The Venice Film Festival is the oldest film festival in the world, dating back from 1932, and, may I add, the most glamorous one – what better location than Venice, the city that has grasped our imaginations for so long? “Venice has been painted and described many thousands of times,” Henry James wrote, “and of all the cities of the world is the easiest to visit without going there.” The 73rd edition of this premier festival that is part of the “Big Three”, alongside the Cannes Film Festival and the Berlin International Film Festival, kicks off today, but out of respect for the Umbrian earthquake victims, it has cancelled its opening ceremony.
I don’t want to say that cinema is not what it used to be anymore, because there are still good movies being made today which give me hope. But the truth is they really don’t make movies like they used to. As for the notion of movie star, it has completely altered its meaning. This can be easily reflected in the photos taken of the actors and actresses attending the festivals. The glamour, class and mystery are gone. And, no, glamour, class and mystery will never be old-fashioned. Furthermore, I would just like to say that I really don’t like the idea of an actor or actress being on Instagram, much less following them (except for Naomi Watts – I just love her), unless it reflects exclusively their work, like in the case of Leonardo diCaprio – that is an act of class. Maybe it’s just me, but if there is no trace of privacy, I tend to lose interest in watching them onscreen and immerse in their characters.
“It brought the cream of the A list,” Russell Blackmore, the founder of Sonic Editions, the repository that produces prints of iconic 20th-century photography, was telling Mr. Porter a couple of years ago about the yesteryear of the festival. “Today you have scrums of paparazzi all taking the same pictures against the same promotional backdrops. But back then you had a few local photographers with inside knowledge, working their beat. They got their tip-offs from the gondoliers or the hotel concierges so that they were in the right place at the right time to get some candid shots.”
Photographers were looking to capture iconic faces in situations you wouldn’t normally expect them, unstudied, with an element of surprise. Like Elizabeth Taylor looking completely at ease and content in trousers on the pier, or Gene Tierney and Monica Vitti in simple t-shirts. And Paul Newman wearing a tuxedo and still being impossibly cool in that famous shot in a water taxi in Venice in 1963, with Piazza San Marco in the background.
The poster for the 73rd Venice International Film Festival, whose jury will be presided by Sam Mendes, unveils an image described as the “moment of expectation” of cinema. An anonymous spectator adorns the poster, inviting the viewer to feel the imminent moment right before the screening of a film at the festival. I think this feeling applies to any film lover right before watching a movie at the cinema.
This year, Damien Chezelle’s musical, La La Land, will open the festival, following up his 2014 much acclaimed Whiplash. “I was so honored to get the invitation to open Venice,” said Chazelle. “It’s the kind of place that seems to belong in a dream. That’s the feeling I wanted to capture with this movie: the way things look and sound in a dream, the magic and the romance of it all.”
The line-up includes 20 movies competing for the Golden Lion, of which here are some others that have caught my interest: Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals (his 2009 debut feature The Single Man also premiered at Venice), starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams, Derek Cianfrance’s The Light Between Oceans (the director’s The Place Beyond the Pines remains one of the best movies of recent years), Andrei Konchalovsky’s Paradise, Terrence Malick’s decades-in-the-making documentary Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey, narrated by Cate Blanchett, Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, with Amy Adams – the filmmaker’s Sicario is probably my favourite movie of last year. Notably, Birdman and Spotlight, which won the Oscar for best picture in the last two years, respectively (but, most importantly, which are remarkable films), both premiered in Venice. So it seems that the Venice fest has become Hollywood’s awards-season launchpad.
Akira Kurosawa’s Rashōmon, René Clément’s Jeux interdits, Alain Resnais’ Last Year in Marienbad, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood, Luis Buñuel’s Belle de jour, Louis Malle’s’ Au revoir les enfants, John Cassavetes’ Gloria, Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colours: Blue all won the Golden Lion. These are all films that have stuck with me ever since I watched the very first time.
To get in the mood while the festival is underway, here are a few great movies set in Venice, from Summertime (1955) and Casino Royale (2006), to The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), Don’t Look Now (1973) and Everyone Says I Love You (1996).
photos: 1-4: Archivio Cameraphoto / 5-official poster for the 73rd edition of the Venice Film Festival, designed by Simone Massi / 6-collage by me, clockwise from top left movie stills from Summertime (1955, United Artists), The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999, Miramax/Paramount Pictures), Casino Royale (2006, Columbia Pictures), Don’t Look Now (1973, Casey Productions/Eldorado Films)