Friday, September 29, 2023

Italico Brass, the Painter of Venice

Caffè Florian (detail) by Italico Brass (1912)

(Venice, Italy) Italico Brass is the most delightful painter of Venice that you probably have never heard of. That's all about to change thanks to a gem of an exhibition in Palazzo Loredan in Campo Santo Stefano entitled Italico Brass, Il Pittore di Venezia.

The last time Italico Brass had his own show was back in 1948 at the Venice Art Biennale, the first Biennale after the fall of the Fascist regime.

Instead of painting the usual Venetian monuments, Brass captured the everyday lives and times of the inhabitants of Venice, the town that he had adopted as his home. Festivals and regattas. Votive bridges and holy days. The campi of Venice in sunshine and in snow. From gondoliers to lace-makers, cafés in Piazza San Marco to high-society on the Lido, Brass reminds us of how many precious elements of life in Venice once existed, some of which still exist to this day.

Due buranelle (Two women of Burano) by Italico Brass (c. 1904)

Born on December 12, 1870 in the Northern Italian town of Gorizia when it was under Austrian domination, Brass wanted to be an artist from a young age. Family lore says that his father took him to the ancient Gorizia Castle and pointed far off in the distance, telling him stories about Venice, a city that became a fixation to the budding painter.

Brass studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Munich after proving his talent at age 16 by painting a portrait of his father. He then lived in Paris and frequented Impressionist and Post-Impressionist circles, where numerous exhibitions of his work were held. He also found success in various European cities and the Americas. 

Italico Brass self-portrait (1928) inside Palazzo Loredan

Brass arrived from Paris to the lagoon in 1895 with his new wife, Lina Rebecca Vidgoff, living first in Chioggia and then in Venice. He was present at the very first Venice Art Biennale in 1895, and in almost every edition until the year of his death in August 1943.

After that, he fell into oblivion except for one show in his home town of Gorizia in 1991.

Now, 80 years after Brass's death, Venice is launching her adopted son -- who had been called "The Painter of Venice" by critics since the early 20th century -- back into the spotlight.

Scuola di merletti (School of Lace) by Italico Brass

What is fascinating about the exhibition is that Brass has captured the stories we hear about Venice at the turn of the 20th century, and brought them to life. Instead of reading about the revival of lace-making on the island of Burano thanks to the efforts of Countess Andriana Marcello, Brass was actually there on Burano in 1904. He spent the summer with fellow artists Pieretto Bianco and Umberto Veruda, who was a guest of the author Italo Svevo. Thanks to his brush we can witness the women at work, making lace.

Conversazione sulla spiaggia (Conversation on the beach) by Italico Brass

There is an enchanting series of paintings of the Lido that Brass painted during the first half of the 20th century as it developed into a lively seaside resort. He captures wealthy visitors lounging on its shores as well as everyday Venetians frolicking in the sea, scenes that still exist to this very day (with far less clothing) -- if you know where to look.

Pedicure, manicure, haircut right on the beach

One of my favorite works was a small painting of the instantly recognizable interior of Locanda Montin over in Dorsoduro.

Sotto la pergola (Under the Pergola) by Italico Brass (c.1920)

Next to the painting was a note that said:
This is the pergola in the garden of the Locanda Montin frequented by Brass almost every day: here he met both D'Annunzio and Ezra Pound.
Can you imagine such a trio at lunch?! Italico Brass lived in the house next to the Church of San Trovaso in Dorsoduro, not far from Pound and D'Annunzio.

The notes from the exhibition state that "Brass did not belong to any school, current or other but, as the critics say, 'belonged to himself.' With these characteristics of originality and uniqueness, Italico Brass practically spanned the first half of the century, devoting himself mainly, but not exclusively, to portraying Venice and its world in new and, above all, modern terms."

Italico Brass died suddenly in Venice on August 16, 1943, the day of the Feast of San Rocco.

There are over 100 works on display inside Palazzo Loredan that whisk you back to Venice a century ago before the tourist invasion. After I left the exhibition, I stopped over in Campo San Maurizio to take a photo of the same image that Italico Brass painted in 1910.

El Campaniel, (bell tower) Campo San Maurizio
left: 1910 oil on canvas by Italico Brass - right: 2023 iPad photo by Cat Bauer

Italico Brass, The Painter of Venice is presented by the Istituto Venetio di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti and Lineadacqua, who also has published a beautiful accompanying catalogue -- in Italian, but with many gorgeous images that need no words to understand. There does seem to be a short guide in English that I haven’t seen. The main partner is Majer, who you can support by enjoying their delicious pastries and other goodies, along with the stalwart The Merchant of Venice with their exotic fragrances and art of perfumery.

Italico Brass, Il Pittore di Venezia curated by Giandomeico Romanelli and Pascaline Vatin runs from September 30 to December 22, 2023, and is a MUST SEE for anyone who truly loves Venice. The two curators also made a short film that gives an entertaining history in Italian with English subtitles. Go to the Institute of Science, Letters and Arts for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Monday, September 18, 2023

Recap of the 80th Venice Film Festival 2023 -- The Good, the Bad & the Excellent

Now that's a car! Sleek Italian Police Lamborghini outside the red carpet
during the Venice Film Festival award ceremony
A gift from Lamborghini so the Polizia can transport human organs -- fast
The cooler for the organs is under the hood

(Venice, Italy) This year, the dual Writers Guild and SAG-AFTRA actor strikes put a necessary damper on the excitement of the red carpet at the Venice Film Festival. The unfair practices of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), and the danger that artificial intelligence (AI) poses not just for Hollywood, but for all creative industries, was thrust into the spotlight.

