The oldest in the world, having opened in 1932, the 11-day cinematic event has rolled and pitched in storms of a hundred kinds that have sometimes threatened to pull it down to the bottom of the Adriatic Sea on whose shores the city stands.
The latest of the Festival’s troubles is the Palazzo del Cinema, the main screening venue on the island of Lido, off the Venetian shores.
The current Palazzo had its red-ribbon ceremony in 1938, but later plans to get a new building up have fallen through at least thrice. The latest blueprint for a $-170 million immensely fancy edifice – resembling ironically a gold- leaf laced ship turned upside down – appears to have hit an iceberg. For the past two years, I have been seeing furious activity to brick up the new Palazzo, and I am told about $ 50 million have already been spent.
However, the Festival has side-stepped this problem for the time being and gone ahead with renovating its existing infrastructure. The hole has been covered up for this Festival, and plans are afoot to try and raise a smaller edifice on it that can do with a shallower foundation.
The “crater” now hidden from prying eyes, the Festival goer has been promised an attractively refurbished Sala Grande, one of the main auditoriums. Modernism tempered with historic grandeur will be its high point.
Of no less significance is the Festival’s promise of better bars and late-night restaurants. Food has always been a problem on the Lido, with audiences from late evening screenings struggling to get a decent dinner. And there will be more water buses between Venice and Lido, and a shuttle service to take you from point to point on the island. New spaces to relax and have refreshments have come up in Lido’s unused Nicelli airport and a former army barracks.
Probably, the only major grievance that Lido visitors will have this year may pertain to inadequate number of hotels, a long-standing issue. Festival Director Marco Mueller says an empty luxury cruise ship, docked at a Lido pier, can be used as offices, screening venues and sleeping bunks.
Trust Mueller to come out with something as novel as this. This apart, he has single-handedly pulled out the gasping Festival from the Adriatic depths, and resuscitated it with an aggressive dose of art and glamour, premiers and path-breaking films. These have been daringly different, exquisitely experimental and compelling to the core.
This year, all the 65 movies in the Festival’s main sections are never-before-screened-anywhere premieres. In fact, for years, Mueller has been almost obstinate about screening premieres, though in previous years, this “rule” generally applied to competing entries.
So, one can expect that Venice this year will be abuzz with the newest of cinema and the shiniest of star power. That irresistible George Clooney will arrive on the Lido on the opening night with his Ides of March – about the dirty politics of Howard Dean’s 2004 American presidential campaign. And that alluring Madonna will bring her W.E., tracing the relationship between Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII.
Apart from Clooney and Madonna, Al Pacino will be at Venice for Wilde Salome, where he will be King Herod. Kate Winslet will be on the island to promote two competition movies. She stars along with Jodie Foster in Roman Polanski's Carnage, and with Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon and Jude Law in Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion.
The main selections are flush with English-language films that include some provocative fare, such as David Cronenberg's Sigmund Freud-Carl Jung study, A Dangerous Method, with Keira Knightley and Viggo Mortensen; Abel Ferrara's 4:44 The Last Day on Earth, starring Willem Dafoe; William Friedkin's Killer Joe and the Mia Farrow starrer, Dark Horse, from Todd Solondz, a helmer whose middle name can well be controversy.
There is also a growing buzz around intriguing Russian director Aleksander Sokurov’s Faust, and Vincent Paronnaud’s and Marjane Satrapi’s Chicken With Plums.
The Festival basket looks all too enthralling.
Gautaman Bhaskaran has been covering the Venice International Film Festival for a decade, and will write on it this year as well