Saturday, October 24, 2020

Ca' Scarpa, a new exhibition space in Treviso, celebrates Venetian architects Carlo Scarpa & his son, Tobia

Entrance to Ca' Scarpa - Photo: Cat Bauer
Entrance to Ca' Scarpa - Photo: Cat Bauer

(Venice, Italy) A new exhibition space opens in Treviso celebrating the great Venetian architects, Carlo Scarpa, and his son, Tobia. The ancient church of Santa Maria Nova was suppressed under Napoleon, then went on to be used as a print warehouse for the Finance Authority. Thanks to Luciano Benetton, one of the co-founders of the Benetton Group, it was recently acquired by Edizione Property, and transformed into a spacious, contemporary cultural space under the guidance of Tobia Scarpa himself.
 
Tobia Scarpa in Ca' Scarpa - Photo by Cat Bauer
Tobia Scarpa in Ca' Scarpa - Photo: Cat Bauer
 
At the press conference, Tobia Scarpa was witty and wise, and at age 85, has the energy and bearing of a man 30 years younger. He quipped: "The man I called my father was an important architect. He gave me a strange name, a Greek name, a Hebrew name. He was my teacher." The lighting for which Tobia Scarpa is so well-known "perfectly illuminates the exhibits." The interior layout is clever and hip, incorporating elements of the ancient church into the open design.  

Ca' Scarpa interior - Photo: Cat Bauer
Ca' Scarpa interior - Photo: Cat Bauer
 
Since 1990, the Fondazione Benetton Studi Ricerche has instituted the International Carlo Scarpa Prize for Gardens, a campaign which recognizes sites throughout the world that are rich in natural, creative and historic values. The Scientific Committee of the Foundation provides guidelines for actions that increase knowledge, safeguard and promote the site. This year the Scientific Committee unanimously selected two linked valleys in Cappadocia, Turkey -- the Rose and Red Valleys, or Güllüdere and Kızılçukur in Turkish. 
 
Cappadocia - Photo courtesy Fondazione Benetton

The inauguration of Ca' Scarpa opened with Güllüdere and Kızılçukur: The Rose Valley and the Red Valley in Cappadocia, a photographic exhibition of two valleys where early Christianity, followed by the Byzantium culture, left a rich history of hermit and monastic settlements, churches and sanctuaries scattered amongst the distinct Cappadocian landscape. Rock monuments and fairy chimneys carved by the forces of wind, water and volcanic eruptions were transformed into places of Christian worship -- I have been to Cappadocia myself, and was astounded by the paintings and frescoes of early Christianity preserved inside the rock walls and apiaries. 

Premio Internazionale Carlo Scarpa per il Giardino
seal designed by Carlo Scarpa
 
The 2020 International Carlo Scarpa Prize for Gardens has been awarded to the art historian Maria Andaloro, the promoter and director of the research mission organized by the Università della Tuscia, who has traveled between Italy and Cappadocia since 2006. The Prize expresses support for all the people working in Cappadocia to safeguard and raise awareness of a special heritage rich in meaning and teachings. 
 
Interior Ca' Scarpa - Photo: Marco Zanta, courtesy Fondazione Benetton
 
Treviso is a 30 to 40-minute train ride from Venice, depending if you catch the fast train or the local. It is nicknamed "the garden of Venice" for its greenery, and was a favorite vacation spot for Venice's nobility. Ca' Scarpa is a pleasant 10-minute stroll from the train station, with plenty of shops and eateries along the way.  
 
Güllüdere and Kızılçukur: la Valle delle Rose e la Valle Rossa in Cappadocia, curated by Patrizia Boschiero and Luigi Latini, organized by Fondazione Benetton in Ca' Scarpa, the former Church of Santa Maria Nova, runs through January 10, 2021, Thursday and Friday from 3pm to 8pm, and Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 8pm, with free admission. Go to the Fondazione Benetton Studi Ricerche for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer

Saturday, October 17, 2020

A Masterpiece for Venice at Gallerie dell'Accademia - First Up: Lorenzo Lotto's Sacred Conversation

Madonna and Child with Saints Catherine and Thomas (Sacred Conversation) by Lorenzo Lotto (1526-28)

(Venice, Italy) A Masterpiece for Venice is a new initiative that brings exceptional works of the Venetian Renaissance home from abroad for a limited visit. The first painting to sojourn at the Gallerie dell'Accademia is Lorenzo Lotto's vibrant Madonna and Child with Saints Catherine and Thomas (Sacred Conversation) on loan from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. 

