In the first few days, Venice boss Alberto Barbera likes to flex his muscles, which is also due to the tight festival calendar at the beginning of September. Friday is the showcase for the film industry this year, with three world premieres that were on everyone’s lips long before the program was announced.
And no muscle game in Hollywood – apart from the long-awaited Bond film – is more impressive in 2021 than Denis Villeneuve’s science fiction epic “Dune”. Studio Warner has carted half the cast to the Lido: a guarantee for a humorous press conference and a prepandemic crowd on the red carpet, despite privacy protection.
Sheer size is the motto of “Dune”, which Villeneuve does not want to be understood as a remake of Davis Lynch’s version from the eighties, but as an independent adaptation of Frank Herbert’s cycle of novels; more precisely, the first three books. Villeneuve rigorously tightened the psychoactive excess of the Lynch film, with the consequence that it is now all the more evident how much influence Herbert obviously had on George Lucas and “Star Wars”.
“Dune” is designed for maximum overwhelming
“Dune” takes its material completely without humor. The film tells the exploitation of natural resources, intergalactic messianism and the overlap between mythology and politics as a Greek tragedy; he is getting back to the heart of Herbert’s story. The dynasty, from which Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) descends, is based on the ruler of Mycenae, whose ancestors clashed with the gods. After the fall of his father (Oscar Isaac), he has to find his calling in the desert, on the planet Arrakis, which is inhabited by the warlike nomadic people of the Fremen.
Like last year “Tenet”, “Dune” is primarily a business card for the cinema – and therefore perfect festival material. The walls of the venerable Palazzo del Cinema have probably not vibrated so violently for a long time, sound and images – music: Hans Zimmer – are designed to be overwhelmed to the max.
Starting spaceships (the dragonfly-like fighters are among the most original designs), burning refineries, glittering “spice”, the galaxy’s most valuable resource in the desert air, gigantic sandworms: Villeneuve says he shot his film for Imax cinemas. As an authorship of a blockbuster, that is probably the highest of feelings today.
An author three numbers smaller, but just as popular in Venice, is Chilean Pablo Larraín, who, following his Jackie Kennedy biopic with Natalie Portman, brought Kristen Stewart to the Lido as Princess Diana this year. His “Jackie” is of course the reference for “Spencer”, even if the pop culture capital of the two icons comes from different eras.
Larraín and Stewart have a much harder time. Diana pictures circulate in the media to this day, she is – not least because of the recent scandal with her BBC interview in 1995 and the fourth season of “The Crown” – still ubiquitous 25 years after her death.
Larraín and his author Steven Knight therefore have to take greater liberties with the character Diana Spencer in their version – with mixed results. “Spencer” plays a few years before the BBC interview, on a Christmas weekend at the Sandringham House estate (shot at Marquardt Castle in Potsdam). Kristen Stewart drives up to the celebrations in the Porsche and initially takes the wrong exit, even though the house where she was born is only a few fields away. “Where am I?” She asks the astonished country folk. The sentence becomes the motto of Larraín’s film.
Lady Di sabotages the pheasant hunt
The director wants Diana to be a style icon – she travels with a mobile closet for the weekend (a dream made of merino wool, silk and shoulder pads, a different outfit for every meal) – as well as a self-determined princess. On these Christmas days, in the oppressive narrowness of the magnificent country estate, the decision is made to part with Charles. The biggest difference to “Jackie” is that Portman disappeared behind the role, while Stewart hijacked her character with a mixture of desperation and newly awakened courage.
The paradox is that “Spencer” remains predictable on the one hand, but then again and again erratic moments flash up. Kristen Stewart in rubber boots in the pasture or as a saboteur on the royal pheasant hunt. The newly won freedom is a miracle: “All I Need is a Miracle”, Diana, Harry and William sing at the end in the open convertible.
Another 80s hit has a special place in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s enigmatic and beautiful film adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s novel “The Lost Daughter”. Olivia Colman dances to Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” at a beach party; it is the moment in the film that briefly opens a window into those twenty years in the life of her Harvard professor, which Gyllenhaal omits in her portrait of a “bad mother” as generously as it is artistically. The first days of Venice belong to women. Above all, Gyllenhaal’s film is unavoidable this year.