Peter Sarsgaard summed it up when he accepted the award for Best Actor for his work in the film, Memory: "I think we could all really agree that an actor is a person and that a writer is a person. But it seems we can't. And that's terrifying because this work we do is about connection. And without that, this animated space between us, this sacrament, this holy experience of being human, will be handed over to the machines and the eight billionaires that own them."

The Red Carpet behind the scenes - Photo: Cat Bauer

I had the chance to see 20 films this year, along with a bunch of Virtual Reality and other Immersive projects. Here is my annual quick recap of the films I managed to see, with letter grades and links to reviews that I agree with the most.

1. Comandante

Instead of Luca Guadagnino’s Hollywood dazzler Challengers starring Zendaya kicking off the Venice Film Festival, which was pulled by MGM/Amazon due to the strike, the opening film was Edoardo De Angelis’ Italian drama, Comandante. Set on an Italian submarine during World War II, it's based on the true story of Salvatore Todaro, played by Italian powerhouse Pierfrancesco Favino.

Todaro was born in Sicily, but grew up in Chioggia in Venice. As commander of the Italian Royal Naval submarine, Comandante Cappellini, Todaro blew up a Belgium ship carrying British war supplies and then, astonishingly, rescued the Belgium seamen.

I really enjoyed the film, but I think it's because I live in Italy -- I'm not sure it will translate well into the English-speaking world. There were lots of Venetian expressions, as well as colloquialisms from the rest of Italy -- in fact, Todaro writes to his wife about how the sailors on the sub are united even though they speak different dialects and come from different Italian regions -- sort of like men from Alabama bonding with men from California.

I ran into Pierfrancesco Favino at the Excelsior Hotel on the Lido. I told him: "I'm an American who's lived here since 1998. I loved your performance and the film. I was rooting for the fascists!"

Pierfrancesco Favino
Photo: Cat Bauer

Here's a review from Catherine Bray at the Guardian that I agree with:
Comandante review – fun, if you ignore the voice in your head telling you it’s wrong

...Surely Italy is that nice place with the gnocchi and olive oil? Hard to imagine they were … fascists?

...Todaro is presented as a man so noble he almost seems to misunderstand how war is supposed to work. And perhaps he really was: rebuking a German officer who finds Todaro’s “hate the game, not the player” policy ludicrous, the man reportedly said: “I’m Italian, I have 2,000 years of civilisation behind me.”

I don't know if Comandante will make it to US screens, but it's worth seeing, especially if you're of Italian heritage. Grade: B+

2. Dogman

Many critics lambasted Luc Besson's Dogman, which, to me, seemed like some kind of Me Too pile on to punish the French director, who has been cleared of all rape allegations against him. I liked the weird film starring Caleb Landry Jones about a cross-dressing loner in a wheelchair bruised by life and the many dogs that protect him.

Damon Wise from Deadline liked it, too:

Caleb Landry Jones Blows The Roof Off Luc Besson’s Boisterously Insane Action Thriller

Luc Besson’s Dogman is a superhero movie in search of a comic book, which makes a refreshing change amid the summer’s raft of DC disappointments. It skews a little close to Todd Phillips’ Golden Lion winner Joker in terms of weirdness and (especially) wardrobe, but it also offers the perfect showcase for star Caleb Landry Jones, who imbues a boisterously insane action thriller with heart and soul in what must surely be a career-high performance.

Set in New Jersey, the film is in English, not French, and, as noted, is in a similar key to Joker. It's scheduled to be released in French cinemas on September 27 and October 5 in Italy, but I don't know about the States. See it if you can. Grade: B+

3. Ferrari

Michael Mann's Ferrari signed the interim SAG-AFTRA agreement, which allowed star Adam Driver to appear on the red carpet in Venice to promote the film. It was a very effective way to call attention to the purpose of the strike.

To support the actors, indie productions like Ferrari and Dogman have agreed to all the terms the SAG-AFTRA union is asking for. By having the movie star wattage of Adam Driver here in person, it made an impressive impact -- and illustrates that producers can agree to the demands of the union if they want to.

That said, though some critics loved it, to me, Ferrari was not Mann's strongest film.

Siddhant Adlakha at Mashable says:

Michael Mann returns with a scattered but impactful biopic

...Where Mann's masterpieces like Heat feature a riveting sense of atmosphere — there's always a thickness in the air, born of his use of light, focus, and the interplay of characters and their environments — Ferrari is more of a concert of still images that feel mildly pleasurable to look at in isolation. However, while the simplicity of these images yields a film that is, for the most part, lukewarm, they are also complimented by a complex aesthetic flourish that rears its head from time to time as a reminder of what the movie is truly about at its core...

Ferrari is scheduled to be released in the United States on Christmas, December 25, 2023. I wouldn't give up Christmas dinner to see it, but maybe catch it before the New Year. Grade: B-

4. Hollywoodgate

I agree most with Daniel Fienberg at the Hollywood Reporter.

Chronicle of the Taliban’s Return to Power Fascinates and Frustrates

Ibrahim Nash'at's documentary follows two Taliban officials through the first year after the American withdrawal from Kabul.

