Glamour and glory illuminate Venice

The film festival kicks off, slammed for its “toxic masculinity”

Photo: EPA Mexican film director Guillermo del Toro, President of the 75th Venice Film Festival's jury, arrives amid applauses.

The prestigious Venice film festival kicked off on 29 August with some 21 features to be locking horns for the prized Golden Lion. It will be awarded on 8 September at the Palazzo del Cinema on the Venice Lido, the iconic setting for Luchino Visconti's masterpiece “Death in Venice”. The festival jury is chaired by Guillermo Del Toro, last year's winner with “The Shape of Water”.

With Hollywood effectively turning the festival into its launchpad for the Oscars, with new films by Damien Chazelle, the Coen brothers, Alfonso Cuaron and Lady Gaga's much-hyped screen debut, feminists have lashed the organisers for choosing only one film by a female director, which happened for a second year in Venice. Festival director Alberto Barbera declared that he would “rather quit” than give in to pressure for a quota for women after the Cannes, Toronto and Locarno festivals pledged themselves to gender equality. But his stance, as Venice bids to rival Cannes as the world's most important festival, was lambasted by an alliance of European women filmmakers. “Sorry, but we don't buy this anymore,” said the European Women's Audiovisual Network in an open letter on 11 August. Barbera insisted that he chose the films “on the quality and not the sex of the director”, telling reporters that “if we impose quotas, I resign”.

He was already under pressure for including a documentary by Bruce Weber, “Nice Girls Don't Stay for Breakfast”, despite claims of coercive sexual behaviour by the American fashion photographer made by 15 male models.

The festival kicked off with “First Man”, the new film from the Oscar-winning director of “La La Land” Damien Chazelle. The film, which stars Canadian Ryan Gosling, follows the life of astronaut Neil Armstrong in the years leading up to 1969, when he became the first man to walk on the Moon. The audience looks with impatience to the arrival of the provocative pop singer Lady Gaga, who stars in the out-of-competition “A Star is Born”. Bradley Cooper plays a hard-drinking country artist who discovers a young singer, played by Gaga, and is also making his directorial debut with the film. The pair also wrote and recorded new songs for the film, the third remake of the entertainment industry romance classic.

Among the major names expected on the lagoon are Frenchman Jacques Audiard, who this time is taking on the Western genre with “The Sisters Brothers” and his countryman Olivier Assayas, in competition with the comedy “Non-Fiction”, starring his favourite actress Juliette Binoche.

Grand Prix winner at Cannes in 2015 and Oscar winner for best foreign film the following year with his first feature film “The Son of Saul”, the Hungarian Laszlo Nemes will return to big competition with “Sunset”. Big things are also expected from “The Favourite”, a period drama by Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos that plunges viewers into the court of Queen Anne at the beginning of the 18th century and stars Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz.

A number of films being shown in Venice have been picked up by streaming service Netflix, including the Coen brothers' “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”. The inclusion of Netflix films and their contemporaneous release in theatres and online has drawn the wrath of Italy's two major cinema associations Anec and Anem, who feel people will stay at home rather go out to watch the movies. “I can't see any reason why a film by Cuaron or the Coens should be excluded just because they're produced by Netflix,” festival's artistic director Alberto Barbera said during the press conference presenting the festival to reporters last month.

Traditionally, the festival awards two Golden Lions to two film giants for their whole career and contribution to cinema. The 81-year-old British actress Vanessa Redgrave and Canadian director David Cronenberg receive this year's lifetime achievement Golden Lions.

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