#Venice2013: In review

There’s a lot to take home from Venice, not least a bit of sun tan and the pesky mosquito bites we’ve been subjected to for the last week. There’s also my uncharacteristic optimism to the state of upcoming cinema that I didn’t have last year. Granted, this is only my second trip to Venice and, even more granted, I didn’t even see Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master when it screened on the Lido 12 months ago, but to think my favourite films last year were Olivier Assayas’ Something in the Air, A Hijacking, or a lesser Brilliante Mendoza film, is startling. Perhaps because I’m more initiated, or more likely because the films were just better, this year was a huge improvement. A strong showing from the Brits in Under The SkinPhilomena and Still Life, Nicolas Cage, Lukas Moodysson and Stephen Frears back on form, Tom Hardy finally proving himself, Terry Gilliam making a good (if not great) film again with The Zero Theorem, a handful of strong docs, and of course the endless (and very good) free coffee in the press room, made a sterling year.

And that’s even when I’ve been informed that audiences at the press screenings were down on last year, but many of the public screenings I attended (all my accreditation would allow) were full or brimming to the edges. We didn’t get into Daniel Radcliffe-starrer Kill Your Darlings (despite the screening room holding 1,300 people), nearly had to stand at the 1,600-seater PalaBiennale for Philomena, and found ourselves having to settle for the overflow screenings of Night Moves, Child of God and even the trashy schlock of Paul Schrader’s The Canyons.

What’s changed over the last few years is the rapid rise of both Telluride and Toronto, which overlaps the end of the Venice festival, and to where a lot of delegates had taken flight by the end of the festival. That’s why many hadn’t even seen the eventual Golden Lion winner, Sacro GRA, a fly-on-the-wall documentary on Rome’s ring road, which screened on the penultimate day of competition.

Sacro GRA, respected but not highly praised, was emblematic of the festival with its top-prize win. Lots of films here were well-reviewed, but few had universal acclaim. Under The Skin, which received rave reviews from British critics, was booed and torn apart by Europeans, while festival favourite and Grand Jury Prize winner Stray Dogs, the Tsai Ming-Liang slow-burner, split audiences. Others such as Tom à la Ferme and Night Moves were liked by many, but rarely out-and-out loved. Only Stephen Frears’ Philomena communicated to the masses, a great big crowd-pleaser that Italians lapped up even more so than the British, but most viewed it as too safe an option to win the top prize, although it did win Best Screenplay for Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope.

It meant there was something for everyone – indeed, the friend I took thought Philomena was his best film, while it doesn’t register in my top five. A good deal of people I met really liked Night Moves, but to me it didn’t feel the breath of fresh air that I wanted from a top film. I found that in Jonathan Glazer’s extraordinary Under The Skin, which hugely impressed me right until its rather clumsy conclusion, but my favourite was Miss Violence, still the only film I’ve been brave enough to call a five-star movie here (although I can see that changing in future for UTS), a bruising, challenging, stunningly constructed that highlights the great art coming out of Greece’s tortured society.

Rounding out the top five is the heartbreaking British drama Still Life, starring Eddie Marsan as a council worker who traces relatives for those who have none, Lukas Moodysson’s sweet but hard-edged We Are the Best, and this festival’s winner of the Ed Frankl Batshit-Insane Award, the penis-chomping madness of Moebius.

So here’s that #EdFrankl Top 5:

1. Miss Violence
2. Under The Skin
3. Still Life
4. We Are the Best
5. Moebius

Also shoutouts to PhilomenaJoeTom à la FermeLocke and The Unknown Known, all of which I’d heartily recommend when they’re out in cinemas; or catch Under The Skin, We Are The Best, PhilomenaTom à la Ferme and Locke at next month’s London Film Festival, where reviewed films Night MovesThe Armstrong Lie, plus Venice-favourites which I didn’t see, Gravity and Kill Your Darlings will also be showing.

And the worst film? Undoubtedly Lindsay Lohan vehicle The Canyons, but dreary costume drama A Promise starring Rebecca Hall, which I saw on the last night, comes a close second.

#Venice2013: We Are The Best

We Are The Best (Vi Ar Bast) (dir. Lukas Moodysson) ★★

Lukas Moodysson’s new film is a welcome return to form, a charming near-coming of age tale of a rebellious teenage girl punk band in 1980s Stockholm.

Rather than the slightly wayward recent experimental features like Mammuth, and certainly far from the harrowing likes of the outstanding Lilya-4-ever, We Are The Best is more like his earlier breakthrough works like Show Me Love, full of expressive characters and bounding emotions.

13-year-olds Klara and Bobo complain about their their “fascist” siblings and “conservative” parents and decide that their best way of breaking away is to start their own punk band. That’s despite punk being apparently dead and, of course, not being able to play a note of music. They string in do-gooder Christian and classical guitarist Hedvig, to give their music some heft, cut their hair short and write songs about why their school teachers are wrong. One hilarious one is “Hate the Sport!”, with delirious lines like “Children in Africa are dying, and all you care about is the high-jump team!”