Maybe Nash’at hoped to get something more decisive, more instantly cautionary, but I suspect Hollywoodland (sic - should be Hollywoodgate) will gain potency in the years to come. The Taliban wanted a 90-minute commercial and Nash’at wanted 90 minutes of truth, and what they both got was a portrait of the complicated cost of access — more vital in its universal applicability to documentary filmmaking than its immediacy as a documentary.

I couldn't find a release date for the U.S. Stream it if it pops up in the States. Grade: C

5. Finalmente l'alba (Finally Dawn)

I enjoyed this strange film by Italian writer-director Saverio Constanzo in both Italian and English set on one long day and night in Rome in the 1950s at the Cinecittà film studio when an innocent teenage girl who wants to be an extra instead becomes a kind of star. I especially liked Willem Dafoe as a charming art dealer who does a lot of translating between the characters. He can really speak Italian -- he's married to Italian actress Giada Colagrande, and they live in Rome, LA, and NYC.

From Peter Bradshaw at The Guardian:

Finally Dawn review – Lily James shines in exuberant romantic melodrama

James is the Liz Taylor-ish diva claiming a young star-struck girl as her new best friend in Saverio Constanzo’s tale set in 1950s Rome

It is the tale of an unconventionally beautiful duckling who becomes more of a swan than the glamorous people she idolises; her dreams come true – or sort of true – in 1950s Rome in the heyday of the giant Cinecittà film studio. There are seductive performances from Lily James as the Liz Taylor-ish American movie diva, Willem Dafoe as her elegant, kindly confidant, Rachel Sennott as the disaffected up-and-coming actor who wants to unseat James’s star, and a lovely turn from relative newcomer Rebecca Antonaci as the bewildered and unlikely heroine.

I can't find a release date yet, but I'm sure it will at least stream eventually. Worth watching. Grade: B

Emma Stone & Ramy Youssef in Poor Things
6. Poor Things

As I wrote previously, I loved Poor Things, along with nearly every critic. The film delivers its message of female empowerment with sheer joy, wit and creativity. I am thrilled that it won the Golden Lion, the top award of the Venice Film Festival (and that Willem Dafoe stars in this one, too). 

Go out and see it in the theater when it opens on December 8, 2023 in the US, and on January 12, 2024 in the UK. It's better than Barbie. Grade: A+

"Poor Things" Is a Wacky, Wonderful Work of Genius with a Fearless Performance by Emma Stone - Venice Film Festival 2023

7. The Palace

Roman Polanski's The Palace was despised by most critics, and in this case I think it has nothing to do with the Me Too movement. The movie is just bad.

Owen Gleiberman from Variety:

Roman Polanski’s New Year’s Eve Hotel Comedy About a Bunch of Wealthy Idiots Is a Laughless Debacle

Polanski and comedy have never jelled, and at 90 he works with a timing that's decades out of date.

Nothing in the movie is funny. Not the constant scrambling of the hotel manager, Mr. Kompf (Oliver Masucci), to placate the overgrown babies who are his guests. Not John Cleese overplaying the oil-tycoon drawl and then going the way of “Weekend at Bernie’s” (apologies for the spoiler — I hope I haven’t ruined the movie for you). Not the live penguin who gets shipped to the hotel and keeps wandering around...

The Palace is set to be released on September 28 in Italy, but does not have a distributor in the US, UK, or France, so you probably won't be able to see it. Grade: D

8. Maestro

Because of the strike, Bradley Cooper was not in Venice to support Maestro, the film that he both starred in and directed, which focuses on the marriage of the bi-sexual Leonard Bernstein. Cooper had the full support of the real-life Bernstein family, with the composer's three children here at the world premiere.

From Fionnuala Halligan in Screen Daily:

Director/star Bradley Cooper conducts an impressively-mounted, if uneven, portrait of composer Leonard Bernstein

...Which is to say that Maestro plays like a more modern work: a staccato piece. The black-and-white section at the start is the most joyous, carefree and flowing; central parts, where the marriage starts to fracture despite Felicia being happy to entertain her husband’s lovers, are loud, veering towards abrasive; the final third, with depression and illness, feels like a slow, painful thud to fade...

Maestro is scheduled for limited theatrical release in the U.S. on November 22, 2023, before streaming on Netflix on December 20, 2023. It might make a good night out if you're in NYC, but there is a Netflixy feel about it, so it's OK to stream. Grade: B+

9. La Bête (The Beast)

Due to my own stupidity, I missed the first half hour of
La Bête, but I think it worked out OK because it is a non-linear film about past, present, and future lives, jumping through time, and switching from French to British and American English. Its running time is two hours and 26 minutes, so I caught most of it.

From Jordan Mintzer at The Hollywood Reporter:

Lea Seydoux and George MacKay in Bertrand Bonello’s Creepy, Conceptual Time-Tripping Saga

The French director adapts a Henry James novella, which he transforms into a romantic thriller set during three different epochs.

...Set simultaneously in 2044, 2014 and in the belle-époque Paris of 1910, when the Seine overflowed and plunged parts of the city underwater, The Beast is at once an anxiety-ridden romantic thriller and a conceptual cri de coeur about the possible end of humanity. It features incredibly lifelike robots, exposed green screens, freaky ceramic dolls, and scenes of Seydoux doing futuristic hot yoga and dancing to trap while high on molly...

The Beast is set to be released in France on January 28, 2024. Will it be released in the U.S.? If so, it's worth streaming. Grade: B

10. The Killer

I think Michael Fassgender is terrific, so I was looking forward to The Killer, directed by David Fincher. It's slow-moving uber-violent Netflix about an uber-professional assassin with a narrative that Fassbender tells in a monotone voice-over.

