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All the Lions and the Volpi Cups

Laura Poitras’s All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (2022)

After Chloé Zhao (Nomadland) and Audrey Diwan (Happening), Laura Poitras is now the third consecutive female director to win the Golden Lion in Venice. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, her documentary about the art and activism of photographer Nan Goldin, is only the second nonfiction film to win the festival’s top prize; the first was Gianfranco Rosi’s Sacro GRA (2013). All the Beauty screens tomorrow and Saturday in Toronto, and then at festivals in New York and London in October. Neon—which is also distributing this year’s winner of the Palme d’Or in Cannes, Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness—is currently planning on a theatrical release that will overlap with This Will Not End Well, an exhibition of Goldin’s work on view at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm from October 29 through February 26.

With My Country, My Country (2006), The Oath (2010), and Citizenfour (2014), Poitras probed the aftermath of the War on Terror, America’s long and costly response to the 9/11 attacks. Her films are “activism in the best sense: they gladly relinquish any detachment or objectivity in the face of injustice and deceit,” writes John Bleasdale at CineVue. For Ioncinema’s Nicholas Bell, All the Beauty—which tells the story behind Goldin’s campaign against the Sacklers, the billionaire family behind the making and marketing of the addictive medication OxyContin—is “one of Poitras’s most emotional and poetic offerings in a career built upon the pursuit of showcasing controversial issues and figures.”

When the awards were presented on Saturday evening, Alice Diop was called up to the stage twice—first to accept this year’s Lion of the Future, the festival’s award for a debut film, and then to receive a Silver Lion, the Grand Jury Prize. Saint Omer, in which a journalist becomes absorbed by the trial of a mother accused of killing her baby daughter, is indeed Diop’s first fictional feature, but not her debut film. Her documentary We (2021) revealed “a smothering blanket of racism that impacts daily lives,” writes Jay Weissberg at the Film Verdict. Saint Omer “brilliantly channels this constant undercurrent throughout the clean, rigidly structured script, using the original case to interrogate perception, truth, and the complex binds of motherhood.”

Luca Guadagnino won the Silver Lion for Best Director for Bones and All, and one of his stars, Taylor Russell, won the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actor or Actress. In the Los Angeles Times, Justin Chang observes that this “strange, tender, and frightening cannibal love story” has been “filmed in a rougher, less polished style than Guadagnino’s Italian-set dramas (I Am Love, A Bigger Splash, Call Me by Your Name), but it exerts its own earthy, dreamlike pull.”

Writer and director Martin McDonagh won the award for Best Screenplay for The Banshees of Inisherin, the story of the sudden end of the friendship between Pádraic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson), a farmer and a fiddler on an island off the coast of Ireland. It’s “a magnificent film,” declares Catherine Bray at Film of the Week, “by turns hilarious, touching, bleak, and wise.” Farrell, who won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor, “has always had a gift for pathos and his palpable disappointment—communicated by a face falling in upon itself—adds poignancy to an often brutal tale,” writes Donald Clarke in the Irish Times.

To the surprise of no one, the Volpi Cup for Best Actress went to Cate Blanchett for her portrayal of an immensely talented and imperious conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic in Todd Field’s TÁR. “What’s truly striking about her performance is that once the movie is over, it’s hard to conceive of a world where Lydia Tár doesn’t exist,” writes Vulture’s Bilge Ebiri. “I predict memes.”

On Friday, jury president Julianne Moore, festival director Alberto Barbera, and several filmmakers, including Audrey Diwan and Sally Potter, staged a silent protest on the red carpet, where they held up placards calling for the release of Jafar Panahi. Since 2010, when he was hit with a twenty-year ban on directing and traveling outside of Iran, Panahi has been making award-winning features that make the most of his limited resources and freedom of movement. Before he was arrested again in July—and this time, he was told that he would be serving out a six-year prison sentence handed down over a decade ago but never enforced—he managed to complete one more.

