The Italian press loudly celebrated the opening of the 80th Venice Film Festival declaring proudly “here we go without Hollywood!”. True, the huge Italian crowds brought a never seen gridlock to the front and sides of the Cinema Palazzo that wouldn’t have been so congested, if Zendaya had graced that red carpet with Challengers, which was canceled because of the Hollywood actors’ strike.
The festival opened with veteran Italian director Edoardo di Angelis’ “El Comandante”, a beautifully photographed WWII movie about the sad fate of soldiers aboard an Italian submarine, then kicked into high gear with Pablo Larrain’s “El Conde” to mixed feelings for its repetitiveness and overkill violence dominating an irreverent but fascinating and grotesque revelation about General Pinochet (and Margaret Thatcher). Larrain arrived from Budapest where he’s been location scouting and budgeting as director/producer of Maria, the independent film he’s about to start shooting with an interim agreement from SAG-AFTRA, starring Angelina Jolie, once the Venice/Telluride/Toronto hoopla is over for him.
Then Hollywood took over. Adam Driver arrived in style with Ferrari, a 10-year pet project of director Michael Mann. The film is way too long and leaves emotional holes in spite of Penelope Cruz’s brilliant acting. Netflix’s next entry was the Maestro, masterfully photographed but dialogue heavy, salvaged (maybe) by Carey Mulligan’s in-depth portrayal of Felicity, Leonard Bernstein’s wife. Director Bradley Cooper was halted from traveling to Venice by striking writer-actor Bradley Cooper. Thus, he escaped the unpleasant question: where did he leave his producers when he developed, shot and edited his movie ….? And where were they when Cooper declared “final cut” in the editing room? Same applies to Priscilla director Sofia Coppola, whose film conveniently jumps over continuity where development is badly needed, lacks depth and drama and has painfully little chemistry between the main characters. Didn’t anyone on the vast producers team see it coming?
We were excited that there will be a great plethora of significant directors in Venice this year. Yorgos Lanthimos (his “Poor Things” is genius!), Luc Besson (his “Dogman” is a darling film), Billy Friedkin, David Fincher and Woody Allen checked their egos by the door and delivered delightfully crafted pieces. But some of the most anticipated Hollywood fare was a major disappointment as their directors refused to see or to take the producers’ perspective. As one critic noted, Harvey Weinstein may be a monster, but his scissors never missed.
Standing ovation means a lot to the filmmakers on a starry opening night on the Lido, in Telluride and in Toronto. But the ticket sales will bring a rude awakening to some of the esteemed directors who claim artistic freedom for themselves and forget that filmmaking is a team sport headed by talented, seasoned and smart producers, not a solo act by directors blinded by love with their projects.