72nd Venice Film Festival, Report 1

Childhood of a Leader

By Moira Sullivan
72nd Venice Film Festival

The Venice Film Festival runs from 2 – 11 September and this is a first report from Lido where the festival is held every year. For me the highlight of the festival has come and gone and that was meeting Agnès Varda. As part of the "Miu Miu Women's Tale"s seminars, Agnès along with Italian filmmaker Alice Rohrwacher and sister Alba sat on a panel discussing their work. Agnès likes to say that she has an entire zoo of film awards, such as a Berlin Bear, a Golden Lion and now an honorary Palme that she was given at May at the Cannes film Festival. Agnes and Alice both made short films that differ as far as art direction but involve groups of girls. Agnès' 3 bottons is a fairy tale about a young girl who loses three buttons and is given three wishes. The same concept is present in Alice Rohrwacher ‘s De Djess about a woman who tries on dresses that were found in the sea. Both directors don’t want to label themselves as 'women filmmakers' but 'filmmakers' and do not want their work marginalized. Showing films at a big film festival is a way to get known. Agnes mentioned that her films didn't make much money but was honored that so many women know about her work! Best day at Venice Film Festival!

Also one of my favorites at the festival that was screened on Sept 5 "The Danish Girl" debuted as part of the "Venezia 72" official lineup. Alicia Vikander is brilliant in her role. Since she is referred to as "The Danish Girl" in dialogue, Tom Hooper's film also appears to be about her character.

Based on the novel by David Ebershoff with same title, Vikander plays Gerda Marie Fredrikke Gottlieb, a Danish illustrator who marries Einar Wegener, beautifully played by Eddie Redmayne. Einar becomes the first trans woman to undergo gender reassignment surgery. The film is set in the 1920's in Copenhagen and Paris.

Vikander's support and dynamic effervescence makes her a scene-stealer even if the transformation of Einar to Lili is all encompassing. Eddie Redmayne convincingly demonstrates the heart-wrenching personal dilemma that leads Lili to evolve. Both Gerda and Lili embark on odysseys ripe with awakenings and their shared journey is deeply felt because of the sensitive nature of the performances by Vikander and Redmayne.

As far as Venice is concerned, a note of interest: Gerda illustrated "Une Aventure d'Amour à Venise di Casanova" in 1927. The gondola porters claim to gullible tourists that Casanova lived in the same house Venice where they have their hotels.

The current frontrunner esteemed by Italian and international film critics also screened on Sept. 4 in the official competition “Venezia 72” - “Francofonia” by Russian director Alexander Sokurov.

The film has an interesting premise but does not live up to its promises either historically or cinematically. Sokurov postulates that WWII France and Germany were akin to two "warring siblings" who remained united on familial obligations, namely for the subject of his film, the preservation of art in “ark like” museums

"Francofonia" begins with spectacular footage of a Russian freighter – an ark-like vessel transporting art over the sea. The container is at peril.The commander of the vessel is communicating with Sokurov via the internet but he loses contact with him. We never learn what happens to this voyage but it parallels what might have happened had all the art in the Louvre been highjacked. Sokurov uses voiceover except during the fictional sections of his film. As in his other films he takes on historical figures. There is Nápoleon (Vincent Nemeth) who filled his 'ark' with looted treasure from campaigns in Egypt for the Louvre spurred on by the red capped Marianne (Johanna Korthals Altes), symbol of his triptych for European unification - "liberté, égalité, fraternité".

The "warring siblings" are Jacques Jaujard (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing), curator of the Louvre during the war and Nazi Occupation officer Count Franziskus Wolff-Metternich (Benjamin Utzerath). Sokurov advances the idea that without the Louvre, there would be no France

Now to my favorite film of the festival , on Sept 5 "Childhood Of A Leader" was screened a profoundly artistic film by Brady Corbet. It is a strong candidate for a top prize in the Orizzonti competition dedicated to films with the latest aesthetic and expressive trends in international cinema. "Childhood of a Leader" is fictional story of an American boy (Tom Sweet) living in France in 1918. His cruel and absent father works for Woodrow Wilson and his mother (Bérénice Bejo) treats servants as commodities. The father (Liam Cunningham) wants to try for a girl because his son won't let him bully him and besides that, sports long hair and wears dresses. The boy later grows up to be one of the emerging dictators of Europe.

The film is divided into three sections basically having to do with the boy's tantrums. Example: "1st Tantrum: Signs of Things to Come", which involves an issue where the boy throws stones at parishioners after an evening of Christmas caroling in the village church. (Corbet read that Mussolini, who also had long hair, had done the same thing as a young boy). He is taken to see the village priest with his mother and asked to apologize. His response is that he didn't hit the priest. The situation degenerates with staff doing unforgivable things to the mistress, merely trifles, but her sternness to them is indication of the blunt and forceful way her husband treats her. He in turn is under the thumb from a lot of politicking that is forging a new Europe. His son disturbs him because of his lack of obedience. But he truly is a remarkable child who shuts himself in his room and studies French on his own, without his tutor, who he dismisses because of not actually needing her.

The new soundtrack by Scott Walker evokes "Mad Max Fury Road" by Junkie XL and is based on Jean-Paul Sartre's short story on the birth of fascism , as is the film’s title. Brady Corbet has made a masterpiece. Next week more from the Venice film festival.

© 2015 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 09/09/15
Movie Magazine International