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2023’s Gold and Silver Lions

Ramy Youssef and Emma Stone in Yorgos Lanthimos’s Poor Things (2023)

Yorgos Lanthimos’s Poor Things, starring and coproduced by Emma Stone, won the Golden Lion over the weekend. As Jessica Kiang points out in the New York Times, this startling fable about a grown woman with the mind of a child was one of a good handful of films in Venice depicting women “chafing against the restrictive, but often luxurious, enclosures built by controlling men.” Tracing thematic threads through any festival’s lineup can seem like a reach, but Kiang’s got the receipts. Besides Stone’s Bella, the Venice 80 competition presented Penélope Cruz in Michael Mann’s Ferrari, Carey Mulligan in Bradley Cooper’s Maestro, and Cailee Spaeny—who won the Volpi Cup for Best Actress—in Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla.

There were other echoes, too, all up and down the Lido this year. Contract killers popped up, their hammers cocked and ready, in David Fincher’s The Killer, Richard Linklater’s Hit Man, Harmony Korine’s Aggro Dr1ft, Woody Allen’s Coup de chance, and Robert Lorenz’s Liam Neeson vehicle, In the Land of Saints and Sinners. More urgently, several films took on Europe’s ongoing immigration crisis, and two of them won awards, Matteo Garrone’s Io capitano and Agnieszka Holland’s Green Border.

Top Lions

We took a first look at Poor Things last week, and we’ll surely take another when the film screens at the New York Film Festival. For now, let’s just note that the Telegraph’s Robbie Collin calls it “an exultantly raunchy and macabre gothic comedy,” while AnOther Magazine’s Alex Denney finds that Lanthimos and screenwriter Tony McNamara’s adaptation of Alasdair Gray’s 1992 novel is “an antic, libidinous affair that rivals the Greek director’s Oscar-winning last film, The Favourite, in imparting tragicomic force to his trademark theater of the absurd.”

Damien Chazelle presided over a jury that included Saleh Bakri, Jane Campion, Mia Hansen-Løve, Gabriele Mainetti, Martin McDonagh, Santiago Mitre, Laura Poitras, and Shu Qi, and the Grand Jury Prize, a Silver Lion, went to Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Evil Does Not Exist. “In some ways, the birth of this film is an accident,” Hamaguchi tells Deadline’s Zac Ntim. The project grew organically out of a request from singer-songwriter Eiko Ishibashi, who composed the music for Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car (2021). She was looking for visuals to accompany her concert performances, so the two of them traveled late in 2021 to her small hometown in the Japanese countryside.

Hamaguchi shaped some of the forest imagery he shot there into a non-narrative piece, Gift, which will premiere next month when Ishibashi performs at Film Fest Gent. His performers, though, became characters in a story that took shape in a screenplay Hamaguchi completed in January 2022. Two Tokyo sales reps arrive in the village to sell the few thousand residents on the glamping—i.e., glamorous camping—project their company will build there—with or without their approval.

“The mood here is steady, inexorable dread à la Hamaguchi’s former teacher and sometime collaborator, Kiyoshi Kurosawa,” writes Adam Nayman for Cinema Scope. “Understandably, a lot of the early attention has focused on the film’s abrupt and enigmatic wind-up, which is fair enough given its power, but it’s not as if it’s come out of nowhere; like the best horror movies, Evil Does Not Exist interweaves ellipticism and plangency on a molecular level until they’re somehow one and the same.” Screening this week in Toronto before heading to New York, the film has also won a FIPRESCI Award from the International Federation of Film Critics.

“Painfully Palpable”

Matteo Garrone won the Silver Lion for Best Director and Seydou Sarr won the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actor for his portrayal of a Senegalese teen trekking from Dakar to an over-crammed boat departing for Europe from Tripoli in Io capitano. The harrowing journey showcases Garrone’s “most robust, purely satisfying filmmaking since his international breakthrough with Gomorrah fifteen years ago,” writes Guy Lodge for Variety. “A local TikTok star who also contributes multiple songs to the film’s vibrant Afropop soundtrack, Sarr has the natural, immediate screen magnetism necessary to carry a narrative that could risk becoming a litany of abuses and indignities visited upon the protagonist who shares his name.”

Agnieszka Holland’s Green Border, the winner of the Special Jury Prize, is a “profoundly moving, flawlessly executed multi-strand drama,” writes Leslie Felperin in the Hollywood Reporter. Late in the summer of 2021, Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko called on refugees from North Africa and the Middle East to use his country as a gateway to the European Union. Once these refugees crossed the border into Poland, though, Polish guards pushed them back, and as Felperin puts it, the refugees became “pawns in a gruesome game of ‘pass the parcel.’” While “the violence shown isn’t gratuitous, the suffering in Green Border is painfully palpable.”

Last Monday, Zbigniew Ziobro, Poland’s justice minister, tweeted: “In the Third Reich, the Germans produced propaganda films showing Poles as bandits and murderers. Today, they have Agnieszka Holland for that.” Infuriated, Holland has demanded an apology and threatened to sue for defamation. “In our country,” she said on Wednesday, “which experienced death, cruelty, and the suffering of millions during World War II, a comparison to the perpetrators of these events is extremely painful and requires an appropriate response . . . Our film is an attempt to give a voice to those who have no voice.” Green Border screens this week in Toronto and next month in New York.

Guillermo Calderón and Pablo Larraín won the award for Best Screenplay for El Conde, in which Jaime Vadell plays Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet as a 250-year-old vampire. We surveyed early reviews last week, and there are still a few days to catch El Conde in theaters before Netflix begins streaming it on Friday. “To transfigure a human villain into a demonic one, ostensibly the ultimate moral indictment, in practice amounts to a kind of cinematic vindication,” writes Justin Chang in the Los Angeles Times. “As a gorgeously conceptual art-horror object, El Conde frequently mesmerizes; as a proper evisceration of its subject, it can’t help but feel curiously defanged.”

Understated Performances

Drawn from Priscilla Presley’s 1985 memoir Elvis and Me, writer and director Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla is a “cool, unhurried movie” that’s “firmly anchored by a spectacularly modulated performance by Cailee Spaeny,” writes Glenn Kenny at RogerEbert.com. “The twenty-five-year-old plays fourteen so damn well that the viewer almost doubts that she’ll be able to credibly age into a woman nearing thirty. But she does, beautifully.” Priscilla will be the NYFF’s Centerpiece presentation and then screen in London before opening in theaters on November 3.

When Peter Sarsgaard stepped up onto the stage to accept his Volpi Cup for Best Actor, it was clear that he had a few things on his mind. Italian actress Caterina Murino, who was hosting the ceremony, told him to take all the time he needed, and he did. He recalled discovering as a young man the power of human connection in art, and he then turned to the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. “All of the issues regarding fair pay are important, but the issue that’s stuck with me is AI,” he said. Sarsgaard warned that the “holy experience of being human will be handed over to the machines and the eight billionaires who own them. If we lose that battle in the strike, our industry will be the first of many to fall.”

Sarsgaard plays Saul, a man suffering from early onset dementia in Michel Franco’s Memory, which screens this week in Toronto. Saul latches on to Sylvia (Jessica Chastain), a recovering alcoholic and single mother who works in an adult daycare center. “Franco’s somber drama about the ghosts of the past has a lot on its mind, and not all of it makes sense,” writes Vulture’s Bilge Ebiri. “But its two leads are so good together, so weirdly right together, that everything slips away and you just watch them.” The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney finds that Sarsgaard is “particularly strong here, fully inhabiting Saul’s vulnerability and his dazed embarrassment when he’s suddenly out of his depth, but nonetheless summoning moments of strength and assertiveness.”

Orizzonti

Like Un Certain Regard in Cannes, the Orizzonti program spotlights fresh talent, and Jonas Carpignano presided over this year’s jury. “Even as it plays out on a specifically Hungarian social landscape,” writes Guy Lodge in his review of the winner of the Orizzonti Award for Best Film, “the satire of Gábor Reisz’s astute, drily funny third feature Explanation for Everything—in which an underachieving high-schooler becomes a right-wing cause célèbre on the strength of some dicey tabloid reporting—resonates more widely.”

Mika Gustafson won Best Director for Paradise Is Burning, in which three young sisters decide to find a stand-in for their missing mother when social services come calling. Alain Parroni tells a thematically adjacent story of three rough teens wandering aimlessly in and around Rome in An Endless Sunday, the winner of the Special Jury Prize and a FIPRESCI Award. Margarita Rosa de Francisco won Best Actress for playing a drug-dealing mother in El paraíso, for which writer and director Enrico Maria Artale won Best Screenplay. And the Best Actor award went to Tergel Bold-Erdene for his portrayal of a seventeen-year-old shaman in Lkhagvadulam Purev-Ochir’s City of Wind.

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