The three young actors – Mira Grosin, Mira Barkhammar and Liv LeMoyne – are stupendous as the riotous teens making their first marks on the world, and the films heady choice of punk music from 80s Sweden is a delight.

It’s funny and touching, and a different sort of coming of age drama – there’s only minor notes of a sexual awakening, or a growing sense of adult responsibility – instead it’s a warm-hearted view of growing a little older set in the playground of young life.

#Venice2013: My six picks

And so my trip to the Venice Film Festival begins, not with a bang but with a long, whimpering, drawn-out read of the festival programme. There’s no stand out film that everyone’s dying to see – not like last year’s The Master – but there are plenty of hot films out there that I’m looking forward to. British cinema, which languished in Cannes earlier this year, has a healthy cohort of films, and there’s good mix of genre and straight drama (sometimes in the same film – see Under The Skin). The weather’s good too. Here’s six films I’m especially looking forward to:

1. Festival director Alberto Barbera doesn’t have the heavyweight directors he’s had in numbers in previous years – Paul Thomas Anderson, Terence Malick, Ang Lee, Sofia Copolla – which means probably the biggest-name director in competition on the Lido, remarkably, is Terry Gilliam, whose new film The Zero Theorem marks a return to the science fiction territory in which he’s had his biggest successes (Twelve Monkeys, Brazil). Christoph Waltz, who Gilliam says has never been better than here, plays a computer genius who embarks on a project to discover the secret to existence, and is supported by a stellar cast, who include David Thewlis, Matt Damon and apparently Robin Williams in a cameo role. It looks like a cross between Brazil and Fisher King, which happily are his two best works. Could this give Gilliam the highest accolade of his career?

2. The most talk-about film among anglophile critics is undoubtedly Under The Skin, the long-awaited adaptation of Michel Faber’s chilly novel by reclusive director Jonathan Glazer, whose last film, Birth, premiered at Venice way back in 2004. Scarlett Johansson plays an alien in human form, who picks up hitchhikers for a mysterious assignment in Scotland – expect violent sci-fi, but with the novel’s cold satirical tone. Glazer has a strong reputation, still riding the wave of success from Sexy Beast, and the long post-production of the film (it was said to have finished filming in 2011), rather than giving birth to rumours of troubled production, has only whet appetites more.

3. Daniel Radcliffe has found his feet post-Potter acting (his turn in The Cripple of Inishmaan in London is going down a storm) and it continues in Kill Your Darlings, which receives its international premiere on the Lido. Radcliffe plays a young Allen Ginsburg, discovering his artistic sensibilities and sexuality at the genesis of the Beat movement. It received great notices at Sundance, and Radcliffe’s reputation as a serious actor is only improving.

4. Lukas Moodysson’s career has wandered since he made 2004′s extraordinary Lilya 4-ever (one of the best films of the last decade?). His new film We Are The Best returns to the youthful territory of his debut, the lovely Show Me Love (a kids film hilariously titled in its original Swedish as Fucking Åmål), this time with three teenagers who band together to play punk rock music in the 1980s.

5. Quebecois actor/director Xavier Dolan is being seen as a bit of a wunderkind and his new pic Tom A La Ferme is his fourth film in as many years. Tom, also played by Dolan, visits the countryside for a funeral, but is astonished by the fact that no-one there knows him, or his relationship to the deceased. Based on the play by Michel Marc Bouchard, it promises the sort of tension of Vinterberg’s Festen, coupled with a sexual edge that Dolan’s work is known for.

6. Full Monty producer Uberto Pasolini debuts as a director with Still Life, the tale of a funeral officer (the always impressive Eddie Marsan) responsible for burying those whose relatives cannot be found. He writes eulogies, picks the music, but he is always the only one to hear them. When he’s made redundant for a more ‘efficient’ officer, he takes on the task of finding the lost relatives of his lonely, unknown neighbour. It looks sterling stuff, and a fine leading role for the great Eddie Marsan.

Other stuff. Also on my radar are two documentaries screening on the Lido – Alex Gibney’s Lance Armstrong pic The Armstrong Lie and Errol Morris’ profile of Donald Rumsfeld, The Unknown Known, which, rather like David Hare’s play Stuff Happens, sounds a sardonic title if ever I heard one. Stephen Frears has a new film starring the ubiquitous Steve Coogan in Philomena, which also stars Judi Dench in what some are calling an awards-worthy role, and Locke, from Eastern Promises writer Steven Knight shows the strength in numbers of British film. There’s the intriguing new film from Meek’s Cutoff director Kelly Reichardt, Night Moves, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Dakota Fanning. Plus two films featuring renaissance man James Franco premiere, his own Child of God, adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s novel, and Palo Alto, his novel adapted for the screen by Gia Copolla, granddaughter of Francis Ford. Finally Gravity, which premiered tonight on the Lido, has ecstatic buzz, but it’ll have finished its run at the festival before I reach Venice.

So now for Friday’s 5.35am (AM!) flight from Gatwick – what nightmares are made of. Follow my tweets, look me up on Instagram, and follow me on the blog, which I’ll be updating every few hours.

In the mean time, watch this advert warning against the threat of being hit in the face by fish in Venice:

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