultural erasure and rough justice, kept poetically succinct by Thornton’s lithe, soaring visual storytelling.”
The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney finds that Sweet Country “successfully marries the archetypal characters and scenario of a traditional Western with a culturally specific grounding in Australian history, politics, folklore and racial tension.”
“The performances throughout the film are excellent with [Bryan] Brown, [Sam] Neil and [Hamilton] Morris proving this is a country for old men, at least acting-wise,” writes John Bleasdale at CineVue. “Tremayne Trevorn Doolan debuts as the young boy Philomac who is torn between his aboriginal identity and the obvious advantages that come with his white father. Sweet Country is a hoarsely angry film, a powerful denunciation of the racism and violence on which modern Australia was eventually founded.”
Sweet Country now competes in Toronto’s Platform program. Update, 9/15: “An Australian Western about colonialism, it consciously revises the racial politics of the genre, while emphasizing vibrant visuals, expressive sound design, and a radically loose narrative structure,” writes Chelsea Phillips-Carr for Cinema Scope. Update, 9/16: “It’s a stark, shocking movie, superbly shot by Thornton who is both cinematographer and director,” writes the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw, “a film which feels at one level like a provocative exploitation picture such as Straw Dogs or Wake in Fright, and at another level like a classic studio western, with something of The Searchers or Red River.”
Marcello Mastroianni Award: Charlie Plummer for Lean on Pete. Reviews.
Among the awards not presented by the jury are the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) award, which goes to Frederick Wiseman’s Ex Libris: The New York Public Library (reviews). FIPRESCI’s choice for best debut film is Alireza Khatami’s Oblivion Verses.
“An enigmatic, dream-like disquisition on death and the necessity of remembrance, Oblivion Verses is nothing if not cosmopolitan. Shot in Chile and prefaced by a quotation from German poet Paul Celan, this Spanish-language debut from Iranian writer-director Alireza Khatami has, viewed from one perspective, a universality that should help it connect with admirers of a sensibility that could loosely be termed ‘magic realist,’” writes Jonathan Romney for Screen. “From a different angle, however, the difficulty of attaching this pensive fable to any geographical or historical specifics makes it feel frustratingly elusive. Nevertheless, Khatami—best known for the co-directed short Mr. Chang’s New Address, featured in 2013 portmanteau Taipei Factory—manifestly has an idiosyncratic vision.”
“Blending elements of magical realism, political strife and Kafkaesque ennui to partially satisfying effect, Oblivion Verses (Los Versos del Olvido) marks an intriguing if rather elusive feature debut for Iranian writer-director Alireza Khatami,” writes Jordan Mintzer in the Hollywood Reporter.
Michael Sicinski for Cinema Scope: “As political cinema goes, Oblivion Verses is rather dull-edged; in some respects its intent is patently obvious, in others rather oblique. There seems to be an allegory at work here, but it’s difficult to separate that broader, symbolic approach from a nagging sense that there is specificity hovering in the margins, unwilling or unable to speak its piece. It seems Khatami originally wanted to make the film in Iran but couldn’t get permission, so the Chilean setting was a second choice. This knowledge perhaps opens Oblivion Verses to unfair scrutiny, but I think it explains its formal inconsistencies. Khatami’s resuscitation effort is indeed admirable, but noble intentions do not necessarily equal enlightenment.”
The Queer Lion goes to Anne Fontaine’s Reinventing Marvin. “A golden-lit, refracted sequence of close-ups of a male body in motion—individual muscles stretching, flexing, tensing—opens Reinventing Marvin, as we assume we’re watching a dancer in preparation for an arduous ballet,” begins Variety’s Guy Lodge. “We’re partly right: He’s an actor, not a dancer, readying himself for the spotlight. What he faces there, however, is not tricky footwork or strenuous physical performance, but the hard facts of his past. Skipping liberally across formative stages of a once-denigrated gay man’s self-made life, Anne Fontaine’s unsteady, overlong but rewardingly compassionate character study documents the painful coming of age that builds to cathartic creative process.”
“The films of prolific director Anne Fontaine range from the serious (Agnus Dei, Nathalie) to the ridiculous (Perfect Mothers) to the slickly entertaining (The Girl from Monaco, Coco Before Chanel, Gemma Bovery),” writes Jordan Mintzer in the Hollywood Reporter. Reinventing Marvin is a “queer coming-of-age story, which she mixes into a confessional performance piece that includes, among other fourth wall-breaking elements, Isabelle Huppert co-starring as herself. The result is a hodgepodge that blends a few emotionally poignant moments with uncomfortable stabs at kitchen-sink drama and more blissful scenes of sexual healing (including a sequence that features the actual song by Marvin Gaye). It’s all a bit overlong and over-the-top, although the lead turn from rising star Finnegan Oldfield (Nocturama) is almost enough to make it work.”
In Screen, Lisa Nesselson agrees that “Oldfield is riveting in an ethereal way as the title character, a sensitive soul (wonderfully played as a youngster by Jules Poirier) born into a sub-poverty-level working class family in a culturally vacant village where smoking, drinking, watching TV, spouting casually racist and homophobic remarks and badmouthing vegetables to defiantly eat fries with every meal are the main pastimes. How Marvin extricates himself from his dead-end origins to connect with his sexuality in Paris circles where he can forge an It-Boy career in the theater is the creatively told, worthwhile but still hackneyed tale on display.”
“While the story of this ‘ugly duckling’ and his ‘guardian angels’ might seem a bit too much like a fairy tale to some, the air of melancholy infused by the filmmaker gives Reinventing Marvin a seal of authenticity that makes this feature film masterful and moving,” writes Fabien Lemercier for Cineuropa.
Update, 11/3: “The fertile imagination of Guillermo del Toro has cross-pollinated sources before,” writes Steven Mears in Film Comment, “but perhaps never as brazenly as this hybrid of City Lights, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Starman. And for most of the runtime, he pulls it off, with a Space-Age-through-the-Hollywood-looking-glass élan marking a buoyant return from his ponderous gothic mishmash Crimson Peak.”