No Bears was awarded a Special Jury Prize, “a recognition that feels all too modest for a work this potent,” finds Leonardo Goi in the Notebook. It’s “a chronicle of a forced exile, told with the furious intimacy of a diary.” Playing himself—“unflappably calm to the point of opacity, eager to talk to or photograph strangers, bemused by the complications his theoretically forbidden presence brings about,” as Filmmaker’s Vadim Rizov describes the on-screen persona—Panahi is remotely directing a production set up just over the border to Turkey when he’s unwittingly dragged into the personal and political conflicts of an Iranian village. No Bears—screening in Toronto and heading to New York—is a “complex work of novelistic density” and “among the boldest and most accomplished statements from one of the world’s exemplary filmmakers,” writes Jonathan Romney in Screen.

Orizzonti

Another Iranian film topped the awards in Orizzonti, the section created in 2004 to showcase “new trends” in world cinema. World War III, directed by Houman Seyedi—who, as Deborah Young points out at the Film Verdict, “has been at the cutting edge of new Iranian cinema for the last ten years with groundbreakers like 13, a tale of teenage rebels, and Sheeple, a grungy actioner about a hoodlum with delusions of grandeur”—won Best Film and Best Actor. “Largely unspooling on the set of a bad film being made about the Holocaust,” writes Jonathan Holland in Screen, World War III “starts out as a jet-black comedy before darkening still further into tragedy, a journey embodied in an absorbing and extraordinary central performance by Mohsen Tanabandeh as the film’s downtrodden hero.”

Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel won the Best Director award and Vera Gemma, the daughter of Italian actor Giuliano Gemma, took Best Actress for her performance as a fictionalized version of herself in Vera. This is “a challenging film, a heart-wrenching meditation on aging and beauty in a culture driven by youth,” writes Matthew Joseph Jenner for the International Cinephile Society. Vera “undergoes various crises, whether tangible or those in which she questions her identity, resulting in one of the most complex and riveting character studies of the past year and a true gem of a film.”

Isabel Coixet and her jury awarded a Special Orizzonti Prize to Damian Kocur’s Bread and Salt, in which a pianist studying in Warsaw returns to his provincial hometown just as tensions are flaring between the locals and foreign workers. The award for Best Screenplay went to writer and director Fernando Guzzoni for Blanquita. “Inspired by the true story of the Chilean ‘Spiniak case,’ involving a child abuse ring, or probably way too many true stories, Fernando Guzzoni enters a relentlessly dark universe,” writes Marta Bałaga at Cineuropa. Stephen Saito notes that careful plotting maps out “how the decks are stacked against the most vulnerable. Blanquita, however, counters with considerable strength of its own.”

Giornate and Critics’ Week

On Friday, we took a quick look at Cláudia Varejão’s Wolf and Dog, the winner of the Giornate degli Autori Director’s Award, and Wissam Charaf’s Dirty Difficult Dangerous, which won the Europa Cinemas Label for the Best European Film in the independent program. Later that day, the Giornate announced that the ballots had been counted and that the winner of the Audience Award was British writer and director Georgia Oakley’s debut feature, Blue Jean. In Variety, Guy Lodge calls the film “a Thatcher-era period piece that crisply evokes that climate of politically propagated homophobia without preserving it in amber: It effectively puts the past in tacit dialogue with the present.”

Austrian director David Wagner won the Venice International Film Critics’ Week Grand Prize for Eismayer, a debut feature based on a true story. Charles Eismayer (Gerhard Liebmann) is “the most feared drill sergeant in all of Austria,” writes Susanne Gottlieb at Cineuropa. “A legendary breaker of spirits and shaper of soldiers. But Eismayer has a secret, and Mario [Luka Dimic] is the one to help him unveil it.” Screen’s Allan Hunter calls Eismayer “a lump-in-the-throat love story.”

The jury—filmmaker Rok Biček and curators Nico Marzano and Barbara Wurm—gave a special mention to Anhell69, which also won two film club awards and another for technical contribution. Written, directed, shot, and coedited by Colombian filmmaker Theo Montoya, Anhell69 is about “how hard it is to be young and queer in Medellín,” as Davide Abbatescianni writes at Cineuropa. “Montoya at some stage defines his work as a ‘trans film,’ and it may indeed be the right way to describe its hybrid nature, blending fiction and documentary, reality and imagination.”

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