The first good news is about a false alarm. At the last Cannes Film Festival, a major controversy was the absence of female directors in the official competition. We want to reassure who thinks that female quotas are necessary in cinema and film festivals: the high amount of female directors who submitted their debut films this year, underlines an energy and expressive urgency that overcome cultural, political, and economic obstacles. It is not by chance then that in this year’s line-up four directors out of eight (the ninth film is a collective work) are women. It is not an opportunistic choice: cinema is an art form undergoing profound transformations, and it is a universal language triumphing over gender, racial, social, and censorial limitations. Of course, the possibility of a female cinema depends on the actual conditions of a specific area. However, what surprises me most is that examples of artistic rebellion increasingly originate from those places and cultures where the condition of women is more difficult. Brave and innovative films, works often freed from programmatic or didactic concerns, are often produced in these regions.
The second good news is about the number of impressive first time director’s features that will be presented this year at the Venice International Film Critics Week (a section traditionally devoted to debut films) and at the whole Venice Film Festival. In this sense, the friendly competition between the different sections of the festival may be strong, but we proudly claim a unique selection of films which precisely signals our distinguishing ‘places of interest’.
The opening event is extremely important: Water, a project of the Tel Aviv University, is a collective work that is directed and played by directors and actors of both Israeli and Palestinian origins. The film presents seven shorts on the theme of water, not only intended in its symbolic meaning, but also in its practical value, dramatically linked to the conflicts of the area.
Seven films from all over the world are then presented in competition. There are positive confirmations (Swedish and Mexican cinema), much appreciated returns (the stunning Turkish film, and the brave Chinese one), and a couple of European titles investigating identity and existential bewilderment in the EU through two love stories narrated with two completely different styles.
There is an Italian film too, and it is one of the most astonishing discovery of the year. La città ideale (The Ideal City), debut feature by actor Luigi Lo Cascio, is a strong parable on contemporary Italy. It draws on a certain tradition of committed cinema, and then it becomes an ethical noir, following the story of an obsessively stubborn environmentalist (played by Lo Cascio himself) who is suddenly forced to question his ethical certainties.
As for the other films in competition, Aly Aidın’s Küf presents strong social and political issues with a stylistic elegance that is typical of the recent tradition of Turkish cinema. This intense work narrates the story of an old railroad watchman living a in village in the countryside. He is waiting for news about his son, who disappeared 18 years before during some protests in Istanbul. In Xiao He (Lotus), the brave debut of Chinese female director Liu Shu, a young teacher decides to leave her work to let out her independent spirit and progressive ideas. Moving to Beijing, she realises that she can choose between two opposite paths: submission to the prevailing culture and economy, or the way of dissent.
Welcome Home, debut film by Belgian director Tom Heene, presents a woman facing the consequences of independence as well as those of her sentimental and sexual choices. Within the symbolic setting of Bruxelles, the European city par excellence, three encounters and three men mark the life of Lila, who metaphorically represents the quest for identity of a whole continent. The young protagonists of the Romanian film O luna in Thailanda (A Month in Thailand) by Paul Negoescu pursue the same research. This film consciously draws on the sentimental tradition of French cinema, but behind its seeming simplicity and the perfect circularity of its mise-en-scene, one can find the bewilderment of an entire generation. The film’s characters nostalgically look at the past, while contradictorily striving for that modernity that the recent inclusion in the European Union has brought about.
We are still in Europe with the Swedish film Äta sova dö (Eat Sleep Die) by Gabriela Pichler. Apparently, the economic crisis hit Sweden too. After being fired, the protagonist keeps on fighting without losing hope, coping with classes for the unemployed (the social safety valves are taken very seriously in Scandinavia) and actual difficulties in finding a new job. This film depicts the extraordinary portrait of a woman, and its cinematic value goes well beyond its realistic narrative. The last ‘female film’ of this year’s selection is the Mexican one. No quiero dormir sola (She Doesn’t Want to Sleep Alone) by Natalia Beristain narrates the story of two women, Amanda (the granddaughter) and Dolores (the grandmother), in a crucial phase of their lives. This film focuses on their bodies and their solitudes, and explores the old age and the theme of euthanasia from an intense and stylistically-rigorous perspective.
Body, impossible loves, life and death: all the themes of this year’s line-up in the film we passionately chose to close this year’s Venice International Film Critics’ Week. An eccentric special event, the astonishing debut of Xan Cassavetes (John Cassavetes’ daughter): Kiss of the Damned. This is the fascinating and highly-erotic tale of two vampire sisters living in Connecticut. One wants to give in her blood lust and fulfil her dream of love; the other one is determined to spread her ravenous desire of death. In her debut, this cinephile director pays homage to all sorts of genre cinema, especially the tradition of Italian fantastic film, mixing underground and video art, comics and video clip aesthetics. It is up to you to judge if it is just another vampire movie or if it is actually much more than that. Ok, I bet you have already understood what we think of it…