As Venice Winds Down, Takeaways From The Lido: Controversy & Compelling Cinema

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The Venice Film Festival hands out its prizes tonight, drawing to a close after a tumultuous 11 days marked by a strong lineup, but punctuated by its fair share of controversy.

Coming onto the Lido this year, we expected ongoing hand-wringing over Netflix’s presence here and further discussion of the gender parity issue — particularly given only one female filmmaker had a movie in the main competition which sent up giant red flags when the list was first revealed. The topic made for lively discussion, some progress, and in one case a very distasteful incident. We also expected a fireworks display of serious awards contenders which kicked off with the opening night screening of Damien Chazelle’s Neil Armstrong story First Man — warmly embraced, it also led to an absurd online backlash over the lack of a flag-planting scene from people who have not seen the film.

Netflix of course loomed large — as, oddly, did Steve Bannon — while Lady Gaga made a huge splash here on the island in the world premiere of Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born.

The latter is not in the Venice competition so will not figure when Guillermo del Toro’s jury gives its final read tonight, a year after del Toro scooped the Golden Lion with The Shape Of Water which rode the wave all the way to a Best Picture Oscar.


Del Toro’s pal Alfonso Cuaron generated some of the most buzz here with black-and-white Mexican drama Roma. But del Toro said from the outset it wouldn’t matter if a movie was from Mexico or Australia or anywhere else in the final deliberations. Amongst Italian critics, Roma is the best reviewed movie here while a public poll by the fest’s official magazine favors The Lives Of Others Oscar winner Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s Never Look Away and Jacques Audiard’s The Sisters Brothers. They rank Roma just below those, but also on par with the Coen Brothers’ The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs which most people we’ve spoken with are not so hot on.

Also drawing praise is Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite, a likely contender tonight. As with last year’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, which left the Lido with Best Screenplay before going onto two Oscars and myriad other gold, this is a co-fi from Fox Searchlight and the UK’s Film4. Arguably Lanthimos’ most commercial work, it features a trio of strong performances from its leading ladies Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman.


Despite the lack of women behind the camera, the competition was notable for strong female roles. That includes Roma, Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria, Brady Corbet’s Vox Lux, Pablo Trapero’s La Quietud and, out of competition, Gaga’s fronting of the latest Star Is Born.

Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale also has a woman front and center in Game Of Thrones’ Aisling Franciosi. The brutal film received mixed reaction, and a particularly eggregious turn of events at the first press screening which caused the festival to yank the accreditation of a member of the Italian press.

In other contenders here, Paul Greengrass’ 22 July, about the aftermath of the 2011 Norway Attacks that left 77 dead, was greeted with an extended standing ovation (as were Roma and others) and had real-life survivors in attendance. Anders Danielsen Lie gives an impressive turn as terrorist Anders Behring Breivik — but one wonders if a jury gives a prize to someone playing such a loathsome criminal.

22 July is one of the Netflix competition titles here, along with Roma and Buster Scruggs. Mid-fest, the International Confederation of Art Cinemas criticized their inclusion, calling on fest chief Alberto Barbera to keep competition slots for “works of art that will be seen in cinemas internationally.” Still, each of those titles is getting an awards-qualifying theatrical run domestically.

Also high on critics lists is Audiard’s western The Sisters Brothers from Annapuna. Audiard delivered a pointed argument at his press conference on the subject of female represetation, laying a lot of the blame at the feet of festivals themselves which are by and large run by men (at least at the top). His film, however, features no women in lead roles.

The festival ultimately signed a gender-parity charter, matching that of Cannes and other fests, during the event and promised a panel on gender equality next year.

While the world’s oldest film festival has been at the forefront of some progressive moves, like including Netflix which it first did back in 2015 with Beasts Of No Nation, and running a Virtual Reality competition, its track record with women threatens to continue to be an issue.


Barbara told Deadline last week, “The situation isn’t acceptable at all but it’s not up to the festival director to change that situation… The industry is a male industry and there is prejudice.” He also remained firm on the criteria for building the official selection. ” I won’t change my criteria, which is only based on the quality of the film.”

One thing to consider for the coming years is what the make-up of the top ranks here will look like. La Biennale President Paolo Baratta’s mandate is up in 2019 meaning there will be a new board and President in 2020. Barbera’s contract has two years to go. The latter reinvigorated Venice in the past several years, making the Lido a serious awards-season launchpad.

Asked by Deadline if he would like to stay on, Barbera said, “It depends on the board and Biennale President… The President is appointed by the Italian Minister of Culture. It’s impossible to predict.”

Also impossible to predict is who will walk away with prizes tonight. We’ll be back later this evening to follow the awards ceremony live.

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