A selection of films can miraculously resemble a magic constellation: by looking at the starry sky of the 28. Venice International Film Critics’ Week, one can recognise a design connecting the nine selected films. These works seem to chase each other along shared path lines, presenting similar geographical, thematic and conceptual features as well as affinities between their characters.
However, it is not compulsory to find a constant in the stories, styles, or production efforts of these first-time directors and the brave souls who have believed in them: the choice of the seven films in competition – eligible for the “RaroVideo Audience Award” – and the two special events, was once again inspired by the will to discover fresh expressive energies in the world cinema landscape. Our bet is to program films able to arouse interest and pleasure, bringing to the fore small works and young auteurs who need the visibility that only a section exclusively devoted to debut films and held within a big festival can guarantee.
The first point of this constellation is the Italian film in competition: Zoran, il mio nipote scemo (Zoran, My Nephew the Idiot) by Matteo Oleotto. It is a delicate and smart comedy that, behind the mask of the ‘genre’, depicts existential drifts and crosses boundaries, even territorial one (the film is shot and produced between the north-eastern region of Friuli and Slovenia). Paolo – superbly played by Giuseppe Battiston – is a man unable to love and to make long-range plans, one who combines his passion for wine to an insensibility towards friends and acquaintances. One day he bumps into an unexpected inheritance: Zoran, a candid and almost autistic nephew whom he tries to quickly get rid of. However, this young man has a gift that Paolo is planning to exploit: he is a superlative master of darts. The relationship between the two characters will grow stronger between practical life experiences and a newfound sensitivity and generosity.
The line that connects this film to Razredni sovražnik (Class Enemy) by Rok Biček is a geographical one, that is Slovenia. A new authoritarian teacher subverts the usual routine of a high-school class, triggering tensions and conflicts. When one of the student commits suicide, her classmates accuse the teacher of being responsible for her death. But who is to be blamed and who instead deserves credit for attempting to understand these teenagers and their contradictory world? A dramatically intense film that deals with sensitive topics such as education and growth within the complex environment of the school.
The same dynamics between classmates can be found in the surprising Återträffen (The Reunion) by Swedish performer artist Anna Odell. Divided into two parts, the first one stages a typical reunion of former classmates. This ‘festen’ soon turns into a psychodrama as Anna Odell, playing the main character, accuses the old mates of being responsible for having ruined her teen years by torturing and marginalising her. The second part presents, like in a documentary, the director’s attempt to show the film to her real classmates. But what is real and what is fiction in this fascinating and absorbing conceptual experiment?
The boundaries between reality and fiction lies at the core of our surprise film as well, a title that will be announced later.
Disconnection from reality and inability to face the change also for the three protagonists of the superb Chilean film produced by the Larraín brothers: Las niñas Quispe (The Quispe Girls) by Sebastián Sepúlveda. Isolated on a dry altiplano, three sisters breeds goats and produces cheese, obsessively repeating daily actions while remaining impenetrable to the echoes of a far yet real world. As the women feel that their way of living is under threat, the story relentlessly brings them to a tragic end. A rigorous and masterful work, a film that will certainly be one of the biggest surprise at this year’s festival.
From a film in which the space is itself a character to another in which the sense of the space is symbiotically expressed by means of a brave and visionary style. Blending fiction and a quasi-documentary work with non-professional actors, White Shadow by Noaz Deshe portrays the cruel persecution against the albinos in Africa. Deshe – a stateless director born in Jaffa and living between Germany and the US – sets his story in Tanzania where the young Alias is looking for his place in the world after having witnessed the murder of his father and the profanation of his body. A riveting journey at the protagonists’ side, an Italian-German coproduction made possible also thanks to the support of a sensitive actor such as Ryan Gosling, who serves as executive producer of the film.
Intolerance, although of a different kind, is the line leading to our last film in competition: L’Armée du salut (Salvation Army), debut feature by Moroccan novelist Abdellah Taïa. Adapted from Taïa’s novel of the same name, the film is a touching and refined work recounting the life of the writer-director: from his teen years in Morocco – when he increases the awareness of his homosexuality within a complex domestic and social environment characterised by traditional values – to his escape to Europe thanks to a Swiss scholarship – an event that radically changes his perspectives.
Literature, language, and the value of art in all its different forms are the lines connecting the films in competition to the two special events. L’arte della felicità (The Art of Happiness) by Alessandro Rak – the opening film of this year’s Venice Critics’ Week – is an animated feature made in Naples by young illustrators, cartoonists, musicians, and an enlightened producer-scriptwriter. A story blending spirituality, Buddhism, and soul searching with the wanderings of a taxi driver, a disappointed former musician who looks for his soul between memories and ghost-like presences in a rainy Naples plagued by garbage.
The value of words and the importance of culture can be also found in our touching closing film, directed by another Chilean director: Las analfabetas (Illiterate) by Moisés Sepúlveda. Adapted from a theatrical piece played by the same actresses of the film (including the outstanding Paulina García, recently awarded in Berlin for Gloria), it tells the encounter between two women of different age and differently illiterate. The young Jackeline – illiterate of sentiments – takes to heart the real illiteracy of the solitary and stubborn Ximena. The former teaches reading and writing to the latter, but also helps her to finally look at her past and open up to the future.