From Owen Gleiberman at Variety:

David Fincher’s Hitman Thriller Is a Portrait of a Coldly Methodical Assassin Played by Michael Fassbender

It's all homicidal procedure: gripping at times, more conventional than Fincher thinks at others.

“The Killer” turns out to be a movie about waiting around to kill people. Fassbender speaks in a low affectless drone, saying things like “On Annie Oakley jobs, distance is the only advantage” or “No one who can afford me needs to waste time winning me over to some cause” or “Most people refuse to believe that the great beyond is anything more than a cold, infinite void.” He sounds as dread-squeezed and controlled as Martin Sheen in “Apocalypse Now” when he said, “Never get out of the boat. Absolutely goddamn right.” Committing a hit may be mostly about counting down the minutes and hours, but Fincher builds the sequence with a veteran suspense filmmaker’s cunning.

The Killer will debut on Netflix on November 10. Grade: B+

Watching Woody Allen photo call in the press room

11. Coup de Chance

Nobody in the United States would give Woody Allen money to make a movie, so he made one in French, a language he does not speak, set in Paris. During the press conference, he said that he always was better at writing parts for women.

And that's true. Think about it -- long before anyone else was writing decent female roles, Woody Allen created strong female protagonists. He has received the most nominations for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, with 16. 

Coup de Chance is a solid film, entertaining, with good performances. It takes a long buildup to reach the punchline, but when it arrives, it makes you laugh out loud.

From Xan Brooks of The Guardian:

Woody Allen’s tale of ill-fated lovers is his best film in a decade

An adulterous affair between bored millionaire’s wife Fanny and struggling writer Alain is surely bound for disaster

How Allen continues to conduct his career is obviously his business alone. But if he were ever minded to collect his winnings and quit the table, his 50th feature might be a decent film to go out on. Coup de Chance is variously funny and sad, energetic and easygoing; a stumbling but satisfying autumnal drama that wanders amid the fading light and the golden leaves. For good measure, Allen even throws in an ending which stirs the memory of the classic moose-hunting routine from his old 1960s standup days; a rueful, airy aside that serves to bring the man’s career full-circle.

Woody Allen will be 88 on November 30. Someone asked him if he would ever make another movie set in New York, and he said he would if someone else raised the money, the part of film making he does not enjoy.

I hope someone does help Woody raise the money to make at least one more film in English set in New York. Coup de Chance will be in theaters in France starting on September 27, 2023. It does not have a U.S. release date... yet. Grade: B

An emotional real-life Priscilla Presley at the Venice Film Festival
Photo: Cat Bauer,
(from a live press conference streamed into the press room)

12. Priscilla

I thought Priscilla was excellent.
Cailee Spaeny, who starts off playing the 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu on a German military base, morphs into the adult wife of Elvis Presley living in Graceland. Her performance won Spaeny the Best Actress award at the Venice Film Festival.

From Stephanie Zakarek at Time:

Venice Review: Sofia Coppola's Priscilla Is Quietly Extraordinary

Have you ever had an intense experience—fallen madly in love, say—only to look back years later and feel it had happened to a different person, a person who had walked through a dream, and survived it, to get to the self you were destined to become? That’s the feeling Sofia Coppola captures in her quietly extraordinary Priscilla, which is adapted from the story told by Priscilla Presley in her candid and moving 1985 memoir Elvis and Me.

The real-life Priscilla Presley was here in Venice at the press conference, though not up on the panel with the film entourage. Someone asked her a question, and she gave an emotional answer from the audience. "He was the love of my life. It was the lifestyle I left. We never left each other."

Priscilla opens in the US on October 27, 2023. Go see it. Grade: A-

Seydou Sarr, director Matteo Garrone, Moustapha Fall at photo call for Io Capitano

13. Io Capitano (Me Captain)

I would translate Io Capitano to "I, Captain" instead of Me Captain. It is an extraordinary story of two innocent teenage boys from Senegal who dream of coming to Europe to become pop stars. They are not running away from war or extreme poverty. They just want the freedom to move to another country.

In order to arrive in Europe, these two boys must make a harrowing, brutal, deadly journey through the
Sahara Desert and across the Mediterranean Sea. One boy ends up behind the helm of a rickety boat stuffed with 250 fellow migrants. It is based on true events.

From Leila Latiff at Indie Wire:

‘Io Capitano’ Review: Matteo Garrone’s Stunning Film Puts a Human Face on the Migrant Crisis

Venice: Garrone's film hinges on one of the most impressive and transfixing acting debuts in recent memory, from breakout Seydou Sarr.

The film itself is inspired by real-life events, in which Garonne came across a story about a 15-year-old boy who had no nautical or navigation experience but was tasked by a people smuggler to take up the captain’s mantle and steer a boat carrying 250 people across the Mediterranean. But despite there being no shortage of hideous accounts of the journey to Europe for desperate African refugees, Seydou and his accompanying cousin have foolishly deep wells of optimism. Garonne uses their naivete to ratchet up suspense, making each time they trust in the goodness of their fellow man feel like watching an inebriated teenage girl in a slasher movie enter a dark basement.
Io Capitano is the perfect Hero's Journey. Matteo Garrone won Best Director and Seydou Sarr won Best Young Actor. Right now, Me Captain has no US distribution. When somebody figures out how to get the film in front of the eyes of English-speaking audiences, make every effort to see it. Grade: A

UPDATE - September 24, 2023: Io Capitano was chosen by Italy as its candidate for Best International Film at the 96th Academy Awards, and is on the cusp of announcing a US deal, according to Deadline.

