The 77th edition of the world’s oldest movie festival, Venice, will begin on Wednesday with an Italian work, director Daniele Luchetti’s Lacci (The Ties). To be held on the lovely island of Lido, off mainland Venice, the Festival has not opened with an Italian title in more than a decade. The last was in 2009, when Giuseppe Tornatore’s “Baarìa” did the inaugural offers.
The Festival – with all the safety precautions to keep visitors (though far fewer in number this year, because of the Coronavirus pandemic) safe and with toned down Red Carpet events – will feature Lacci in the Out-of-Competition section. Set during the early 1980s in Naples, the film is based on Domenico Starnone’s eponymous 2017 novel, and centres on a marriage threatened by an extra-marital affair. Or, one that is presumed so.
“Recently, we have all feared that cinema might become extinct,” said Luchetti. “Yet during the quarantine it gave us comfort, like a light gleaming in a cavern. Today we have understood something else: that movies, television series, novels, are indispensable in our lives.
“Long live festivals, then, which allow us to come together to celebrate the true meaning of our work. If anyone thought it served no purpose, they now know it is important to everyone. With ‘Lacci’ I am honoured to open the dances of the first great festival in unexpected times”.
In recent times, Venice has invariably kicked off with American titles or those arriving from outside Italy. In 2019, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Catherine Deneuve-starrer. The Truth, kicked off the Festival. In 2018, it was Damien Chazelle’s Ryan Gosling-fronted “First Man,” and in 2017, Alexander Payne’s Downsizing.
While emphasising the importance of a physical event taking place in the time of the Coronavirus, the Festival Director, Alberto Barbera said that he was happy to open with a home-grown entry. “This great opportunity was offered by the wonderful film directed by Daniele Luchetti, an anatomy of a married couple’s problematic coexistence, as they struggle with infidelity, emotional blackmail, suffering and guilt, with an added mystery that is not revealed until the end.
“Supported by an outstanding cast, the movie is also a sign of the promising phase in Italian cinema today, continuing the positive trend seen in recent years, which the quality of the films invited to Venice this year will surely confirm,” added Barbera.
There will fewer movies this year and hardly any American presence. But India has struck big with three titles, one in Competition, whose jury will be headed by Cate Blanchett. They are Chaitanya Tamhane’s Marathi work The Disciple (to compete for the top Golden Lion prize), Ivan Ayr’s Punjabi film, Meel Patthar (Orizzonti Features Competition),and Sushma Khandepaun’s Gujarati flick Anita (Short Films Competition) Ayr’s debut Soni was in the 2018 Horizons.
The last time an Indian title that made it to the Competition was Mira Nair’s brilliant, Monsoon Wedding, in 2001. It also won the Golden Lion for Best Picture! A year before that Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Uttara (The Wrestlers, 2000), was part of Venice Competition. He got the Special Director Award.
The Disciple is a story which takes place in Mumbai, and is very different from Tamhane’s earlier, Court, which also played at Venice, though not in Competition. While Court lambasted the corruption in India’s judiciary (taking off from the death of a manhole worker), The Disciple focuses on the perils threatening the country’s classical music.
According to the synopsis, “Sharad Nerulkar has devoted himself to becoming an Indian classical vocalist, a lifelong quest in which few succeed. Initiated into this centuries-old tradition by his father, he follows his dream with sincerity and discipline, committing himself entirely to his artistic journey. As he strives to attain the highest level of his craft, Sharad traces his way through the hallowed mysteries and rituals of past musical legends. But as the years pass, Sharad will be forced to negotiate between the complex realities of life in contemporary Mumbai and his chosen path, leading him to find his true voice in music and in life.”
(A couple of years ago, Rajiv Menon’s Sarvam Thala Mayam – also looked at the challenges facing Carnatic music, and was screened at the Tokyo International Film Festival.)
Here are some of the titles apart from The Disciple at Venice Competition:
And Tomorrow The Entire World from Germany is about a young anti-fascist protester who falls in love, but is forced to go underground when racist violence sweeps the country.
In Between Dying, Australia, talks about a young man desperately searching for his “true” family, and finds love in the same city he has been living.
Laila In Haifa comes from Israel, and the movie takes us to a night club frequented by both Israelis and Palestinians – something rare in the conflict-ridden city.
Lovers (France) is about love, separation, longing and meeting again. Two passionate lovers are separated by a tragedy, but years later run into each other on an Indian Ocean island.
New Order arrives from Mexico and tells us a story about a dystopian group of men and women who gate-crash into a wedding.
Nomadland is an American film and stars Frances McDormand, who gets into her van and hits the road after an economic depression rocks her home town in Nevada.
Sun Children narrates the story of a few Iranian youngsters who enroll themselves in a school to try and find hidden treasure.
The Festival runs till September 12.
(Author, Commentator and Movie Critic Gautaman Bhaskaran has covered the Venice Film Festival for 20 years)