The A Masterpiece for Venice project was conceived last November by the Gallerie dell'Accademia, together with Intesa Sanpaolo as the main partner, after Venice was hit by high water and then clobbered by the global pandemic. The initiative hopes to renew and restore valuable relationships with international museums by shining the spotlight on works that rarely travel, giving visitors the opportunity to feast their eyes on masterpieces from the Venetian Renaissance that are not housed in Venice.

"We decided to ask our museum friends for help to bring attention back to the city," explained Giulio Manieri Elia, the Director of the Accademia. "Beauty helps us move forward. In such a complex moment for everyone, art can be a bridge that unites and uplifts us."

Sacred Conversation by Lorenzo Lotto (detail) - Photo: Cat Bauer

POWERFUL WOMEN, CENTURIES AGO

Francesca del Torre, curator of Italian painting of the Renaissance at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna was also on hand at the presentation of the masterpiece. "This painting is one of the most beautiful works in the history of Italian art, and one of Lorenzo Lotto's most Venetian works, created during one of his visits to Venice. With spontaneity and brilliant intuition, Lotto captures the characters' intense dialogue and thoughts about the destiny of Jesus, achieving a perfect balance of gazes, gestures, colors and light.
 
The patrons who commissioned the painting are unknown, but it is assumed they were wealthy and prestigious due to Lotto's use of the extremely costly lapis lazuli pigment for the Madonna's dress. The choice to include Saints Catherine and Thomas in the conversation infers that the clients possibly had the same names as the two saints.
 
"Ah, in Vienna there is a painting in which you can hear the bees humming."
Philip Pouncey, British art historian
 
The earliest reference to the painting dates from 1660, when the work was already in the imperial collections. The Sacred Conversation will remain at the Accademia until January 17, 2021. After that, the next masterpiece to visit the lagoon will be Veronese's La Pieta, which will travel to Venice from The Hermitage in St. Petersburg. 
 
Go to the Gallerie dell'Accademia for more information.
 
Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer

Friday, October 9, 2020

Van Gogh, The Colors of Life - in Padua, a Day Trip from Venice

Van Gogh - Self Portrait with Grey Felt Hat (1887) - Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam - Photo: Cat Bauer

(Venice, Italy) If you want to get up close and personal with the enigmatic Vincent van Gogh, The Colors of Life at the San Gaetano Cultural Center in Padua gives you the opportunity.With 82 works by Van Gogh himself, and several by Japanese artist Hiroshige -- a major source of the artist's inspiration -- as well as paintings by contemporaries like Pissarro and Seurat, it is the largest Italian exhibition ever dedicated to the Dutch maestro.
 
Unfortunately, there is not one word of English in the exhibition, nor is there an English-language audio guide or tours in English. Therefore, to fully appreciate what The Colors of Life has to offer, if you do not understand Italian, you must do your own homework. Here is some very brief background to help you get started:
 
Vincent Willem van Gogh was born on March 30, 1853 in Zundert, a village in the south of the Netherlands, the oldest surviving child of a reputable family. The first-born son, also named Vincent Willem van Gogh -- and also born, incredibly, on March 30 the previous year -- was stillborn. His parents would go on to have five more children. Vincent would not decide to become an artist until he was 27-years-old, but in just over a decade, he produced 2,100 works of art. The prolific genius was only 37-years-old when he allegedly shot himself on July 27, 1890, dying 30 hours later. 
 
Van Gogh had a complicated relationship with both his parents, to whom respectability was of upmost importance. His mother, Anna, came from an affluent family in The Hague. She was an avid gardener and amateur artist whose father was a "Royal Bookbinder." Vincent's father, Theodorus or "Dorus," was a parson in the Dutch Reformed Church in Zundert, a predominately Catholic town, who spent long hours alone in his study. 
 
The Van Gogh family was extremely literate, reading aloud to each other in the evenings, and Vincent remained a keen reader all his life. His mother encouraged her children's artistic pursuits, teaching them to draw and paint, determined to cultivate her family's social status. Neither parent was particularly affectionate, but did sacrifice for their children and were concerned for their welfare. Vincent was a shy, lonely, rebellious and eccentric child, causing much disruption in the family, but adored by his younger brother, Theo. At age 11, his insubordination caused his parents to send Vincent to a boarding school.
 