14. Origin

Again, I agree most with Leila Latiff at Indie Wire:
‘Origin’ Review: Ava DuVernay Links Historical Injustices Together in Sprawling Misfire

Venice: DuVernay's adaptation of Isabel Wilkerson's "Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents" comes across as a misguided riff on the "Eat Pray Love" formula.

The best thing that can be said about “Origin” — beyond the undeniable fact that it’s competently made — is that it really does make you want to read the book. Wilkerson research into the anthropological rot that links enslavement and segregation in America to the plight of the Dalits in India and the Holocaust is fascinating in the parallels it draws between what could otherwise be regarded as disparate acts of societal evil. But fails to offer sufficient nuance, speeding through to the moment where she finally lays out the eight core “pillars” of the argument without clear distinction. It seems an obvious criticism to say that a nonfiction book would have been better suited for adaptation to a documentary.

Neon will release Origin sometime in late 2023. Wait for it to stream. Grade: C

15. Hit Man

There is nothing earth-shattering about Hit Man. It's just fun and entertaining, and would make a good movie for a dinner and a date.

From Xan Brooks at The Guardian:

Richard Linklater mixes philosophy and fun in true-crime caper

The director shows off his quickfire, casual side with a yarn about a contract killer who isn’t all he seems

Richard Linklater’s latest is a jaunty action comedy that spins its machine-tooled high concept like a bicycle wheel – sometimes with shrewd intent, sometimes for pure fun. Loosely based on a longform true-crime article by Skip Hollandsworth, it follows the fortunes of Gary Johnson, a fake contract killer for the New Orleans police department, setting up stings in cheap diners while the cops wait outside. In the hands of a lesser director, Hit Man would surely have felt rather thin and disposable. But Linklater is a pro, and he manages to make the film’s fripperies feel borderline profound.

It seems Hit Man will be released in the States on October 6. You can take a date to see it, or wait for it to stream. Grade: B

16. Holly

I really tried to find another critic besides Leila Latiff at Indie Wire who I agreed with about the Belgium film, Holly, but I couldn't. It seems Latiff and I have the same taste in films. Everyone else seemed to like Holly more than either of us.

From Leila Latiff at Indie Wire:

‘Holly’ Review: A New Twist on ‘Carrie’ Forgets Its Bloodiest Pleasures

Venice: Fien Troch's film pulls liberally from the Stephen King playbook, but is missing its catharsis and insight.

What’s most frustrating about “Holly” is its potential. No one is suggesting that Troch’s film should offer a full exploration of a teenage girl becoming the messiah (well, maybe, Ryan Murphy would see this material and suggest that), but its strange for a film to commence with the immolation of her peers and then spend the next 90 minutes barely shifting those relationships.
Holly will be released on November 22, 2023 in Belgium. Do these movies ever pop up in the States with English subtitles on some streaming service? Grade: C

17. Paradise Is Burning

I really liked Paradise Is Burning, which screened in the Orizzonti (Horizons) section of the Venice Film Festival, and was not reviewed by the major critics. It's about three underage sisters growing up without a mother, who ran off and left them on their own.

First, to give you some context, here's the review from Rebecca Rosén at an indie publication called Flip Screen:
‘Paradise is Burning’ (2023) Is a Triumphant Love Letter to Sisterhood
"An equally beautiful and heartbreaking coming-of-age tale that delicately balances humour with pain”

Having a sibling is perfectly summed up in the act of telling a person to go to hell and then worrying about them getting there safely—it’s an intricate relationship filled with both frustration and love. Although commonly portrayed, it isn’t always easy to authentically present these connections simply due to their characteristic complexity. Paradise is Burning (original title: Paradiset brinner) does it successfully though, as it finds the right balance between conveying how strongly these sisters feel about each other and how much they can end up hurting each other due to the very same reason.

For most of the movie, I couldn't figure out which Scandinavian country we were in until the sisters performed coming of age ceremonies, and I thought, it's got to be Sweden. No other country has such strange customs. For example, when the youngest sister's tooth falls out, instead of putting it under a pillow and getting cash from the tooth fairy, the older sisters have her swallow her it with a shot of liquor. And when the middle sister gets her period, all the girls in the 'hood get together while she gulps red wine and roars through her teeth like a wild beast.

It turned out the country was Sweden, but the rituals were complete fiction. In the Q&A after the screening, director Mika Gustafson said they invented the ceremonies to fit the sisters. I told her that she's going to have the rest of the world thinking that's what girls really do in Sweden!

Probably the only way you'll get to see the film is if it is nominated to be Sweden's candidate for Best International Film, which it very well could be. Grade: A-

18. Gasoline Rainbow

The kids are all right! I really enjoyed this movie. It seems the only thing that has changed in the 50 years since I graduated high school is more piercings and tattoos. Otherwise everything seems about the same, including the music.

From Leslie Felperin of The Hollywood Reporter:

‘Gasoline Rainbow’ Review: The Ross Brothers’ Teen Road Movie Is a Pleasurable Ride

The latest from Bill and Turner Ross is about a group of high-school friends who set out to see the Pacific.

