With just a couple of days to go before this year’s Venice Film Festival wraps, organizers sat down with the press on Wednesday to take stock. The bottom line for the time being: So far, so good. The festival spent 1.2 million dollars establishing and maintaining safety protocols, and to the best of anyone’s knowledge, no new cases of COVID-19 can be traced back to the Lido.
In the Guardian, Jonathan Romney admires the “vivid, meticulous evocation of the period,” but “the film is above all an enclosed talking piece for four terrific actors. Perhaps inevitably, Goree’s Clay lights up the screen whenever he talks—revealing the acuteness and sensitivity beneath the showmanship—with Hodge’s Brown as a saturnine, skeptical foil. But the meat of the meet lies in the interplay between Malcolm X and Sam Cooke—not least, perhaps, because we know their deaths were just around the corner. British actor Kingsley Ben-Adir is magnetic as the careworn, austere political leader, evoking the tenderness and well-concealed joie de vivre underneath the severity, while Odom’s Cooke shows self-examination as well as radiant insouciance.”
The Disciple, a special presentation in Toronto that’s competing in Venice before heading to the Main Slate in New York, is Chaitanya Tamhane’s eagerly awaited follow-up to his 2014 debut, Court, which, as Jay Weissberg puts it in Variety, “heralded the arrival of a bright talent willing to take risks with a cerebral kind of independent cinema.” Aditya Modak, who has been singing north Indian classical music to great acclaim since he was five, plays Sharad Nerulkar, an aspiring singer who fears he may not succeed in his lifelong quest to master the art. At the Film Stage, Rory O’Connor finds the film to be “remarkably poised” and “comprehensive with its subject in the same way Court was with legal minutiae and just as frank about human inadequacy.”
Gianfranco Rosi, winner of the Golden Bear in Berlin for Fire at Sea (2016), is competing in Venice with Notturno, set to screen in TIFF’s Masters program and the NYFF’s Main Slate. Rosi spent three years shooting Notturno, mostly at night, of course, along the borders of Iraq, Kurdistan, Syria, and Lebanon. “The impressionistic doc captures people who have long been contending with the ravages of war and terror, most recently inflicted by ISIS,” notes Nick Vivarelli at the top of his interview with the director for Variety. “Whose members, incidentally, at one point tried to kidnap Rosi.”
Back in Variety, Guy Lodge pretty well sums up the critical reaction so far to I Am Greta, the Hulu documentary about the teenage climate activist and global celebrity, Greta Thunberg. “As a summation of her remarkable achievements to date in public life, Nathan Grossman’s film is reasonably thorough, and sometimes rousing, amply showcasing Thunberg’s candid gifts as a truth-to-power speaker,” writes Lodge. “Yet as a portrait of the girl behind the cause, it’s cautious and rarely illuminating, speckled with moments of domestic intimacy that nonetheless feel carefully vetted.”
Also set to screen in the Contemporary World Cinema program is the second feature from Hungarian director Lili Horvát, Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time. Natasa Stork plays Márta, a forty-year-old neurosurgeon who abandons her blossoming career in the States to return to Budapest, where she plans to start a new life with with János (Viktor Bodó), a doctor she met at a conference in New Jersey. When she finds him, he claims they’ve never met. “Intriguing in its insinuations and bolstered by a striking lead performance, Horvat suggests a series of ‘what ifs’ which recall classic Hollywood narratives reworked in a contemporary era of alienation and estrangement,” writes Nicholas Bell at Ioncinema.
In Night of the Kings, the second feature from Ivorian filmmaker Philippe Lacôte, the inmates at the notorious MACA correctional facility in Abidjan stage a ritual with each rising of a red moon. Like Scheherazade, a new arrival (Koné Bakary) must keep his fellow prisoners enraptured with his storytelling or risk losing his life. The tale he spins “has several beginnings and endings,” writes Boyd van Hoeij in the Hollywood Reporter, and at one point, it “seems to magically stretch back in time . . . to an ancient African kingdom, ruled over by a majestic queen (Laetitia Ky, sporting a relatively conservative example of the hair sculptures for which the artist-activist is known).” The storyteller is “secretly egged on by the sole white detainee, a quiet nutcase nicknamed Silence (Holy Motors’ Denis Lavant doing Denis Lavant).” Lacôte “becomes a kind of choreographer of underground energies and buried narratives,” writes Screen’s Lee Marshall.
Produced by Jia Zhangke, premiering in the Orizzonti program in Venice, and slated for Toronto’s Discovery section, Wang Jing’s debut feature, The Best Is Yet to Come, is inspired by actual events. Set in Beijing at the tail end of the SARS epidemic in 2003, the film centers on an ambitious young journalist, Han Dong (White K), who uncovers a network smuggling forged health certificates for tens of millions of Hepatitis B carriers who have become pariahs due to the false belief that they can spread the disease as easily as those infected with SARS. “Cleaving closer to the rigor and optimism of Spotlight than it does to the haunted poetry of the Sixth Generation films that Wang cites as his inspirations,” writes IndieWire’s David Ehrlich, The Best Is Yet to Come “opens with a flurry of documentary footage so raw and wounded that it betrays some of the more contrivedly manufactured scenes that follow.” At the Film Stage, Christopher Schobert agrees that “there are numerous missteps that lessen the impact and slow down the dramatic energy,” but overall, “the film remains a powerful, worthy tale of investigative writing and compassionate reportage.”
Palestinian twin brothers Arab and Tarzan Nasser follow up on their winning 2015 debut Dégradé with Gaza mon amour, a film that reveals “how even the simplest of love stories can be thwarted by a repressive government, collective human foibles and an ancient Greek statue with a major erection,” writes Jordan Mintzer. Issa (Salim Daw), a sixty-year-old fisherman, fell long ago for Siham (Hiam Abbass), a local tailer, but has never worked up the courage to make his move. Overall, Gaza mon amour “has hints of Jim Jarmusch and Aki Kaurismäki, although it feels closest to the witty, surreal works of fellow Palestinian Elie Suleiman (It Must Be Heaven),” Mintzer continues. “It’s a rather ludicrous tale set in an even more ludicrous world, but a world that in many ways exists—at least for those who currently reside in the Hamas-governed territory of the Gaza Strip.”