Hollywood з Лєною Бассе

Venice & Films! Let there be light!

- Prima Mostra -

So, the Venice Film Festival has once again proved that it is not in vain that it bears the title of the founder of the world film festival movement. It is here, on Lido, one of the sandy islands that separates the Venetian Lagoon from the Adriatic Sea, that the tradition of honoring new films from different countries and their creators was born, that houses the festival. It all started after one of the Italian industrialists named Giuseppe Volpi initiated the expansion of the Venice International Art Exhibition, the Biennale, by showing motion pictures, rightly classifying them as an art form.

Thus, the screening of the American film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, held on August 6, 1932 on the terrace of the Excelsior Hotel, one of the most luxurious of the time, marked a new era in the development of cinematography. The very next festival, namely two years later, acquired a competitive character. Since then, thanks to its success, it has been held annually. Despite this, the Venice Film Festival retained the name “mostra” in its official name, which just means “exhibition”.

During its existence, Mostra has experienced many ups and downs. Despite the cataclysms of the twentieth century, the Venice Film Festival managed to maintain its position in the "big three" world film festivals, which also includes Cannes and Berlin. And now, it managed to cope with honor and with one of the major cataclysms of the XXI century. Following the announcement of the pandemic in March this year, Mostra was the first to open its cinemas to guests from all over the world to celebrate the art called cinema.

- Miracolo -
If one treats cinema not only as a kind of art, but also presents it as a kind of religion, then the 77th Venice Film Festival should have been taken for an unconditional miracle. This is exactly what Cate Blanchett, who became President of the International Jury this year, called it, "a miracolo," in her opening speech at the festival. And the artistic director of the festival, Albert Barber, is deservedly called the "Champion.”

After at the end of May this year, the Cannes Film Festival management announced the postponement until next year, and the Toronto Film Festival, which traditionally opens immediately after the Venice Film Festival, was held online, few believed that Italy, incredibly affected by the Coronavirus epidemic, could in September receive guests from all over the world and open its theaters.

Back in late July, during a video interview with Cate Blanchett about the TV series Stateless, we asked her if she really planned to go to Venice in person. In response, she said that at the moment, this is one of her greatest desires. In truth, we couldn't imagine how this could happen. After all, most American actors at that time, not only did not travel abroad, many of them did not even go outside the garden plot on which their house is located. In Hollywood, all filming processes were suspended. All, exactly all, American film companies refused to send their representatives to Venice, including even the ubiquitous Netflix. Nobody wanted to take responsibility and give guarantees of a safe stay at the festival. It seemed that the organizers, under the leadership of Barber, were about to announce that the festival was going online.

But as time passed, there were still no such announcements. And the day before the deadline, we nevertheless decided to apply for journalistic accreditation. Imagine our surprise when, with confirmation for accreditation, they sent us detailed instructions on what exactly we need to do in order to be admitted to work at the film festival. In Venice! We needed to take the COVID-19 test at least 72 hours before arriving at Lido. Otherwise, no one would guarantee us assistance in visiting not only the festival itself, but also Italy. We almost did not tell anyone about our plans for a trip to Venice: we were afraid that they would not come true. And therefore, when we saw the canals of Venice through the plane window, we could not hold back our tears.

The plane from Frankfurt to Venice was filled to capacity, and we happened to hear fragments of a conversation between neighbors who were looking forward to visiting Venice when "there will be no Chinese or Americans in the city." Well, they were right: both of them were rarely seen on the streets of Venice. The foreign guests were dominated by Germans, Austrians and Spaniards. Although, the city itself could hardly be called deserted.

- Festival in the time of Coronavirus -
Apparently, the organizers of the festival also believed that this festival would actually take place only at the last moment. As it turned out, no special logos were prepared for the 77-th film festival, just as there were no traditional screensavers, which are always shown before screenings of films. Even the festival poster, they used last year's motif. But the program catalog was released. This meant that there was a light ahead at the end of the tunnel. And not just light, but a real play of light called cinema! Here we go!

- Vaporetto Trip -
In order to get to the main festival`s location at the island of Lido, one should take a Vaporetto. 
We have found this trip truely cinematic and decided that it deserves to be showed.

