Previewing Venice 2021

Olivia Colman and Dakota Johnson in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter (2021)

Venice will launch the fall festival season tonight when it opens with the world premiere of Parallel Mothers. In Pedro Almodóvar’s twenty-second feature, two single women bond when they meet in the hospital where they are about to give birth. “This is the most difficult character that Penélope Cruz has ever played, and probably the most painful,” says Almodóvar in a statement. “The result is splendid. At her side, the young Milena Smit becomes the great revelation of the film.”

Parallel Mothers is one of twenty-one films screening in competition. For Vanity Fair, David Canfield profiles two other directors whose films are in the lineup. “Film is complicated now,” Jane Campion tells him. “In a way, it’s not as daring as series-making.” Since making her last feature, Bright Star, in 2009, Campion has devoted most of her time and energy to the two seasons of the mystery drama Top of the Lake. A few years ago, though, she read Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel, The Power of the Dog. “The book stayed with me a long time and it didn’t let me go,” she says.

In Campion’s adaptation, Benedict Cumberbatch plays Phil, a brilliant but cruel rancher in 1920s Montana. After learning to ride and rope, Cumberbatch arrived on the set in New Zealand as Phil. “To be in character for an entire shoot is new to me,” he tells Canfield. “But it’s very much what I’ve been hoping for for a long while now. It felt so important to be able to walk from the outside in, and bring that sense of everything that Phil keeps on his body—the stink of his work.”

Canfield also spoke with Maggie Gyllenhaal, who will present the first feature she’s directed, The Lost Daughter. Elena Ferrante, who wrote the 2006 novel, approved the adaptation on one condition: Gyllenhaal had to direct it. “It’s important for me—for her, for all women—that her work be hers and turn out well,” wrote Ferrante in the Guardian in 2018. “Mine already exists, with its strengths and defects.”

Olivia Colman plays Leda, a literature professor and mother of two grown daughters. While vacationing in Greece, she watches a young family on the beach and becomes overwhelmed by memories of her own past. “I have never felt more alive and in the current of my life than I felt as a director,” says Gyllenhaal. One of her great inspirations happens to be Jane Campion’s The Piano (1993), which she saw as a teenager. “I had never seen anything expressed in that way,” she says. “When we’re honest with ourselves and working from our unconscious, I think the work looks like that.”

IndieWire’s Eric Kohn also talks with two directors with films premiering in competition. Paul Schrader’s The Card Counter stars Oscar Isaac as William, a poker-playing vet who tries to talk a friend’s son out of taking revenge on an old officer. “I thought about the essence of playing cards every day, or sitting in front of a slot machine. It’s kind of zombie-like,” says Schrader. “I was wondering why someone would choose to live in that sort of purgatory. He doesn’t want to be alive, but he can’t really be dead, either. What could cause that? It can’t be a simple crime, murder, or a family dispute. It has to be something unforgivable. And that was Abu Ghraib.” The Card Counter is “not really a poker movie—that’s a red herring.”

Paolo Sorrentino’s The Hand of God isn’t really about Diego Maradona, either, even though the title references a key goal the Argentinian soccer player scored against England during the 1986 World Cup. When Sorrentino was sixteen, he traveled to Tuscany to see Maradona play, leaving his parents at home in Naples. A carbon monoxide leak killed them. “It’s painful to talk about it,” Sorrentino tells Kohn. “And, indeed, it was very painful to make a film about it.” Filippo Scotti plays Fabietto, a stand-in for the young orphaned Sorrentino who finds love and support in his extended family. “Just because you had a tough life and felt powerless doesn’t automatically make you a good filmmaker,” says Sorrentino. “But if you are able to take all the difficulties that you have experienced in life—the harsh feelings that have stayed with you—and have the intelligence to turn all of that into a unique poetic style, at that point—well, maybe you can be a good filmmaker.”

