Review. Money is a topical theme for our time. It has a secret life, around which the world has shaped itself. Money runs the world, is the substance of it, and both smothers and caresses whom it will, especially today, in the era of insecurity, exploitation and the end of class solidarity.

At the Venice Festival, a view of the world’s luxury and misery, love and hate

The sea calmed down for the last stint on the red carpet, as some people spent the night on the street just to be in the first rows of spectators behind the barriers, hoping to get a selfie with Mick Jagger, one of the protagonists of the closing film, The Burnt Orange Heresy—himself the only reason to choose such a movie for the festival’s conclusion, otherwise not quite “ending on a high note.” On the Lido island, echoing with the constant sounds of suitcases dragged through the streets, a security alert was declared after the activists from No Grandi Navi (“No Large Ships”) occupied the red carpet area in the morning: the police intervened with armored vehicles, and bike access was banned in the area around the Palazzo del Cinema.

The film buffs and pros had already left: the final evening was dedicated to the audience, the guests of honor—the new minister of culture, Franceschini, was also a guest—and the influencers, while the local inhabitants of Lido island were already feeling the joy of being able to return to their calm everyday routine. 

What can one say about this 76th edition of the Venice Festival, which took place during the days of a government crisis and the passage from the yellow-green to the yellow-red alliance, all within the inevitable bubble separating the festival from the outside world? 

Going beyond the decisions of the jury headed by Lucrecia Martel—including Mary Harron, Shinya Tsukamoto, Paolo Virzì, Stacy Martin, Piers Handling and Rodrigo Prieto—this was an edition that didn’t take great risks from a cinematic perspective (the controversies that arose did so over matters only indirectly related to the films, such as Polanski’s presence). It focused on well-established directors from world cinema—from Larrain to Soderbergh, Gray, Guédiguain and Assayas—with newsworthy casts and crews and significant budgets, almost equally divided between the Americas and Europe, with a few nice surprises from among the still-unknown names—particularly the young Australian director Shannon Murphy with her Babyteeth

Among the selection, the most formally daring films, and at the same time those most in tune with contemporary reality, were the Italian ones. The films by Martone (Il Sindaco del Rione Sanità), Marcello (Martin Eden) and Maresco (La mafia non è più quella di una volta) seemed to be the most free to experiment in their wagers with reality, in their confrontation with the imaginary and with the sentiments of the present moment. 

Have we learned anything about the state of cinema from the fact that 21 films were vying for the Golden Lion, but only two were from female directors? Have we made any progress on the issue of “quotas,” which was discussed these days even more than the presence of Netflix in the competition?

Family affairs

The title of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s film of last year [Translator’s note: Shoplifters, translated into Italian as Affari di Famiglia – Family Affairs”] expresses a common thread running through many of the films in this year’s competition, and not only: the centrality of the family in one’s relationship to the world. Not as a group of people who are together by choice, by falling in love or by mutual affinity, but rather bound by old-fashioned family ties, much analyzed by Freud and others: father/son, mother/daughter. 

There were grudges, revenge, betrayals and punishments, all the way to severe distortions of morality, such as in Mehdi M. Barsaoui’s A Son, shown in the Orizzonti section, where the previous infidelity of a man’s wife endangers the life of their son, who is injured in an attack by fundamentalists (the proverbial hand of God) and ends up in a hospital in the middle of nowhere where all are fervently religious, because neither parent is able to donate to him the organ he needs for survival. The husband hates his wife for her infidelity, and even the doctor looks at her reproachfully. This was presented as a metaphor for patriarchy, but it does take some effort from the viewer to discern the critical point of view. 

The opening film of the festival, The Truth by Kore-eda, already set up family ties as the running theme of this year’s selection, with a duality between truth and fiction playing out between Catherine Deneuve, the mother, and Juliette Binoche, the daughter.

The male perspective got its own psychoanalysis session with Ad Astra, which took on the contours of representing the unconscious of a nation: the 1960s American dream of heroes and the conquest of space, fading away as a result of wars, impoverishment and violence. How does one rid oneself of the cumbersome presence of fathers who weigh down on their children’s shoulders for their entire lives, an older generation that is unwilling to give up its centrality? The son, Brad Pitt, is pitted against the simulacrum of the father, Tommy Lee Jones. Because fathers end up killing (as in A Herdade by Tiago Guedes) if they are not themselves destroyed. And what if instead the children are guilty of murder? A daughter can get to the point of killing for the love of her (dead) mother, due to her excessive attachment to the father (Guest of Honour).

Money is a topical theme for our time. It has a “secret life” that the whole world has shaped itself around, as Soderbergh explains with plenty of humor (The Laundromat). Money runs the world, is the substance of it, and both smothers and caresses whom it will, especially today, in the era of insecurity, exploitation and the end of class solidarity. What happens when everyday life is just a desperate struggle for survival (Gloria Mundi)? Money is power, and crime, even one which is unabashedly certain of its morality, as in Il sindaco del Rione Sanità. Money is neoliberalism, cutting welfare, schools and public health. The world is divided into luxury and misery (Joker).

Once again, there was very little eroticism this year. The film which featured the most sex was Ema by Pablo Larrein, where, even as it involves both genders, it’s not for pure pleasure: sex comes instead as part of a well-defined project, to have a child and create a family, which, although enmeshed in a love quadrangle, is as dogmatic a goal as ever. It’s quite the opposite in Marriage Story, in which the couple end up separating, but in which we can feel the texture of woven sentiment between the two, without the need for making a show of it—even in the scenes in which their relationship crumbles. This is something very difficult to achieve for cinema, and makes it a truly special film.

Politics is a constant presence in history and in the daily news, but one can find it in an more heightened form in cinema that is political in its core essence—La mafia non è più quella di una volta; J’accuse; Il sindaco del Rione Sanità—which is to say the formal choices made by the filmmakers and the ability to build a relationship with the audience, without preconceived theories, in the realm of independence of the gaze.

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