As with the Ross Brothers other films, it’s obvious there’s no written dialogue for the performers to recite back, but there is more of a sense of a guiding narrative trajectory here than in some of the other films. All five kids are complete naturals on camera, and you would never guess that they just met through the making of the film and didn’t know each other for years. The way they respond to music collectively is recognizably very Gen Z...

Mubi will release the film in 2024. If you're Gen Z or curious, get high and go see it. Grade: B+

19. The Red Suitcase

The Red Suitcase was in the Orizzonti (Horizons) section. I can't find a review. It's a co-production from Nepal and Sri Lanka. 

Here's a brief article from Naman Ramachandran at Variety:
Venice Horizons Film ‘The Red Suitcase’ Unpacks Rare Nepal-Sri Lanka Partnership

In mystery tale “The Red Suitcase,” a pick-up truck driver leaves Kathmandu airport for a two-day drive with a delivery arriving from abroad to a remote mountain village. On the high road, a solitary figure slowly makes his way, wheeling a small red suitcase toward the same village....  “‘The Red Suitcase’ is a simple and honest film made with only local talent from South Asia.
It was too simple and honest for me. I don't know if you'll ever have the chance to see it, but it was a bit interesting to see the local scenery and learn some history. Grade: C-

Jessica Chastain morphs from nervous at the presser
to glam movie star on the Red Carpet to promote Memory

20. Memory

At the press conference for Memory, a love story about a man with dementia and a single mother in AA, Jessica Chastain said she was nervous about coming to the Venice Film Festival during the strike -- she wore a bold, black tee-shirt to support the cause. She said, “I am here because SAG-AFTRA has been explicitly clear that the way to support the strike is to post on social media, walk the picket line and to work and support interim agreement projects. It’s what our national board, negotiating committee and our elected leadership has asked us to do.”

“The independent producers, like the ones here, are letting the AMPTP know that actors deserve fair compensation, that AI protection should be implemented, and there should be sharing of streaming revenues. I hope my being here today encourages other independent producers, and encourages actors to show up and support our union members. Hopefully we will see an end to the strike soon and hopefully AMPTP will go back to the table.”


Jessica Chastain and Peter Sarsgaard Are So Weirdly Right Together in Memory

...Luckily, we have these two actors, who when together feel like a chemical reaction come to life. Her tension is transformed by his pleasant pliancy, and vice-versa. Sylvia is burdened by a swirl of memories — most of which we get only hints of — confronted by a man who can’t remember increasingly vast stretches of his life. As their relationship grows in tenderness, we pull for them, even as we sense that something horrifying might be around the corner....

Later on in the evening on the red carpet Chastain morphed into a golden, glamorous movie star, signing autographs and taking selfies. Coming near the end of the Venice Film Festival, it was an incredibly effective way to illustrate the riveting power of a Hollywood star, and the singular value of real-life human actors. Movie stars appearing on the red carpet at the world premieres of their films and interacting with their fans is an essential element of the Venice Film Festival.

Peter Sarsgaard won Best Actor, his wife, Maggie Gyllenhaal at his side. It does not seem that Memory, written and directed by Michel Franco, has a release date yet in the US Let's hope the strike settles soon so you can see it. Grade: B+

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

"Poor Things" Is a Wacky, Wonderful Work of Genius with a Fearless Performance by Emma Stone - Venice Film Festival 2023

Emma Stone & Kathryn Hunter in Poor Things

(Venice, Italy) How to describe Poor Things? An R-rated Frankengirl coming-of-age "Lucy in the Skies with Diamonds" happy acid trip? Barbie on steroids? You can't squish it into a genre because it is utterly original, hysterically funny, and loaded with imagination.

Each year, Venice is one of the filters that films pass through on their way to the Oscars. Poor Things is sure to rack up a bunch of nominations, for everything from acting and directing, to production and costume design, soundtrack, and cinematography -- just everything.

"Creativity is intelligence having fun."
                        --attributed to Albert Einstein
Emma Stone is Bella Baxter. When we first meet her, we see a grown woman behaving like a wobbly two-year-old, joyfully smashing plates and peeing on the floor. She is confined in a Victorian house outside of London with Godwin Baxter, a brilliant scientist and surgeon with a face like Frankenstein's monster, played by Willem DaFoe. 

Bella calls Godwin “God” for short. Her vocabulary is delightful and fantastical, a combination of innocent childlike babbling mixed with worldly and scientific terms she's picked up from conversations with God.

Also wandering around the house are an assortment of Dr. Baxter's experimental hybrid pets, like a chicken with a pig's head and a goose with the head of a dog. Mrs. Prim (Vicki Pepperdine) is the housekeeper who cleans up the messes and assists Dr. Baxter with his experiments.

Dr. Baxter hires his star student, mild-mannered Max McCandles (Rami Yousef), to observe Bella and chart her progress without revealing her origin story (is she mentally impaired? ill? crazy?) When McCandles starts asking questions, Dr. Baxter agrees to tell him the "happy" story. We learn that Bella is his most daring experiment. She was an unidentified woman who attempted suicide by jumping off a bridge. Dr. Baxter reanimated her by implanting an infant's brain into her adult body, and naming her Bella. 

Like a toddler, Bella throws tantrums as she learns how to speak and marvels at how her body moves. Her hair grows at an astonishing rate. The longer her hair grows, the more developed her mind and body become. One day, sitting alone at the dining room table, she has a spectacular orgasm with an apple, gasping, "Bella discover happy when she want!"

