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Cinema. A journey through the unforgettable moments and themes of the 74th Venice Film Festival, from U.S. racism to the female image.

The people, politics and irreverent freedom of the old masters

The 74th Film Festival of Venice is over. What do we take from it?

Unforgettable moments: the finale of Ex Libris, by Frederick Wiseman, who entrusts the words of a writer — we are in the New York City Public Library — the poetry of his film, what the relationship between reality and his tale means. And then: the dance between the girl and the “monster,” who make love underwater in a wall-less room, in Guillermo del Toro’s movie, The Shape of Water, giving to the increasingly asexual screens an instant of erotic sensuality.

And also Nicki, the young protagonist of Suburbicon, to whom George Clooney, more comfortable with his political idea of cinema than with the paradoxical comic of the Coen Brothers, the authors of the original screenplay, entrusts his African American friend, betting for a different future after the battle. The sharp jokes and Frances McDormand’s sense of guilt in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, the boredom of bodies bundled up without love in the destiny of Kechiche’s Mektoub.

The power of John Woo, another “great old man,” or rather a “bad master” who can handle the martial arts in his cinema with irony and shamelessness, without repeating himself and without anesthetizing his images of self-restraint (Manhunt). Takeshi Kitano’s struggle, who in the closing film, one of the most beautiful of the festival, says goodbye to a part of his imaginary to reinvent it in forms that escape any “genre” classification (Outrage Coda).

And directors like Kechiche would benefit from watching again the restored images — with the magnificent recovery project of Tunisian film — of Le baliseurs du desert or the Children of a Thousand and one Night, by Nacer Khemir (1984) (along with L’enfant des terrasses by Boughedir).

A sumptuous immersion between history, painting, mythology in the past, present and future of Tunisia and the Maghreb, narrated through the windows on the sand horizon in a small desert village where rebellion — and the challenge to fate and tradition — means dreaming of a garden made of pieces of glass and broken mirrors reflecting on the sky, where the border between sky and land turns upside down.

The metaphors run quick, children are running, composition of a picture, refinement of detail: Khemir knitted his stories with infinite threads that flow from the book of Thousand and One Nights. The legends carry reality, political violence — during the government of Bourguiba who, in the years of the film, had declared the state of emergency (three years later, Ben Alì organized the military coup d’etat). Migrations and exile in a radically political cinema.

The irreverent freedom of Jean Vigo, in the cuts made by Zero de conduite by Bernard Eisenschitz, with the boys struggling naked under the nightgowns in the school dormitory, the suspense geometries of Dainah la metisse by Gremillon, one of Jean Marie Straub’s most beloved directors.

And what else?

ITALIAN CINEMA

The New Wave of Italian cinema was announced. The only one accepted in the competition was Andrea Pallaoro, with his internationally acclaimed Hannah — and not just for the presence of Charlotte Rampling — that excludes recurring landscapes and narratives on the Lido of the Campanian and Roman suburbs to face the challenge of a movie that goes through production, errors included.

But then there are Susanna Nicchiarelli and Edoardo Winspeare muddling, with Nico 1988 and Living together respectively. She surprised with a film that gathers the bet of the legend to create a multifaceted and personalized female figure, while he presented a free, poetic and political Italian tale.

FEMALE FIGURES

Never abused as in this Festival, making it a metaphor (alas as abused and with a heavy hand like Nacer Khemir’s) of our conflicting world that has ended up condemning them to indescribable torture. The incarnation of contemporary China and its brutal capitalism subjugating the weak, Vivien Qu’s girls are raped, prostitutes, subjected to all kinds of humiliation, even sold off by their own family.

Aronofsky in his couple’s story, as a metaphor (again!) of creation, or vice versa, condemns the woman to dry — literally — forever, to nourish the male-god’s creative flame.

In Italian films, they are either crazy or misfits or old on death’s doors, with the exception of the three above mentioned directors.

CONFORMISM

It is always widespread, and not just because sex is no longer on the screen or because the flesh pleasures are confused with its ostentation (Mektoub by Kechiche). The impression is that irreverence has disappeared in the name of a measure in which to bring things back. Even when one pretends to go against time. Perhaps it is an unconscious self-defense of the imaginary, or its uncertainty. A beautiful feather battle (Vigo) to ruin things?

DONALD TRUMP

Summoned by many of the American directors at the Lido, and their films, Trump and his presidency were, in their particular way, present among the “protagonists” of the Festival. George Clooney was the most determined to bring him to the center of the debate, who just over a year ago promised: “Our country will not be driven by fear.” Today that those fears have become a reality, his Suburbicon, through the lens of the past, talks to the US after the events of Charlottesville and the election of a president sympathetic to the hate of white supremacists.

The continuity between yesterday’s and today’s racism is also at the heart of Nancy Buirski’s documentary The Rape of Recy Taylor (Horizons), which shows the survival of a seemingly impossible to eradicate mentality, so that an Alabama historian can still say that there were cases of consensual sex between the slave women and their masters.

And there is also, on the same days when millions of people are evacuated from Florida in preparation to Hurricane Irma, the threat to the environment evoked by mother! by Aronofsky. While the director speaks of Trump as “the enemy to fight,” the protagonist of his film is also mother Earth threatened — among the many tragedies of our time — by ecological catastrophe (with the collaboration of Giovanna Branca).

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