Most of Matthew Jacobs’s conversation with Pablo Larraín for Vulture focuses on Ema, his 2019 feature that has finally arrived in the States. But his other films—including Spencer, starring Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana—do come up. “I think Neruda and Jackie and Spencer are movies about people in certain circumstances where everything is about to explode,” says Larraín. “They’re not really biographical analyzations; it’s not the study of a life of someone. I think some people could misunderstand it. Before they go to see a movie like Spencer, they might say, ‘We’re going to really understand who this person was.’ No! Wrong number! Wrong movie! We don’t do that! We’re just trying to work with whatever that person was and create a fable out of it. That’s what I’m looking for. We’ll see if it works.”

Out of Competition

Venice is presenting two Golden Lions for lifetime achievement this year, the first going to Roberto Benigni tonight and the second to Jamie Lee Curtis next week. For Variety, Jenelle Riley talks with Curtis about the honor and about Halloween Kills, which will premiere out of competition. “This all began,” says Curtis, “when Jason Blum wrote David Gordon Green a one-word email: ‘Halloween?’ And David and Danny McBride conceived a trilogy. We got to see in the 2018 movie that Laurie had become the personification of trauma.”

Arriving as the #MeToo movement was surging, the 2018 Halloween “collided with what was happening globally,” notes Curtis. “And what they’ve done with the second part of the trilogy is, ‘What happens when the rest of the people in that town get angry?’ We made the movie [when] people were taking to the streets.” In Halloween Ends, slated to open next year, there’s “a group of people who are very angry at the authorities and are going to take the law into their own hands.”

In Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho, a young fashion student (Thomasin McKenzie) is transported back to the 1960s and into the body of a singer she idolizes (Anya Taylor-Joy). Wright tells the Hollywood Reporter’s Alex Ritman that, “like everyone else,” he first saw Taylor-Joy when Robert Eggers’s The Witch (2015) premiered at Sundance. He met her “shortly afterward, and I wasn’t planning to, but I ended up pitching her the entire story. I actually had her in mind for Eloise, the part that Thomasin plays, but over the years of talking to her, her star was starting to rise, and you’d seen what she was capable of, and we were also expanding Sandy’s part. Luckily, when she read the script, she said she loved it and wanted to play Sandy. With Thomasin, I’d seen her in [Debra Granik’s] Leave No Trace [2018], which was incredible. It’s such a naturalistic performance.”

For the Los Angeles Times, Josh Rottenberg talks with Denis Villeneuve and the screenwriters he worked with, Eric Roth and Jon Spaihts, about adapting Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic Dune. “It's a wild and woolly universe with deep mysticism, complex politics, different rivers of thought running through it,” says Spaihts. “It would be very easy to take the source material and make a cerebral project that sort of wanders off into the philosophical bushes.” To avoid that, Villeneuve says his aim was “to start from scratch and go back to . . . the essence of the book. The book was the bible. I kept saying to my crew, ‘I want the people who love the book to feel that we put a camera in their mind as they were reading.’”

As Paul Atreides, who may turn out to be the messianic leader of the oppressed people living on the desolate planet Arrakis, Timothée Chalamet leads a cast that includes Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Jason Momoa, Stellan Skarsgard, Charlotte Rampling, and an actor whom Villeneuve found truly inspiring, Zendaya. Talking to Deadline’s Joe Utichi, Chalamet says that “from the perspective of how long the shoot for Dune was, and also the arc that Paul Atreides is on, as well as the huge love and almost biblical connection that so many people have for the book and the original film, it really felt . . . tectonic, if that’s the right word for it. Just getting to this finish line feels like: phew.”

Eleven Days

As Variety prepares to give an award for international achievement to the festival and its artistic director, Alberto Barbera, Nick Vivarelli reports on how Barbera has turned Venice into an awards season launching pad. Vivarelli also discusses how the Biennale College Cinema, cocreated by Barbera and the Torino Film Lab’s Savina Neirotti, has played a crucial role in the development of such projects as Tim Sutton’s Memphis (2013), Anna Rose Holmer’s The Fits (2015), and Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese’s This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection (2019).

This year’s edition will run through September 11, and this morning, the jury gathered to talk to the press. Jury president Bong Joon Ho said that the pandemic has felt “like a test” in that it has “showed the life force of cinema. As a filmmaker, I don’t believe that . . . cinema could be stopped so easily. So COVID will pass and cinema will continue.”

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