Having arrived at the Lido and received accreditation, we still could not believe that all this was not just a dream. But the Cinema Palace, specially built for the opening of the fifth film festival in August of 1937, where the opening ceremonies with the red carpet take place, and the building of the former Casino, which not only houses the cinemas, but also the film festival's press center, were indeed filled with people.

- Time Out -
And even though all the guests were in medical masks, trying to keep their distance from each other, they, like us, were happy to meet old acquaintances, enjoying Campari-Spritz on the terrace of the cafe, where festival participants usually come to celebrate the premiere (Campari is the official sponsor of the film festival.) And most importantly, they all came here to watch new films in company with other people.

While the most refined part of our company enjoyed her Campary cocktail, the other part decided to try something at the oldest cafe in Venice, which is definitely connected to cinema and art, not only because of its interior design, but because of famous visitors as well. Let`s drop in!

From cafes let`s get back to the festival! By the way, in order for the festival of cinema to take place, the leadership of the film festival introduced several simple rules, the implementation of which was monitored constantly and everywhere.

Before entering the territory of the festival, in addition to checking the contents of the bags, the guests were also subjected to body temperature measurements. Electronic thermometers were installed at numerous checkpoints. Despite the fact that wearing a mask on the street in Italy has not been a prerequisite for a long time, all guests of the festival were obliged to wear them, not even taking them off in cinemas. Even if someone, under the cover of darkness, wanted to put on a mask on his face, opening their nose a little, the employees of the cinema would quietly sneak up to him and with gestures made it clear that the mask needed to be corrected.

All ticket sales were carried out exclusively online with the obligatory reservation of seats in the cinema. Trading tickets was forbidden in the case that one of the spectators contracted the virus to ease the process of contact tracing. Although, due to the fact that all seats for spectators were staggered with a mandatory free chair between neighbors, the risk of infection while sitting in the hall was practically reduced to zero. In addition, this seating arrangement brought additional comfort: no one breathed onto your back, no one put a bag on the arm of your chair. Thus, the act of fighting over arm rests disappeared, although the feeling of the presence of the audience in the hall remained. But the feeling of elbows could be experienced while greeting each other. At the same time, Cate Blanchett herself actively served as an example of such a new form.

Interestingly, the word "mascerina" was the second most used among Italians, after the word "allora.” Masks became the main attribute, which were paid attention not only by the employees of the festival, but also to everyone who watched the guests on the red carpet of the premieres. Bard masks depicting a golden lion, the symbol of Venice, have become one of the most popular souvenirs this year, taken away by guests from the festival.

But don`t forget what kind of masks are really in high demand by all visitors of Venice. We have searched for one of the oldest carnival mask storage, which is also connected to the world of cinema. Enjoy this real art!

Meanwhile, the most beautiful mask of the film festival was recognized as the mask of the British actress Tilda Swinton, in which she appeared at the ceremony of the honorary Golden Lion for her contribution to the development of cinema. Being one of the most extravagant and unlike any other actresses, Tilda did not change her image, changing her medical mask to a golden openwork, like those used at Venetian carnivals. Thus, she paid tribute to this extraordinary city. After she received the Golden Lion statuette from the hands of Cate Blanchett, she completely opened her face, giving the photographers her smile.

Since this year a high concrete barrier was erected between the photographers admitted to the red carpet and its participants, it was only possible to see what was happening behind it by looking at the huge TV screens set on both sides of the Palace. This is a photograph of Tilda, the only one in this report, taken not by me, but by Italian photographers who kindly agreed to take one of phones to a special tower for TV correspondents located directly opposite the red carpet and take some pictures with it. These are the wonders of mutual assistance in Venice this year.

- Cinema and its creators -
In her speech on the stage of the Palace of Cinema, Tilda Swinton confessed her love for cinema, calling it her homeland. Films with her participation have already been shown in Venice. Suffice it to recall I Am Love and Big Splash by Luca Guadagnino, Orlando by Sally Potter and many others. This year's Venice Film Festival premiered her short film, Human Voices, filmed by Pedro Almodovar during quarantine. For the Spanish director, this film was his English-language debut. Although the film is only half an hour long, it really is a painting: rich colors with chic compositions, exquisite texture. And with a heroine who you constantly want to watch and endlessly listen to. Both the director and the actress turned the one-act play by Jean Cocteau into a real work of art. Pedro Almodovar, who won the honorary Golden Lion last year, also came to the festival. Even in a mask, Pedro was impossible not to recognize, just like his films.

