The Lido, the lush sandbar that hosts the Venice Film Festival every year, is an island of magnificent approaches. Take a water taxi from the airport to the Hotel Excelsior and you feel like you're traversing an ancient lagoon. Which, in fact, you are. This particular lagoon can also get clotted with celebrities and onlookers come festival time: My friend Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune arrived just as A Star is Born stars Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper were getting out of their water taxi, cameras clicking away madly. He quickly surmised that the hullaballoo wasn't directed at him.
Once inside the festival village, guarded by well-armed and generally polite carabinieri, an assortment of cinematic riches awaits. This year's festival, which runs Aug. 29-Sept. 8, offers surefire awards contenders (A Star is Born, The Favourite, Roma), international art films of various stripe, and even Steve Bannon (the subject of Errol Morris' new documentary, American Dharma). There's also room for upstart Dallas producer Dallas Sonnier, here for the second straight year with another high-end action genre movie, Dragged Across Concrete (which, I hasten to add, is quite good).
For all the glitz and galas, the festival also exudes a sense of cooperative creativity. This is nowhere more evident than in the Biennale College, a program that nurses and finances microbudget films and virtual-reality endeavors from inception through development to exhibition at the festival. (Disclosure: I am at the festival as a panelist to discuss the Biennale College slate with fellow critics and scholars from across the States). The three films selected for this year's festival, Deva (from Hungary), Yuva (from Turkey) and Zen in the Ice Rift (from Italy) are all marvelously idiosyncratic statements of artistic vision. I would not be surprised to see Zen, a polished portrait of a fiery young female hockey player, playing U.S. festivals and art houses in the near future.
Venice is also the place where the season's juicy film arguments commence. For instance: Is Suspiria, Luca Guadagnino's take on the classic cult horror movie, a bold feminist statement or an overwrought exercise in auteurist excess? I've yet to see it, but I'm enjoying the debate.
As a related side note, I find festivals to be about the worst possible environment for writing full-on reviews. You're seeing four movies per day, sleeping erratically and overstimulated to the gills. Not qualities that lend themselves to in-depth analysis. That said, I'm already a fan of Roma, A Star is Born and First Man, all of which I'll be diving into at later dates.
In the meantime, I'll see some more movies, inhale some more gelato, and continue to enjoy a city and a festival that never fails to make a first impression.