At its halfway mark, Venice 66 Competition has turned the tables on last year, with Marco Mueller’s sixth selection revealing some unexpected gems and few - if any – disappointments thus far.
The Lido site itself is under construction, with temporary structures and blocked off roads and internet access slower than ever before, but the mood amongst festival-goers is palpably brighter as the line-up plays out.
Coming hot on the heels of a very well-received Cannes, Venice 2009 is so far showcasing world cinema at a high, even if the market for this fare is – at least temporarily – frozen. Going into the second half is traditionally a lull-time, although the pace should pick up again on Thursday and Friday with The Hole, A Single Man and Mr Nobody, and there’s always George Clooney, in today (Tuesday) with The Men Who Stare At Goats, well received at the critic’s screening this morning.
So far, word has been strong on Competition titles Life During Wartime, a follow-up of sorts to Happiness (the same characters, different actors, ten years later) from Todd Solondz and a US deal is rumoured. Other favourites are Lourdes, an unexpectedly restrained and delicate take on the French religious shrine from Austria’s Jessica Hausner; and Capitalism: A Love Story, Michael Moore’s latest sharp dart into the bosom of America’s capitalist elite.
Samuel Moaz’s claustrophobic Lebanon, set entirely inside a beseiged tank on the first day of the Lebanon War in 1982, has drawn raves and comparisons - if not superlatives - to Waltz With Bashir.
Although more commercially-challenging prospects, Claire Denis’s White Material, with Isabelle Huppert as a desperate white plantation owner in Africa, was typically engrossing and challenging, and John Hillcoat’s wrenching The Road, his adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s bleak post-apocalyptic vision, was unforgettable.
Werner Herzog has won an indulgent reception for Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans – a loopy, often funny reinterpretation of Abel Ferrara’s original – but his other Venice Competition title, My Son, My Son, WhatHave Ye Done, premiered to a less enthusiastic response.
And there was excitement about some films outside the main selection as well – the documentary Silvio Berlusconi would happily bury, Videocracy, drew warm applause, while I Am Love (Io Sono L’Amore), a collaboration between Luca Guadagnino and Tilda Swinton (after The Protagonists), was unexpectedly engrossing and impeccably stylish.
There has been critical acceptance, if not raves, for other Competition titles such as Baaria, Prince of Tears, Accident and Patrice Chereau’s dissonant Persecution, although Monday’s Sri Lankan title Between Two Worlds may mark a change in the tide of opinion.
This is typically the time when buyers fly out of Venice, bound for Toronto, but acquisitions executives have been in somewhat short supply on the Lido; press presence, however, has been very strong. Some 26 titles are flying to Toronto from Venice, many of them on the warm air of positive notices and sales deals are expected on some of the titles so far screened.