This year's Venice Film Festival honored another distinctive director, Abel Ferrar, who was awarded the Jéger Lecoultre prize, established by the Swiss luxury watchmaker. Each of his films is a journey into himself, even if his friend, Willem Dafoe, is often starring in the main role. So this time, at the film festival, his documentary film "Sports Life", conceived by an American director who has lived in Italy for a long time, was shown as a video documenting the creation of his film Siberia with Wille Defoe in the title role, which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival ... But after the announcement of quarantine, the video turned into an independent film, capturing events that developed according to a completely unconventional scenario.

Italian director Luca Guadagnino took a similar path, filming the short documentary "Flowers! Flowers! Flowers!" about his trip to his native Sicily during quarantine. The film was paired with the director’s feature-length documentary "Salvatore: The Shoemaker of the Dreams" which chronicles the life of the famous Italian shoe designer, Salvatore Ferragamo.

Few people know how closely Ferragamo was associated with Hollywood history. In addition to the fact that his regular clients were famous actresses such as Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo and Audrey Hepburn, the Italian shoemaker received orders to make shoes for the filming of many Westerns. “If the cowboy boots had been sewn by Salvatore Ferragamo, the West would have been conquered much earlier,” the famous Hollywood producer Cecil DeMill commented on the work of the Italian. Interestingly, while watching this documentary, we noticed the presence of Cate Blanchett, known for her interest in the fashion world.

According to the results of the main competition, the Golden Lion was awarded to the film Nomadland, directed by the Chinese director working in America, Chloe Zhao. Famous actress Frances McDormand stars in the title role, initiating and producing the film after she read Jessica Bruder's journalistic research. The film starred non-professional actors, and according to McDormand, the filmmakers became guides to the world of the people who, for various reasons, choose a nomadic way of life in America.

But the film Kauter Ben Haniya, a young director from Tunisia, entitled The Man Who Sold His Skin, not only differed in that he participated in another competitive program of the Venice Film Festival, Horizons, but also in that it is completely different both in its story and mood.

The film tells the story of how a famous Belgian artist makes a huge tattoo on his back in the form of a Schengen visa to a Syrian refugee named Ali, and then exhibits the man to display in museums in Western Europe. Despite the plot, the film is still inspiring and instills the belief that you can remain free even when you are being auctioned for $ 5million. While not pretending to be a political manifesto, it is rather a love story that willnot leave viewers indifferent. Much credit goes to the leading actor Yahya Mahaini. The young Syrian actor received the Best Actor Award from the Horizons Program. Dey Lian, ayoung Syrian actress with deep blue eyes, who lives in France, starred in the role of theprotagonist's bride.

In addition, Monica Bellucci starred in the film in a supporting role. Together with Cohen De Bou, they both appeared in the form of modern Mephistopheles with Maleficent.
In total, more than 60 premieres took place at the festival.

Among them is the film "There Will Be No More Snow" by Polish director Malgorzata Shumovskaya. The main role is a Ukrainian man named Zhenya, who not only does massage and hypnosis sessions for the Polish bourgeois, but also heals wounded souls, starring a British actor of Ukrainian origin, Alec Utgoff. The film is as mysterious as the statement at the end that the last snow in Europe will fall in 2025.

In addition, at the 35th Venice International Film Critics Week, which is a parallel program of the Venice International Film Festival, the debut feature film of the Ukrainian director Natalia Vorozhbit "Bad Roads" received the prize of the Verona Film Club. This is a screen version of Natalia's own play dedicated to people living in Donbass.

Last year, "Atlantis", a Ukrainian film directed by Valentin Vasyanovich, which is set in Donbass after the war, won the official Horizons competition program at the 76th Venice International Film Festival.

Well, hopefully the Venice Film Festival will be the boat that can sail us back to a normal life. The one where there is a place for travel, meeting other people in person, and watching movies in cinemas. In any case, for us personally, this festival gave us great hope that this will happen soon. 

By Lena Basse, Denys Kushnarov, Oles Seredystkyi



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