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Venice Film Festival opens despite pandemic

September 2, 2020 06:35 PM

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The Venice Film Festival opens on Wednesday with strict safety measures in place for the industry's first international competition since the coronavirus hit, with 18 films vying to grab the top prize and help movie buffs forget the pandemic for a while.

At Wednesday's opening film, "Lacci" by Italian director Daniele Luchetti, the theatre was just half full with journalists, whose temperatures were taken before being allowed inside.

On the eve of the annual high-profile competition on the Lido, dozens of red safety signs were unloaded and installed throughout the venue attested to the peculiarity of this year's event. 

"Anti-Covid-19 rules of conduct," read the bright, vertical signs. "Wear a face mask. Keep a safe distance. Wash your hands."

The sound of drills pierced the warm beach-front air as workers went about their last-minute preparations and journalists -- all in masks -- wandered the freshly laid red carpet, their festival badges suspended from their necks.

"This year in Venice, they've confused the festival with the Carnival. We're at a masked ball," one Italian journalist quipped to his colleagues. 

One exception was Festival Director Alberto Barbera, tanned and mask-free, as he gave interviews on the red carpet about the importance of this year's festival.

"I'm excited and I'm a little bit anxious," acknowledged Barbera, neatly turned out in a pressed blue suit despite the heat.

In May, Barbera made the high-stakes decision to go ahead with "La Mostra" -- now in its 77th year -- despite film festivals around the world opting to cancel, including Venice's French rival, the Cannes Film Festival.

"We feel a responsibility to be the first. We knew Venice will be sort of a test for everyone," he said. 

For the past few months across the globe, most film production remained on hold and movie theatres dark due to the coronavirus.  

Fewer stars, less glitz 

About 6,000 people are expected to turn out this year -- about half the festival's usual number -- as border restrictions around the globe have limited the ability of many to travel. 

Most of Hollywood's A-list will be no-shows, with Australian actress Cate Blanchett supplying this year's star power as president of the jury.

"It's a festival without stars because Hollywood is still in lockdown," Barbera told AFP. "Will there be less glamour? Yes. Will there be fewer stars on the red carpet? Certainly.

"But there will be so many good films, 65 from 50 different countries, a sign of the richness and variety of contemporary cinema." 

Eighteen films in the main competition will vie for the festival's top prize, the prestigious Golden Lion.

Provided it was done safely, it was now time for film lovers to be back in theatre seats, Barbera said.

"We're tired of seeing films in streaming," he said.

Organisers are hoping they can safely run the festival -- due to go on until September 12 -- despite coronavirus cases on the rise in Italy and neighbouring European countries.

In one of the most radical changes, fans will no longer be allowed on the red carpet, where in past years they've pressed behind barriers hoping to get a photo or autograph from their favourite celebrities. 

Here are the films in the running:

'Le Sorelle Macaluso' (The Macaluso Sisters): Italy  

Five sisters in Palermo reminisce, quibble and recount secrets as they reunite at a family funeral in Emma Dante's film.

'The World to Come': US 

In Mona Fastwold's upstate 19th century New York, Abigail (Katherine Waterston) tends a farm with her husband (Casey Affleck) but falls in love with a neighbour.

'Nuevo Orden' (New Order): Mexico/France 

A dystopian film from Michel Franco depicts social and economic disparity in Mexico, as a well-to-do family seeks to escape the chaos of daily life.

'Amants' (Lovers): France 

Nicole Garcia's film tells the story of Lisa and Simon, lovers who paths cross again three years after Simon fled Paris.

'Laila in Haifa': Israel/France 

Five women's stories interweave in the course of one night at a Haifa club. As one of the few spaces where Israelis and Palestinians can mingle, director Amos Gitai turns the venue itself into a protagonist.

'Dorogie Tovarischi!' (Dear Comrades!): Russia 

Based on the true story of a 1962 labour strike in Novocherkassk, USSR, in which 26 protesters were shot by Soviet troops. Andrei Konchalosky's film retells events kept secret until the 1990s.

'Spy No Tsuma' (Wife of a Spy): Japan 

Against the backdrop of a looming World War II and the invasion of Manchuria, a wife's love for her Kobe merchant husband is tested when another woman enters the picture in Kiyoshi Kurosawa's film.

'Khorshid' (Sun Children): Iran 

Ali and his friends work small jobs and hustle to support their families. Majid Majidi's film explores what happens when Ali learns of an underground treasure. 

'Pieces of a Woman': Canada/Hungary 

Martha and Sean (Vanessa Kirby and Shia LaBeouf) are a Boston couple whose baby dies during a home birth. Director Kornel Mundruczo shows how grieving Martha navigates her relationships with her husband and mother (Ellen Burstyn), while facing the midwife (Molly Parker) in court.

'Miss Marx': Italy/Belgium 

Susanna Nicchiarelli tells the story of Eleanor, the youngest daughter of Karl Marx, who battled for the rights of workers and women and the abolition of child labour.

'Padrenostro': Italy 

The life of 10-year-old Valerio is turned upside down when he and his mother witness a terrorist attack against his father. But director Claudio Noce explores how a chance encounter with a rebellious boy changes their lives.

'Notturno': Italy/France/Germany 

Shot over three years on the borders of Iraq, Kurdistan, Syria and Lebanon, Gianfranco Rosi's documentary follows people trying to cobble together an existence despite the violence around them.  

'Sniegu Juz Nigby Nie Bedzie' (Never Gonna Snow Again): Poland/Germany 

A mysterious masseur from Ukraine, Zhenia becomes a guru for a spiritually barren gated community in this film by Malgorzata Szumowska and Michal Englert.

'The Disciple': India 

Director Chaitanya Tamhane tells the story of Sharad, chasing his dream of becoming an Indian classical vocalist amid the chaos of life in the sprawling metropolis of Mumbai. 

'Und Morgen die Ganze Welt' (And Tomorrow the Entire World): Germany/France 

 In Julia von Heinz's film, Luisa and her anti-fascist group question how far they're willing to go to battle hatred after a wave of racist attacks strikes Germany.

'Quo vadis, Aida?': Bosnia-Herzegovina 

Based on true events in 1995 Bosnia. Aida is a translator in Srebrenica working for United Nations peacekeepers. When the Bosnian Serb army invades, she and thousands of others seek safety in the Dutch UN camp in Jasmila Zbanic's film.

'Nomadland': US 

Director Chloe Zhao tells the story of Fern (Frances McDormand), who sets off from her impoverished Nevada town in her van to scratch out a living as a modern-day nomad.

'In Between Dying': Azerbaijan/US 

Davud is a restless young man on a journey of self-discovery through Hilal Baydarov's film, keeping ahead of men pursuing him. When his journey ends at home, Davud finds the love he's seeking -- but is it too late?   

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