Bella loves sex and wants more of it. She also wants to get out of the house and travel to places she has only seen on maps. Dr. Baxter schemes to keep her trapped at home by marrying her to the temperate McCandles, who has fallen in love with her.

Enter Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo), a sleazy lawyer who thinks he's God's gift to women, hired to write the marriage contract. When Wedderburn reads the restrictive language, he searches the house for the woman being entrapped. When he finds Bella, he tells her that he will show her the world, and she eagerly agrees.

Off they trot to have wild and erotic adventures in kaleidoscope versions of Lisbon, Alexandria, and Paris as Bella evolves into a self-created woman who lives on her own terms.

Poor Things
is so marvelous that it renews my hope in both humanity and Hollywood. It is a movie that you must see in the theater. I hope it wins the Golden Lion so I can see it again.

Read some of the reviews to whet your appetite as you wait for the film to be released by Searchlight Pictures on December 8, 2023 in the US and January 12, 2024 in the UK:

Emma Stone in Poor Things

Euro News
Yorgos Lanthimos' new film is already one of 2023's very best

Poor Things is so damn good, it’s hard to know where to start the praise... Every set, prop, costume, and cuter versions of The Island of Dr. Moreau’s hybrid creatures are something to behold in this brilliantly nuts voyage of self-discovery.... Thematically layered, raunchy, marvellously executed and above all fun, Poor Things is a triumph.

The Guardian
Emma Stone has a sexual adventure in Yorgos Lanthimos’s virtuoso comic epic

Stone gives a hilarious, beyond-next-level performance as Bella Baxter, the experimental subject of a troubled Victorian anatomist, in Lanthimos’s toweringly bizarre comedy

Emma Stone Works Twisted Fairytale Magic in Poor Things

And Poor Things, adapted from Alasdair Gray’s 1992 novel, is something else again: opulent and optimistic, Poor Things suggests, in its own perverse way, that most human beings have the capacity to change for the better, and that a world of kindness would be achievable if every individual pitched in to the best of their ability.

Emma Stone and Yorgos Lanthimos Fly Their Freak Flags in a Delicious Coming-of-Age Story Like No Other

Brilliantly taking on Alasdair Gray's comic novel with 'The Favourite' writer Tony McNamara, Lanthimos serves up a macabre sensory banquet miles from his former Greek weird-wave asceticism, but just as subversive.

Entertainment Weekly
Emma Stone and Mark Ruffalo lead a demented comedy of self-creation and degradation

Poor Things is unquestionably the performance of Stone's career, her wide eyes employed to perfection in Bella's own wonder at the world. Holly Waddington's costumes — a Vivienne Westwood-esque blending of Victorian, punk, and mod styling — aid in her transformation. Stone is a gifted comedic actress and she is an ideal match for Lanthimos' tone, a strange mix of black comedy, farce, and social commentary.

Ciao from the Venice Film Festival,
Cat Bauer

Saturday, August 26, 2023

The Venice Film Festival: The Red Carpet & Beyond

Lady Gaga on the Red Carpet - Venice Film Festival 2018
Photo: La Biennale di Venezia (ASAC)

In anticipation of the 80th Venice Film Festival that starts this Wednesday, August 30, 2023, the following is a digital article I wrote in 2018 for the now defunct LUXOS Magazine, slightly edited.

The Red Carpet and Beyond

by Cat Bauer 

Glitz, glamour and thought-provoking films - Welcome to La Biennale 75th Venice International Film Festival, where stars are born

Cinema is a magical medium that whisks us to another realm. Watching world premieres with the stars themselves at the Sala Grande on the Lido is an intoxicating experience -- especially with the ethereal city of Venice as the backdrop.

Celebrities zoom across the lagoon in a boat taxi, then segue to posing on the red carpet, straight to sitting in a balcony seat with the audience. There they watch the world premiere of their film together with their fans.

This year, a lucky few had the chance to screen “A Star is Born” together with first-time actor Lady Gaga and first-time director Bradley Cooper — in a theatre that was actually struck by lightning during a violent summer storm. Talk about electricity! 

There was clear chemistry between the two during the press conference earlier in the day. Cooper said, “...we both came from East Coast Italian-American families. So we had a real synchronicity on that level from our upbringing.” 

Venice is a launchpad for Oscar-winning films, a place where stars truly are born. 

Academy Award winning director Damien Chazelle’s “First Man” starring Ryan Gosling as moon-walker Neil Armstrong kicked off this year’s festival. In 2016, Chazelle’s “La La Land” was the opener, which went on to receive 14 Oscar nominations, winning six, including Best Director, making him the youngest to win the category. 

The president of this year’s jury is two-time Academy Award winning director and screenwriter Giullermo del Toro, whose “The Shape of Water” won the Oscar for Best Picture after winning last year’s Golden Lion, Venice’s top award. 

A feisty future Academy Award winning actress Jennifer Lawrence popped up in Venice way back in 2008 just weeks after her 18th birthday, winning the emerging artist Marcello Mastroianni Prize for her performance in the world premiere of Guillermo Arriaga’s “The Burning Plain.” 

That same year, Academy Award winning director Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler” won the Golden Lion. The list goes on and on. 

Cat Bauer in the Campari Lounge at the Venice Film Festival
Cat Bauer in the Campari Lounge at the Venice Film Festival

The Venice International Film Festival is the oldest film festival in the world and one of the most prestigious.

