Venezia 77: The Roundup

by Elisabeth Sereda September 14, 2020
Venice 2020 Golden Lion

stephane cardinale/getty images

Not surprisingly, Nomadland won the Golden Lion, the top prize of the 77th Venice Film Festival. If its premiere reception in a half-filled Sala Grande (due to the Corona rules) could be called ecstatic excitement with rip-roaring applause, this was it. It helped that the film is directed by the talented Chloe Zhao and stars Frances McDormand, both industry darlings. The Coppa Volpi for best actress went to Vanessa Kirby for Pieces of a Woman, a choice many reviewers privately wondered about. The film, not the recipient. Many felt that Kirby’s performance in Mona Fastvold’s World to Come was superior to the one she was awarded for. The winner for best actor, Pierfrancesco Favino, excited no one but the Italians. His film Padrenostro got a rather lukewarm reception.

It was the festival’s sidebar Orizonti section (Horizons) that garnered the most artistic interest. Ahmad Bahrami, who made his first film only three years ago, walked away with the jury prize for Wasteland, the gritty love story about a factory shutdown and the worker who tries to save the woman he loves. The jury under president Claire Denis, herself a Venice veteran, spread out the rest of the awards, with Lav Diaz winning best director for Lahi, Hayop, Pietro Castellito taking the best screenplay prize for I Predatori and the acting honors going to Khansa Batma (Zanka Contact) and Yahya Mahayni (The Man Who Sold His Skin). The Special Jury Prize went to Ana Rocha de Sousa who also won the Lion of the Future award for best debut film for Listen.

The biggest prize, though, goes to festival director Alberto Barbera who pulled off what many thought impossible. An extraordinarily well-organized festival in these difficult times, with Venice being the first of the majors to hold a 10-day event like this. All eyes were on him, and the same eyes can now look to the future and share the hope that film festivals are possible during a worldwide pandemic. Granted, the mandatory mask-wearing everywhere on the festival grounds, even while walking outside, was difficult, the constant temperature checks on every entrance and every corner a nuisance, and the absence of glamour brought sadness to the whole week and a half, with all of us remembering opening night parties on the beach in front of the Excelsior and after-parties with superstars at the Cipriani and elsewhere along the Canal Grande.

There were no parties if one can mercifully forget the few disorganized gatherings by a handful of questionable companies that in normal times would not even get a venue during the Venice festival let alone stars to show up. There were a handful of famous people, aside from main jury president Cate Blanchett and jury member Matt Dillon. Tilda Swinton, the honoree for the lifetime achievement award also brought along Pedro Almodóvar, the director of her short film The Human Voice, Oliver Stone spent three days in Venice to promote the Italian release of his memoir "Chasing the Light“, Diego Boneta shared a special award with Blanchett, Mads Mikkelsen showed up to help his film, Jim Broadbent gave interviews for The Duke, and so did Katherine Waterston who stars with Vanessa Kirby in World to Come. She was not worried about the virus, having suffered through a particularly tough version of COVID in March and carrying antibodies still.

The general consensus on Venezia 77? An impressive selection of films in all sections, measures for the protection against the virus that many governments should wish they had mandated, and the shimmering hope that next year will bring a return to some version of normalcy, no more walls shielding the red carpet and George Clooney arriving at the Excelsior landing to howling fans and screaming paparazzi.