Venice 2018

Lions for Cuarón, Lanthimos, and Audiard

The Daily — Sep 10, 2018
Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma (2018)

When the awards were presented in Venice on Saturday, it turned out to be a good night for Netflix and westerns. And though criticism has rained down on the festival for including only one film directed by a woman in competition—criticism coming not just from critics and industry insiders but also from jury president Guillermo del Toro—Saturday ended in victory for the lineup’s lone female director and two movies centered on female leads.

Accepting the festival’s top prize, the Golden Lion, for Roma, director Alfonso Cuarón thanked his three lead actresses “for your courage, generosity, and immense respect in portraying the women who raised me.” Cuarón shot Roma himself in vivid black and white, conjuring the titular Mexico City neighborhood he grew up in during the 1970s. Saturday happens to have been the birthday of the real-life maid and nanny at the center of the film—“What a present!” Cuarón exclaimed. Cleo, as she’s named in the film, is portrayed by non-professional actress Yalitza Aparicio, and in his overview of Venice’s seventy-fifth edition for the Guardian, Jonathan Romney argues that her “candid, beautifully modified performance was one of the outstanding human factors of this festival.” We put together an overview of initial critical reaction to Roma last week, and we’ll take a closer look when the New York Film Festival presents the film as its Centerpiece. For now, note that Roma is screening in Toronto this week before heading to San Sebastián and London, and Netflix will begin streaming it in December.

Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite, which will open the NYFF later this month, has won a Silver Lion, the Grand Jury Prize, as well as a best actress award for Olivia Colman. She plays Queen Anne, who ruled over Great Britain and Ireland during the War of the Spanish Succession in the early eighteenth century. In The Favourite, she’s also carrying on a secret affair with her advisor, Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), and when young Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives at the court, she begins scheming to steal away the Queen’s affections. Writing for Slant, Paul O’Callaghan suggests that The Favourite is “perhaps the most playfully subversive costume drama since Whit Stillman’s similarly verbose Love & Friendship, though this is a considerably racier affair, laden as it is with eye-wateringly explicit exchanges.” But the “biggest revelation may be that Lanthimos treats his characters here with a degree of compassion, rather than regard them with his usual smirking indifference.”

Del Toro’s jury has also given two awards to Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale, the Special Jury Prize and the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best New Talent. The latter award goes to Baykali Ganambarr for his portrayal of an Aboriginal tracker who accompanies a young Irish woman (Aisling Franciosi) through the wilderness of Tasmania in the early nineteenth century as she seeks to take revenge on the British soldiers who have brutally attacked her and her family. For Kent, who responded gracefully to a sexist epithet blurted out at her name during the preview screening, The Nightingale is, as David Rooney notes in the Hollywood Reporter, a “complete departure” from her 2014 debut feature, The Babadook. “As much as sexual violence and the violence of power and oppression figures in to the tale,” writes Rooney, “the focus is on the racial violence embedded in Australian history.”

The Silver Lion for best direction goes to Jacques Audiard, the subject of a retrospective currently running at the Museum of Modern Art in New York through September 20. The Sisters Brothers, Audiard’s first western as well as his first film in English, stars John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix as a pair of hired killers following a detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) who’s tracking down a chemist (Riz Ahmed) with a secret formula for striking it rich during the Gold Rush of the 1850s. For Vanity Fair’s K. Austin Collins, the film “is in part a tale of brotherly bonds, a solidly entertaining deep-dive into the tempers, conflicts, aspirations, fears, and weaknesses of these parallel pairs of men.”

The other western honored on Saturday is The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a collection of six tales written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, who have won the award for best screenplay. “Leave it to the Coen Brothers to make an anthology film brimming with colorful characters, unexpected turnabouts, engrossing scrapes and dilemmas, picturesque vistas, and symmetric structural and visual pleasures in which the territory of mankind amounts to little more than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors,” writes Michael Koresky at the top of his review for Film Comment. After screening in London and New York, Ballad will hit theaters—and Netflix—in November.

Willem Dafoe has won the best actor award for his performance in Julian Schnabel’s At Eternity’s Gate. He plays Vincent van Gogh “with all the integrity and unselfconscious ease that you would expect from this great actor,” finds the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw. The film itself “strives to capture the ecstatic presentness, the immersion in the moment, and the blazing, almost athletic certainty with which van Gogh painted.” Featuring Rupert Friend as Vincent’s brother Theo, Oscar Isaac as Paul Gauguin, and Mads Mikkelsen as a priest, At Eternity’s Gate will be the closing night film at the NYFF.

Orizzonti and Other Awards

Athina Tsangari (Chevalier) has presided over the jury selecting the winners in the Orizzonti section, a rough equivalent of Un Certain Regard in Cannes, which is to say that the aim is to present films a bit more formally daring than those in the competition. Thai cinematographer Phuttiphong Aroonpheng’s directorial debut, Manta Ray, which focuses on the relationship between a fisherman and a mute Rohingya Muslim who’s fled Myanmar, has won the top prize. Clarence Tsui, writing for the Hollywood Reporter, finds that “the film transcends its thematic topicality to probe the loneliness of the refugee experience.”