The Venice Film Festival is the grande dame of all film festivals. Founded by Count Giuseppe Volpi di Misurata in 1932, the first edition took place on the terrace of the majestic Hotel Excelsior, a venue that remains a hub of activity today. 

Sipping cocktails overlooking the Adriatic Sea with the bustle of movie people in the background is a favourite pastime for film buffs all over the world. 

Since 2018 is the 75th edition of the festival, it would seem that the numbers don’t add up. 

Explanation: The festival wasn’t held during the 12 missing years for various reasons, one of which was that in 1946 the Palazzo del Cinema had been requisitioned by WWII Allies.

The Venice Film Festival has evolved into an intimate village with grassy knolls and eateries sprinkled throughout the grounds, and state-of-the-art theatres pulsing with soundtracks. 

With films screening in original languages from all over the globe, and the new cutting-edge Virtual Reality competition, it is a chance to grab a front-row seat and watch stars be born.

For more information about the film festival, visit La Biennale di Venezia’s website.

Friday, July 14, 2023

Venice Glass Maestro Lino Tagliapietra Speaks the Language of the Angels - "The Origin of the Journey" at Ca' Rezzonico

At Lino Tagliapietra's InGalleria on Murano 
Photo: Cat Bauer

(Venice, Italy) Lino Tagliapietra will be on 89-years-old on August 10, 2023. He is a Leo, a fire sign, ruled by the Sun, and represented by the Lion. (So am I, which is one reason why I love him:-) Working with fire on an island in the lagoon seems like a good job for a Venetian Leo.

At InGalleria, Tagliapietra's exhibition space on the island on Murano, I asked him the meaning of the cursive white glass symbols that seemed to spill out from the heavens and onto earth through an image of his open hands. To me, the white glass sculptures looked like letters that formed a word. Were they symbols written in a secret language? He said, no, he had created them just for fun. But I kept thinking there was something more...

Other reasons why I love Lino Taglipieatra:
  • He is the most brilliant glass artist on the planet today. 
  • He can translate the language of the angels into physical images that human beings can understand.
  • He's zooming around Venice at 90ish as if he were only 70ish.

    Lino Tagliapietra at Ca' Rezzonico
    Photo: Cat Bauer

I first encountered Lino Tagliapietra more than 12 years ago, back in 2011 when his retrospective Lino Tagliapietra, De Murano allo Studio Glass. Opere 1954-2011 starred at the Istituto Veneto di Scienza Lettere ed Arti. I reviewed it in a post entitled Lino Tagliapietra, Master of the Glass in Venice.

The post started off:

Lino Tagliapietra thinks in glass. His thoughts are beautiful and complex, and we have the great privilege of seeing those thoughts solidified in glass, a material created by the gods themselves when lightning strikes the earth.

Please click over and finishing reading what I wrote (it's short:-) so you can get the backstory (it is just a simple click!):

Angel Tear by Lino Taglipietra

Lino Tagliapietra, Master of the Glass in Venice

OK. Are you back now? Did you read it?

Right now Lino Tagliapietra has another gem of a show tucked inside the enormous Ca' Rezzonico palace on the Grand Canal, which itself just recently re-opened to the public. Entitled "L'origine del viaggio" or "The Origin of the Journey," it represents the core of his life's work.

Back in the 1970s, Tagliapietra revolutionized American glass design when he introduced students at Dale Chihuly's Pilchuck School in Seattle to Venetian glassblowing techniques. Since then, Tagliapietra divides his time between Murano and Seattle, so he slides easily between speaking in both Italian and English.

L'origine del viaggio at Ca' Rezzonico by Lino Taglipietra 
Photo: Cat Bauer
After the press preview, we were fortunate enough to be whisked across the lagoon to the glass-blowing island of Murano where Lino Tagliapietra was born almost 90 years ago. We entered his showroom, and ... he was already there! Minutes ago he was at Ca' Rezzonico! And now he was greeting us on Murano!

There are some moments in life when you know that you are actually living something rare and precious in real time, and yesterday was one of those days. To be chatting with Lino Tagliapietra, in the showroom of Lino Tagliapietra, on the island of Murano...

While I was nosing around on the upper level of InGalleria, I stumbled upon a letter in a blue frame on a bookshelf signed by Jeff Babcock. To me, it sums the man up:


You are a lion
my Maestro
the studio
your domain
you move with the power and grace
of the great cat

At the bench
you work magic
with this unruly glass

softly as you would a baby
when the piece is young
but as it grows
it needs a firmer hand

At times you pounce
attacking with power
and gentleness
controlling but never breaking the spirit
of the object you form

In your hands
you make of it
all it could ever wish to be

You are the best
I have ever known
You have my eternal respect

Jeff Babcock

Lino Tagliapietra explaining avventurina
(If you've read my previous blog post, you will know what that is:-)

When it was time to leave, I wanted to ask the Maestro something that had been on my mind the entire visit. I showed Lino Tagliapietra the photo of his hands and the squiggly glass objects below that he said he had created just for fun.

I said, in Italian, "To me, those are letters from another language -- the language of the angels. You have translated the words of the angels into something humans can understand. And the word you have written is 'love.' Do you agree?"

Lino Tagliapietra smiled and said, in English, "I agree one hundred percent."

Lino Tagliapietra. L'origine del viaggio at Ca' Rezzonico runs through September 25, 2023. Go to Ca' Rezzonico for more information. Go to Lino Tagliapietra for more information about the Maestro.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog