Venice 2012 Overview

in 69th Venice Film Festival

by Derek Malcolm

Alberto Barbera, ousted from his post as Festival Director in 2002 by the Berlusconi government, returned this year with an event which, despite financial constraints, proved that the 69th edition would not be the last. There were fewer films, both inside and outside the competition. They started on time, were projected decently and there were no serious administrative disasters. If the Festival wasn’t a triumph, it could hold up its head high in comparison to those of Berlin and Cannes.

Yet there was little doubt that the whole process of mounting a festival in straightened European times has altered dramatically. Among the assembly of international critics and reporters on the Lido were a large number who were under considerable constraints. Those in the worst position were the freelancers who found themselves either unable to sell what they wrote so as to make up their expenses or no longer had commissions from the papers that usually took their work. This was despite the fact that many newspapers and magazines either did not send critics to the Festival or sent them for a shorter period.

This was hardly the Festival’s fault but told us clearly how European papers have been affected by the recession. Here the future looks bleak since festivals rely on what is written about them, and it seems very likely that the process will continue unabated in the future. For instance, every national paper in the UK which publishes news and reviews from festivals is losing money, making staff redundant and paying less. No festival in the world can easily survive this contraction and has to produce stars as well as directors and good films if it wants to attract anything like the same publicity of a few years ago.

Barbera’s Festival did not produce many stars but was almost overloaded with directors. It was a serious festival in unserious times. Even though Barbera’s attempt to establish a market was more successful than many anticipated, the number of the public attending the films was down and their were notable absentees among the critics and reporters.

The competition and the Orizzonti sections, however, were well up to standard even though there were few films of outstanding merit on view and anyone going to the retrospective section, which included the full-length version of Cimino’s ”Heaven’s Gate” and some of the best work of Francesco Rosi, might well have felt that the golden age of cinema was somewhere in the past.

Michael Mann’s jury made some good choices for the prizes, but giving the Golden Lion for Best Film to Kim Ki-Duk’s ”Pieta” seemed a strange choice, even more of a surprise than Sokurov’s ”Faust” last year. But opinions were badly split both on the jury and elsewhere. Some found Terrence Malick’s ”To The Wonder” an enthralling postscript to his Cannes winner. Others disliked it intensely. There was controversy too over Paul Thomas Anderson’s ”The Master”, which was thought to be a good deal less strong than ”Magnolia”, winner of the Fipresci prize of film of the year but still a powerful film based on the early year’s of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. Certainly Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman deserved their joint best Actor Lions.

But any competition which included new work by Malick, Anderson, Brian De Palma, Robert Redford, Mira Nair, Susanne Bier, Takeshi Kitano, Spike Lee, Amos Gitai, Marco Bellocchio, Manoel de Oliviera and Ulrich Seidl could hardly be considered lacking in interest. This was not a blue riband festival. But it was by no means a bland one. The worry is that the adrenalin of publicity upon which all festivals depend may dry up if the newspapers decide to cease attending them. They can’t exist solely on bloggers.

Derek Malcolm