There was sustained applause in the Sala Darsena this morning as La La Land, Damien Chazelle’s ode to old Hollywood, screened for the on-the-ground press corps here in Venice. The room was hooked from the dazzling opening song-and-dance number set on a clogged Los Angeles freeway — during which Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling’s lead characters meet (not-so) cute for the first time.
The audience’s enthusiastic response has been echoed by critics, Deadline’s Pete Hammond calls it “a gorgeous romantic fever dream of a musical.” Outside the theater this morning, there were smiles and a fair few tears with “magnifico” overheard more than once. Twitter likes it, too — it’s been quickly moving up the trending list here in Italy (and in Spain).
Apart from the huzzahs, the debut of La La Land also brings with it the start of Fall Festival Season and Venice is on the front line. The world’s oldest fest has been invigorated over the past several years under the stewardship of artistic director Alberto Barbera. Since his return to the Lido in 2012, Venice has consistently served up the world premieres of movies that have gone on to figure heavily in the awards conversation. To name just a few: Gravity, Birdman, Spotlight.
Judging by the reaction to La La Land — which Lionsgate releases domestically December 16 — the trend should continue. There are many more high-profile pics on deck in the coming days which will begin their careers under sunny Italian skies before heading to Telluride and Toronto, in many cases. Up tomorrow is Derek Cianfrance’s The Light Between Oceans with Venice vets Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander, as well as Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi drama Arrival which stars Amy Adams.
She is doing double duty here with Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals launching on Friday. Both of those films were the subject of splashy buys in Cannes in 2014 and 2015, respectively, and anticipation is high. Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts are also due in town to support out-of-competition boxing biopic The Bleeder.
The weekend will include the debut of the latest from François Ozon, Frantz, while, high on the wanna-see list, Mel Gibson will unveil his war drama Hacksaw Ridge out of competiton.
Next week will see the return of Terrence Malick to the Lido whose Voyage Of Time is in competition as is Oscar nominee Pablo Larrain’s first English-language effort, Jackie starring Natalie Portman as the former First Lady in the days following the assassination of John F Kennedy.
Sam Mendes is president of the jury here this year where the panels can often throw curveballs. It’s worth noting that some of those movies that have gone onto Oscar glory have also left the Lido empty-handed — but that has hardly seemed to matter.
Turning back to La La Land, it’s a perfect Venice movie and an inspired choice to lift the curtain here. Its glamour and retro/contemporary style seem to mirror the tradition and innovation that this very accessible festival is all about.