73rd Venice Film Festival, first week round-up

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land

As the lights went on at this year’s Venice Film Festival they did so by means of a gloom left by the earthquake in Amatrice only a week earlier. The first-night dinner and beach party had been cancelled to honour the victims, and the festival issued a statement of solidarity. Under the circumstances, opening film La La Land had a difficult job to lift the mood but could not have been much better suited: this is a gloriously old-fashioned musical in the vintage MGM mould, full with toe-tapping numbers, handsome stars and a Tinseltown backdrop.

It begins in a targeted traffic jam on a hot sunny day in Los Angeles, with vehicle drivers compelled to spring from their cars to sing and dance atop them in an upbeat inversion of REM’s video to “Everybody Hurts”. Here we meet Seb (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone), and they meet every single other. He is a pianist and jazz junkie with his head in the previous she is an aspiring actress prepared for her close-up but stuck serving lattes on the Warner Bros lot. Initial antipathy gives way to giddy abandon the lovebirds court, kiss and sometimes burst into song. Somehow the marriage of 1950s-style musical idiom and modern setting operates and even feels fresh — at 1 point a mobile ringtone ingeniously gives the prelude to the next tune. Gosling turns his charm to max but it’s the suitably flame-haired Stone, Ginger to his Fred, who is the warm heart of this film, and she outshines all about her. She might just maintain shining till Oscar night.

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The genuine surprise, although, is Damien Chazelle. Surely this cannot be the very same writer-director whose debut was the gruelling drumming drama Whiplash? In one particular film it appears he’s gone from Thanatos to Eros. In Whiplash, obsessive ambition became a self-destructive spiral that crescendoed in an actual death drive, right here the dogged pursuit of dreams becomes a life-affirming fairytale. As its title suggests, La La Land is hopelessly and hopefully romantic, and for a even though sugar levels start to run dangerously higher.

But Chazelle, a trained musician himself, knows when to shift to a minor key. Just when the film appears a half-step away from becoming toe-curlingly corny he breaks the spell, introduces doubts and threatens to dash hopes of a happy ending. Nevertheless only 31, he plays the audience like an old pro, and it is not possible to resist this sweeping stirring, lovesong to music and the motion pictures. What far better way to kick off a film festival.

Will this be the year redheads conquer Venice? Nearby girl Amy Adams (born just up the road in Vicenza) followed Emma Stone up the red carpet with not one but two robust turns in competitors films. In the medium-cerebral sci-fi Arrival she plays a linguistics professional named upon when 12 massive black alien monoliths land on Earth.

Adams and somewhat unlikely physicist Jeremy Renner are the boffins sent in to make conversation with the towering squid-like figures who dwell inside and who speak by projecting an inky smoke from their tentacles. The pair embark on a crash course in “septapod”-speak while the military itch to turn the guests into calamari. For when, however, in a big-spending budget contemporary sci-fi, words are permitted to speak louder than actions as director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario) emphasises atmosphere and finds thrills in the humanistic rather than the pyrotechnic.

Adams is even much better in Nocturnal Animals, and so is the movie — in reality midway by means of the fest it is the ideal so far. Adapting an Austin Wright novel, style supremo Tom Ford surpasses all expectations set by the style-saturated A Single Man (2009). The new film is not reduce from the same cloth — in fact it takes stylish trappings and strips them bare. Right here Adams plays Susan Morrow, a wealthy art dealer who has it all: chic modernist house, dashing husband, crippling insomnia and creeping despair.

Then arrives the manuscript of a novel written by her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal), a brutal Funny Games-like tale about a household harassed by thugs that we see played out vividly in Susan’s imagination. Ford cuts amongst the two as the meta-text of a father’s living nightmare begins to seep into Susan’s fragile waking state and a searing intensity requires hold that never ever lets up. It is a masterful piece about cruelty, weakness and the pain we inflict on every single other bolstered by superb performances from Gyllenhaal and Adams. Do not sleep on this 1.

Even in disappointing entries the ladies have shined. Derek Cianfrance’s The Light Between Oceans finds Sweden’s Alicia Vikander developing as an actor alongside subdued lighthousekeeper Michael Fassbender. Born to pasty Aussies on a windswept coast but oddly wearing a deep tan (call it Scandi bronze), Vikander emotes her heart out as a woman so desperate for motherhood she commits an unforgivable act. It’s the kind of period weepie in which delicate handwritten letters are weighty with significance and winsome girls run breathlessly through garden gates. The difficulty is, the heinous act really is unforgivable and the story is too certainly contrived to be convincing.

America threatened to dominate Europe totally in the Venice Ryder Cup. German stalwart Wim Wenders weighed in with The Lovely Days of Aranjuez, but this turned out to be a turgid affair in which a lot of hot air blows by way of a summer garden overlooking Paris as a man and woman muse poetically on life, love and sex to no apparent end.

Luckily François Ozon came to the rescue with Frantz. Set in Weimar-era Germany, this mostly black-and-white, German-language outing is a mature perform from a director not constantly known for his subtlety. It tells the story of a young French veteran visiting Germany to spend his respects to a fallen soldier and becoming emotionally involved with the man’s parents and fiancée (beautifully played by Paula Beer). Against a background of lingering European resentment that sadly resonates once more these days, Ozon unpeels the layers of a story laced with secrets and lies but leaves 1 crucial question intact, enabling it to grow to be an unspoken subtext that silently but powerfully threads through the film.

Religion looms massive in Venice, although God mainly stays out of it. Out of competition, The Young Pope introduces Jude Law as a prickly American pontiff determined to shake factors up but plagued by individual demons. Paolo Sorrentino, generating his first foray into Television, brings with him the sumptuous visuals, delectable black humour and narrative audacity of his film function. Judged on its first two episodes, The Young Pope is some thing of an unholy mess tonally and Law seems curiously cast but its quite unpredictability could make it compelling and Silvio Orlando (Il Caimano) is magnificent as a scheming cardinal with moles both human and facial.

They’re all saints compared with Guy Pearce’s diabolical preacher in the deeply unpleasant Brimstone. Set in a Dutch Protestant corner of the Old West, it finds him tormenting Dakota Fanning at wonderful length. Martin Koolhoven’s film has handsome cinematography, fine acting and a reverse-chapter structure that suggests depths to come, yet after 150 minutes of torture, kid abuse, incest and self-mutilation it all boils down to a repellent pile of pulp.

Blind Christ is a slow and sombre affair from Chile that follows a effectively-which means young man with a God complicated on a mission to heal an injured buddy. Like its protagonist the film has genuine conviction and it casts an illuminating light on communities left to rot in the country’s northern reaches.

The actual Christ is right here also, generating his Virtual Reality debut in a new section committed to the nascent technology. There is some irony in placing on a headset to enter an immersive planet when you’re in Venice. Take off the headset, step out of the screening area and you find oneself in what often appears like a 3D fantasy landscape, with beauty and architectural wonders whichever way you turn. It’s the Venice Reality experience and it requires some beating.

labiennale.org/en/cinema/

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Section: Arts