Kazakh director Emir Baigazin has won the award for best director for The River, which focuses on five young brothers who discover that there’s a whole wide world out there beyond the secluded desert where they toil nearly every waking hour for their strict father. Much of what happens is “conveyed through rhythm, framing, and atmosphere,” notes Michael Sicinski, writing for Cinema Scope, where he suggests that “the film might be said to exist on a continuum between Claire Denis’s masterwork Beau travail and Samira Makhmalbaf’s still-underseen The Apple.

Mahmut Fazıl Coşkun’s The Announcement, which tracks a group of Turkish army officers trying—and for the most part, failing—to broadcast news of an attempted coup in 1963, has won the Special Jury Prize. At Cineuropa, Kaleem Aftab predicts that “there will inevitably be comparisons with deadpan comedy masters, such as Roy Andersson, Aki Kaurismäki, and the Coen brothers. Coşkun deserves to be in their company.”

Natalya Kudryashova has won the best actress award for her turn as the wife of a man in Siberia who tries to trick death in Natasha Merkulova and Aleksey Chupov’s The Man Who Surprised Everyone. For Tina Poglajen at Cineuropa, this is “one of the most eccentric features in the program, intending to convey a parable about ordinary Russians and their relationship with death, and ending the story with a surprisingly contemporary twist.”

Kais Nashif has been named best actor for his performance as a fledgling writer for a soap opera in Sameh Zoabi’s Tel Aviv on Fire. The Hollywood Reporter’s Jordan Mintzer finds that Tel Aviv “smartly undercuts clichés while bringing together Jews and Arabs in their common love for tear-jerking televised fluff.” And Pema Tseden, the writer and director of Jinpa, has won the best screenplay award for his sixth feature. Writing for Cinema Scope, Shelley Kraicer calls this story of a chance meeting between a truck driver and a hitchhiker “a fable, a Tibetan road movie, and a tribute to classic westerns all at once.”

The Lion of the Future, the award presented to a debut feature, goes to Soudade Kaadan for The Day I Lost My Shadow, which follows a Syrian mother in search of a gas cooker while war rages all around her. Variety’s Jay Weissberg writes that “Kaadan aims for a cinéma vérité style with touches of magic realism, yet characterless visuals aren’t able to achieve the desired poetic impact.”

Peter Bogdanovich has won the Venice Classics award for the best documentary on cinema with The Great Buster: A Celebration, which IndieWire’s Michael Nordine calls “a loving documentary tribute to the silent era icon that could have used more of his mischievous spirit.” Bogdanovich appears in Orson Welles’s The Other Side of the Wind, which one might have expected would come away with one award or another following its world premiere in Venice. But the new, Netflix-funded reconstruction and restoration of the film Welles worked on throughout the late 1970s was presented out of competition. We’ll take a look at how critics have been responding to the long-awaited, finally completed project when it screens in New York. The film that did win the award for best restoration is one of Paolo and Vittorio Taviani’s most beloved features, The Night of the Shooting Stars (1982), and we have Italy’s Cineteca Nazionale and Istituto Luce Cinecittà to thank for the new version.

Venice Days and Critics’ Week

In 2014, Party Girl, codirected by Claire Burger, Marie Amachoukeli, and Samuel Theis, won the Camera d’Or, Cannes’s award for best first feature. Now Burger has made her first solo effort as writer and director with Real Love, the story of a father struggling to raise two girls after his wife has left the family. And she’s won the top prize at Venice Days, the independent program founded in 2004 by directors aiming to showcase new work by promising filmmakers. “Belgian actor-director Bouli Lanners (Rust and Bone, Heal the Living) carries most of the film on his sturdy shoulders as a papa bear with a sorrowful gaze,” finds Boyd van Hoeij in the Hollywood Reporter.

Another big Venice Days winner is Austrian-Iranian filmmaker Sudabeh Mortezai, recipient of the newly established Hearst Film Award for best female filmmaker. Her fourth feature, Joy, has also picked up the Europa Cinemas Label prize for best European film. The story of a Nigerian woman in Vienna forced into prostitution in order to pay off her debts makes for a “bravely dark movie,” finds Chris Barsanti at the Playlist. “In this world, even family offers no refuge. Calls from back home come not as protective check-ins but opportunistic guilt-plays for cash from these emotionally starved and mentally ravaged women.”

Audiences attending the thirty-third International Critics’ Week, the parallel program dedicated to first works and organized by the Italian National Union of Film Critics, have voted to give the top award to Ghiath Ayoub and Saeed Al Batal’s Still Recording. The documentary follows two Syrian art students who join the rebels fighting Assad’s forces and set up a local radio station and a recording studio in the besieged town of Douma. Variety’s Nick Vivarelli notes that the directors spent four years on the project, shooting over 500 hours of footage.

Dozens of entities independent of the festival present their own awards, and you can scan a full list of this year’s winners here. When the lineup for Venice’s seventy-fifth anniversary edition was announced back in July, most agreed that, on paper, it looked outstanding. Hopes were high, and with the exception of a few disappointments here and there, it seems that, overall, Venice has met them.

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