Venice is over but the jury’s decisions could well have positive reverberations for Hollywood and its award season. Although it remains to be seen if the Golden Lion winner The Woman Who Left (from the Philippines) will get a box office boost – the almost four hours in length kept even lots of journalists away – but the other prizes bode well for their recipients. Venice has done very well in recent years as a predictor of Oscar honors with Gravity, Birdman and Spotlight all having their world premieres on the Lido. This time the mostly European jurors under president Sam Mendes proved their understanding of highly artistic talent by crowning Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals with the Grand Prize. This will surely give the film a better start in theaters as well as increase its potential for nominations. The same is almost a given for best actress winner Emma Stone who walked away with the coveted Coppa Volpi. Her movie, the incredibly well received La La Land may also profit hugely. In fact, if I had to wage a bet, this likeable modern hommage to the musicals of Hollywood’s golden era could easily win the Oscar for best film in a year where audiences and voters are worn out by the constant barrage of depressing world events and a negative news cycle never seen before. Remember, Hollywood has always chosen the lighter fare in war and other difficult times, and musicals and comedies have made big money at the box office as a counterpoint to a harsh reality.
A harsh reality could also be witnessed on the other side of the aisle: press attendance was at an all-time low, painful proof of the sad state the media business is in. Many publications simply cannot afford to send journalists and reviewers to expensive festivals any longer. And so the screenings were rarely full, no long lines in front of the theaters and tables at the conveniently located Lion’s Bar – so hard to come by in previous years – were easy to be found at any time of day or night. Dinner reservations on the Lido were not nearly as difficult to get, either. And even the usual traffic jams of pedestrians and bicycles on the three blocks of the Lungomare between the Excelsior Hotel, the Palazzo del Cinema and the press center at the Casino were harmless compared to the past. Only the tourist invasion on the first weekend made the walk or ride a little dangerous.
All this despite the fact that Venezia 73 was THE best festival I have attended in 25 years. Not just in comparison to other Venice years but including all of the three biggies (Berlin, Cannes, Venezia). The films in all sections were well chosen, with a wide variety of topics, genres and budgets. Kudos also to the programmers for not slapping a huge but completely festival-inappropriate Hollywood blockbuster onto the schedule, like Cannes has a tendency to do almost every year. The American-made films were carefully picked and not one of them was outright disappointing as is so often the case. From Mel Gibson’s perfectly crafted war drama Hacksaw Ridge to the likeable boxing film The Bleeder with Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts to the aforementioned La La Land and Nocturnal Animals and everything in between. The same can be said for the international selection with many films looking at a bright future, and not just in their home countries. The main winner will easily find distribution despite its length. Francois Ozon’s Frantz – which received the Marcello Mastroianni (best newcomer) award for lead actress Paula Beer- may very well become a contender in the foreign film categories. The same can be said about Reha Erdem’s Big Big World (also a winner) and Tunisian director Ala Eddine Slim’s The Last of Us, the recipient of the Luigi De Laurentiis Lion of the Future, the best debut film award, as well as some of the documentaries, including our own Silvia Bizio’s You Never Had It on Charles Bukowski.
On the party end of it, small gatherings dominated this year after the opening night festivities were cancelled in honor of Italy’s earthquake victims. But individual films found charming trattorias and authentic bars to celebrate their premieres, either on the Lido or along the narrow, cobblestoned streets of Venezia. Cocktail receptions before the casts head over to the red carpet were still held poolside at the Excelsior as they had been traditionally for decades. And famous jetlagged party animals could take their private taxi boats over to the Bauer Hotel where New York’s nightclub queen Amy Sacco welcomed them way into the afterhours at her Bungalow 8 outpost.
If anything, the charm of the Venice festival has increased in recent years, and it is not just the obvious, like setting and uniqueness of this beautiful city. Because aside of architecture, art, pizza, pasta and amore, the main reason is one simple difference to Cannes and Berlin: Venice is not a market festival. And this eliminates the riff raff of would-be buyers, shady investors and wannabes. Real art and beauty does not attract the Kims, the Kanyes and the pseudo-millionaires from the east and west.