The 76th edition of the Venice Film Festival opened on Wednesday in a trail of controversy and a blaze of star power. And what a contrast.
While the Festival on the Lido, a quaint island off mainland Venice, was rapped for including Roman Polanski’s An Officer and a Spy and Nate Parker's American Skin – both of whom have been accused of rape – the 11-day world's oldest cinematic event also faced charges of being too American. Then there was also this resentment about having too few women directors – just two out of the 21 movies in Competition.
While Hollywood stars like Brad Pitt, Meryl Streep and Scarlett Johansson will be sailing into the Lido adding enriching the red carpet with glitz and glamour, the opening work The Truth by Japan's legend, Hirokazu Kore-eda, not appear to gel well.
Making a film outside Japan for the first time, Kore-eda, whose Shoplifters won the Palm dÓr last year at Cannes, did not quite hit the bull's eye with his latest. In fact, this has been the case with several world class directors who kind of slipped when they dared to step outside their home and the familiar. If there was one movie of Satyajit Ray's which was not considered great, it was Shatranj Ke Khilari – an effort he made in Hindi.
Asghar Farhadi made a gem called A Separation in Persian, but when he took his camera to France and made The Past, it was way below a standard he had set for himself.
Kore-eda's The Truth was disappointing – and was not as gripping as his Palm dÓr clincher. Essentially in French and English, and set in Paris, the movie talks about the stormy relationship between a mother, played by the brilliant French actress, Catherine Deneuve, and daughter, portrayed by Juliette Binoche.
Returning to the controversies, Venice Film Festival Director, Alberto Barbera, defended his decision to include Polanski and Parker by saying that his choices were based solely on the artistic quality of the movies. The Venice chief used the same argument to counter criticism of the low number of female-directed films in the main competition.
As far as American selections go, nobody can deny that Venice has grown into a formidable launching pad for the Oscar race. Indeed, prior to The Truth, Hollywood pictures have opened Venice since 2012. The past three editions kicked off with First Man, Downsizing and La La Land. And all of them got into the Academy awards.
This year, with four US titles in the 21-entry competition and about as many in other sections, the Lido make begin to appear like a mini Hollywood. It may not be a bad thing; for the American will come with their starry appeal, and draw the crowds to a Festival which has had more downs than ups in its long history that began in 1932 basically as a platform for Fascist propaganda.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran has been covering the Venice Film Festival for over 18 years)