The Venice Film Festival draws to a close this evening, when prizes will be handed out by Lucrecia Martel’s jury. It’s been a hot 10 days on the Lido, and not just because the mercury was stifling throughout. We expected controversy coming in, and certainly the inclusion of Roman Polanski’s An Officer And A Spy in competition caused a stir at the outset — Martel on opening day seemed to suggest she might not give the film a fair shake, only to clarify her remarks 24 hours later.
It was relatively smooth sailing from then on, with pictures vying for the Golden Lion generally well-received. Much attention focused on Warner Bros’ Joker and Netflix’s Marriage Story which both got extended standing ovations.
It ain’t over til it’s over, however, and early this morning a protest broke out on the red carpet. About 200 people from the No Large Ships committee occupied the area in front of the Palazzo del Cinema. A peaceful proceeding, it focused largely on climate change. The local police presence has been reinforced, according to Rai News. It remains to be seen if this will cause any disruption to this evening’s awards ceremony, although the Venice Climate Camp Facebook page also appears to be calling for action at 5pm tonight.
Turning back to the films, Polanski’s movie was certainly well received by non-U.S. critics, scoring 4.5 stars with the Italian contingent, and landing as the 2nd most praised among international critics in polls published in the fest’s official daily. Watchers we spoke with are skeptical the film ascends the Sala Grande stage for a major prize tonight, although the Italian critics last year heavily favored eventual Golden Lion winner Roma and have been predictive in the past. Still, Martel has “some hesitation” on Polanski, Venice chief Alberto Barbera confirmed to Deadline mid-fest, but he also said he does not believe there will be any prejudice in the deliberations.
Whatever the outcome, An Officer And A Spy is not expected to be a factor in the Oscar conversation (though France could conceivably submit it), while other Venice titles with major promise are just getting going. The festival has world premiered a Best Picture winner three out of the last five years, even if each of the eventual Academy Awards laureates did not debut in Competition (think: Spotlight).
Of high-profile competition films that screened through Thursday, among the best received are Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, Todd Phillips’ Joker, Steven Soderbergh’s The Laundromat and James Gray’s Ad Astra. (Oscar nominee Ciro Guerra’s Waiting For The Barbarians, starring Mark Rylance, Johnny Depp and Robert Pattinson screened Friday and was generally well-received.)
Venice has been the launchpad for the last three years’ Best Actress winners: Olivia Colman (The Favourite), Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri) and Emma Stone (La La Land). McDormand, however, did not win the Volpi Cup on the Lido whereas the other two did. Among the favorites this year are Marriage Story‘s Scarlett Johansson, while there’s also buzz around China’s Gong Li (Saturday Fiction) and feature newcomer Mariana di Girolamo (Ema).
There has been little Oscar crossover for the men in the past, but that could change this year. Both Marriage Story’s Adam Driver and Joker’s Joaquin Phoenix are considered frontrunners. They are also previous winners on the Lido, with 2014’s Hungry Hearts and 2012’s The Master, respectively. If either repeats a Volpi Cup win, they would join only six other men to have achieved the feat in 76 years.
Outside the marquee titles, Italy’s Martin Eden, which Kino Lorber acquired for North America on Friday, is seen as a comer. Directed by Pietro Marcello, it’s an adaptation of the 1909 Jack London novel about a young man (Luca Marinelli) trying to rise above his circumstances and become a member of the literary elite.
This is proving a tougher year than most to call in terms of which way the wind will blow through Martel’s jury, and speculation has been the panel may look to make a statement with its Golden Lion winner. Václav Marhoul’s The Painted Bird, an adaptation of Jerzy Kosinski’s contentious 1965 novel, ruffled some feathers and could be in the mix.
Out of competition, there was no splashy Lady Gaga/Star Is Born moment, although there was excitement surrounding The King, David Michod’s Netflix drama starring Timothée Chalamet, and Kristen Stewart’s turn in Amazon’s Seberg.
Speaking of streaming, Netflix didn’t appear to catch as much flack as it has in years past, though the fest received criticism for including its films in the lineup. Instead, there’s now something of a ritual in press screenings with a smattering of cheers and hisses heard when the big Netflix logo appears before a film. All in good fun, evidently, since the clamors were also regularly followed by in-unison chuckles.
We’ll be back later today with the winners.