The 78th edition of the Venice International Film Festival starts on Wednesday with an old master and a good dose of self-confidence. And a film that you could almost think you’ve seen before in its direction. “Madres paralelas”, roughly “Mother at the same time”, is the latest work by Pedro Almodovar, who tells the story of two women who become pregnant unplanned.
And if a woman is expecting a child at Almodovar, then a name is not far off. Penelope Cruz’s. And indeed, one can remember a classic from the Spaniard’s handwriting.
In “Carne Tremula” (“Live Flesh” / “With skin and hair”) from 1997, Cruz plays the prostitute Isabel Plaza, who gives birth to a child in a bus on a deserted street. Javier Bardem, Cruz’s husband, was also in the film this year. And it stands to reason that the critics will look for the self-quote that Almodovar loved so much for this opening film.
In addition to the European cinema and the eagerly awaited new work by the Italian master Paolo Sorrentino (“La Grande Belleza”), who is returning to the Naples of his youth with “E stata la Mano di Dio”, Venice is, one can say almost traditional, under the sign of US cinema. While there were noticeably few US films to be seen in Cannes, Hollywood has obviously been waiting for the festival in the lagoon city. Several large studio productions are on the program at the Lido.
The comeback of “Dune”
Ridley Scott’s action spectacle “The Last Duel” with Matt Damon, Adam Driver and Ben Affleck celebrates its premiere, as does Jamie Lee Curtis in the sequel to the horror shock “Halloween Kills”. The eagerly anticipated new edition of the science fiction epic “Dune” will also be shown in Venice, for which Denis Villeneuve with Timothee Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgard, Charlotte Rampling and Javier Bardem have an unusually large number of stars Camera could get.
Hollywood’s interest in the Venice Film Festival is linked to the Oscar award. Several Oscar winners from previous years, such as “Nomadland”, “Joker” and “Shape of Water”, were first seen in Venice. After “Madres paralelas”, 20 further entries will also compete for the Golden Lion for the best film in the following days. One of them is “Spencer”, a drama about Princess Diana with Kristen Stewart in the lead role, which was filmed largely in Germany.
Paul Schrader, who wrote the scripts for “Taxi Driver” and “Wie ein Wilder Stier”, shows “The Card Counter” with Oscar Isaac and Willem Dafoe. With “Competencia oficial” Penelope Cruz also appears several times in the competition. With her already tried and tested counterpart Antonio Banderas, she can be seen here in a satire about the film business.
Women directors who could stir up the competition
Some women could stir up the competition this year, so the critics expected. Five of the 21 competition entries are from a female director. Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, for example, is making her directorial debut with “The Lost Daughter” based on a novel by Elena Ferrante and hiring Olivia Colman and Dakota Johnson for it. Jane Campion is a female directing heavyweight, who of course also knows how to divide opinions. The New Zealander, who celebrated a worldwide success with “Das Piano” almost 30 years ago, is back after a long break from cinema. In their “The Power of the Dog”, Benedict Cumberbatch and Jesse Plemons play alongside Kirsten Dunst a pair of brothers whose lives are suddenly turned upside down.
Festival director Barbera: “Pandemic as a creative boost”
He had the impression “as if the pandemic had served to stimulate creativity and raise the bar for quality,” said festival director Alberto Barbera in advance. He was unable to include many films in the program due to lack of space.
Venice Film Festival begins
Under the jury chairmanship of the Korean director Bong Joon Ho, 21 feature films are competing for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival this year. Hollywood stars like Ben Affleck, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kristen Stewart and Matt Damon have confirmed their attendance.
In any case, Barbera, who has directed the Venice festival since 2012, has succeeded in significantly rejuvenating the Mostra Internazionale D’Arte Cinematografica. And part of his recipe for success is aligning Venice as a stepping stone towards the Oscars. Next spring at the latest it will show whether Barbera had the knack for the right films again.