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7 Films not to miss from this year’s Venice Film Festival

BY Davide Abbatescianni

15th Sep 2023 Culture

5 min read

7 Films not to miss from this year’s Venice Film Festival
With a huge range of fantastic films being shown at the prestigious Venice Film Festival recently, here are some you have to see either at the cinema or at home
From August 30 to September 9, the beautiful Lido hosted the 80th edition of the Venice Film Festival, the oldest cinematic gathering of its kind. Besides the stars walking on the red carpet, overly priced drinks, cheering crowds and an unbeatable amount of mosquitoes, the films remained at the core of the event taking place every year at the Lagoon.
Despite the busy schedule of a film critic and journalist working for some trades and dailies, I managed to catch many titles from the main competition and the Orizzonti sidebar. I’m not adding to this list some of the big winners of this year’s festival—in particular Yorgos Lanthimos’ Golden Lion recipient Poor Things, Michel Franco’s Memory and Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla—as I know they will all get worldwide distribution and their potential has been already fully acknowledged by the press and audience in attendance.
Therefore, I will zoom in on some other titles by both established and emerging directors. They are worth watching too, and may be nice picks to be seen from a cinema seat or from the comfort of your couch.

1. El Conde

After crafting a not-so-convincing portrayal of Lady D in Spencer (2021), Larraín takes a bolder, new path with his latest effort, premiered in the main competition. In El Conde, we follow an old Augusto Pinochet, who is still alive as a “closeted” vampire. Hidden in a ruined mansion with his butler and his wife, after 250 years the former dictator has decided to stop drinking blood and let himself die. Most of the story is told by a mysterious voice-over narrator, who will play a central role at a later stage.
"We follow an old Augusto Pinochet, who's still alive as a 'closeted' vampire"
Shot in black-and-white, El Conde strikes an imperfect—yet entertaining—balance between dark comedy and horror, while sketching a witty satire on capitalism, conservatism and mass control. Larrain’s latest, out on Netflix on September 15, snagged the Prize for Best Script.

2. Dogman

“The inspiration for this film came, in part, from an article I read about a French family who threw their own child in a cage when he was five. This rose the question of what that does to a person mentally. How does someone survive and what do they do with their suffering?”
This is Luc Besson’s statement accompanying his latest outing, showcased in the main competition. Dogman is the unsettling yet touching story of an abandoned child bruised by life. As he grows old, he will try to seek salvation through the love of his dogs. Talented Caleb Landry Jones (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Nitram) imbues the film’s title role with a skilful blend of tenderness, desperation and toughness, making his character highly fascinating and hard to decipher.

3. The Promised Land

Although at first glance Nikolaj Arcel’s competition entry may look like a western flick, The Promised Land is actually the most classical of dramas. This is meant in no way as something negative: despite the presence of very common tropes—two warring factions, an anti-hero, a villain to defeat as well as a child and a woman to rescue—this Mads Mikkelsen-led feature makes for a highly engaging viewing with solid writing and cast.
" Nikolaj Arcel’s film may look like a western, but it's actually the most classical of dramas"
Set in 1755, the story follows a penniless captain, Ludvig Kahlen, who travels to the harsh Danish heaths in Jutland, aiming to build a colony and receive a title of nobility. His plans will be challenged by the local ruler Frederik de Schinkel (Simon Bennebjerg), who claims to be in possession of the heath and wishes to prevail over the captain by any means and at any cost.

4. Shadow of Fire

After exploring the aftermath of wars ( in his previous pictures Zan and Fires on the Plains (the Edo period and the end of the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in 1944, respectively), Japanese director Shinya Tsukamoto crafts a new war drama. On this occasion, the story unfolds in Japan’s immediate post-Second World War years.
Beautifully lensed with chiaroscuro lighting, the premise of this film sees a woman who makes a living by selling her body, a war orphan who sneaks into her house to steal things and a young demobilised soldier coming as a guest. The three begin a strange life together. It’s a short-lived experience, however, as the soldier’s tragic memories of the war end up destroying the lives of the three.

5. Explanation for Everything

It’s very hard to make a film about a country torn between extremism and apathy, and depicting younger and older generations without falling into rhetorical trappings or cliches of the genre. Luckily enough, Gábor Reisz accomplishes this task and tells a compelling tale about the current state of things in Hungary.
"Gábor Reisz tells a compelling tale about the current state of things in Hungary"
The picture, awarded with the Prize for Best Film in the Orizzonti section, follows Abel (Gáspár Adonyi-Walsh), a high school student who struggles to focus on his final exams because of his intense feelings for his friend Janka (Lilla Kizlinger). Abel shows up at the graduation exam donning a Hungarian nationality pin and, from that moment on, his exam becomes the centre of a media scandal, turning everyone’s lives upside down.

6. The Beast

the beast poster
Featuring Léa Seydoux and George MacKay, Bertrand Bonello’s The Beast is a rather chaotic yet timely viewing experience. The story begins in a near future where AI reigns supreme and human emotions are considered a threat. Gabrielle (Seydoux) decides to purify her DNA by entering a bizarre machine to go through two of her past lives. In 1910 she is a married noblewoman who falls in love with an old acquaintance, while in 2014 she is an aspiring actor who may be victim of a maniac—both men are played by MacKay.
Bonello’s aesthetic approach in terms of editing and narrative structure may be a bit too bold and tortuous as usual, but what is interesting here is to see how he digs deep into the theme of machines manipulating (and possibly annihilating) emotions.

7. Coup de chance

Playing out of competition, Woody Allen’s 50th film is a pleasant comedy thriller entirely set in Paris. The story revolves around Fanny (Lou de Laâge), who works for a major action house. One day, she bumps into an old school friend, a divorced writer called Alain (Niels Schneider). Wishing to escape the boredom of her wealthy lifestyle, Fanny begins an affair with Alain. Her overly jealous husband Jean (Melvil Poupaud) gets suspicious, and one day Alain mysteriously disappears. Fanny’s mother (Valérie Lemercier) seems the only one who is determined to investigate further.
Let’s set things straight: Coup de chance is nothing ground breaking, but it’s delightful comfort food. A good ensemble of actors, an engaging pacing, Vittorio Storaro’s charming cinematography and the surreal ending scene make it worth the price of the ticket.
Banner photo: Mads Mikkelsen in The Promised Land. © Henrik Ohsten 13 / Zentropa
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