Vincent's parents had met when Anna's much younger sister, Cornelia, married Dorus's older brother, also named Vincent, but known as "Uncle Cent," a wealthy art dealer who would go on to own an elegant townhouse on the outskirts of Paris. Cent and Cornelia both had unmarried siblings teetering on the edge of spinsterdom. Vincent's father Dorus, age 29, married his mother, Anna, age 31, on May 21, 1851, and began their life together in the small parsonage in Zundert. Uncle Cent would retire early and buy a mansion complete with his art collection in a nearby village. Vincent's aunt and uncle were childless, and played an influential role in Van Gogh's life. In contrast to Vincent's stern parents, Uncle Cent and Auntie Cornelia were charming and entertaining.
 
When Vincent was 16-years-old, Uncle Cent gave him the opportunity to carry on in his footsteps with a position as an apprentice in The Hague branch of the Parisian art dealership, Groupil & Cie, of which Cent was a partner. There, Vincent drifted to the dark side of life, drinking and frequenting brothels. He did not have the personality to deal with the public, but had an encyclopedic memory of Groupil's inventory. He was transferred to London, then Paris, where he completely flipped his carnal desires into a an obsession with religion and the Bible. He began his lifelong fascination with nature and divinity. He became frustrated with Groupil's wealthy clientele, who wanted fashionable art, not work with meaning and quality. Vincent learned a lot about art and artists, but increasingly had issues with the dealership's commodification of art, seeing his life suited more for the ministry, not as a merchant -- though ironically he would spend his entire short life trying to sell his artwork, without success. During Christmas 1875, Goupil's busiest time of year, he went home to Holland without permission, and was given his notice when he returned to Paris in January.

Van Gogh then took positions in a variety of professions, working as a teacher, a minister's assistant and in a bookshop. As Vincent grew older he became increasingly more religious, deciding to become a pastor, but failed the theology entrance exam at the University of Amsterdam. In January 1879, at the age of 25, he became a missionary in the coal-mining district of Borinage in Belgium, all the while looking at life through the distinct eyes of an artist. 
 
In 1880, four years after leaving the art dealership and after much soul-searching, Vincent van Gogh decided to devote his life to art, which he considered his spiritual calling.

Much of our knowledge about Van Gogh's life and thoughts comes from the hundreds of letters between him and his younger brother, Theo, who financially supported and encouraged Van Gogh throughout his life. Theo was four years younger than Vincent, and died six months after his older brother at the age of 33. Theo was a successful and respected art dealer, working, as Vincent had done before, for Goupil & Cie in Paris. He introduced Dutch and French contemporary art to the public, and was instrumental in the popularity of Impressionists like Claude Monet and Edgar Degas. Theo deeply believed in the talent of Vincent when no one else did. 

Curator Marco Goldin has divided the exhibition into seven different sections, kicking it off with Van Gogh's The Painter on the Road to Tarascon as seen through the eyes of the artist, Francis Bacon (1909-1992). Then it weaves its way through Van Gogh's life by chronological order and by where he was based when he created his singular works of art. By structuring the exhibition in this manner, we see Van Gogh grow as an artist, and the dramatic impact his environment had upon his work.  

Study for ‘Portrait of Van Gogh IV’(1957) Tate, London 
 
1. The painter as a hero. Francis Bacon looks at Van Gogh

Curator Marco Goldin does not think that Van Gogh was crazy. He sees Van Gogh as a modern hero who has a mission to complete and sacrifices everything to do so. He would like the exhibition to speak of the painter as a hero through his works and meetings with fate. 
 
In the summer of 1888, during his time in Arles, France, Van Gogh painted a small canvas entitled The Painter on the Road to Tarascon, which was later housed in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Magdeburg, Germany. The painting was destroyed by Allied bombing in World War II. The painting of the solitary artist -- Van Gogh himself -- walking under the sun on his way to work in the countryside survived only in photographs.

At the end of 1956, Francis Bacon pinned the image of the destroyed painting to the wall of his studio. He wanted to pay homage to the Dutch artist who had so inspired him, even traveling to that same road in the south of France. The exhibition opens with three of Bacon's paintings of the artist on the road to Tarascon.
 
Goldin says:
"Bacon desired to represent Vincent as a wayfarer in constant movement, making the most of that cinematographic angle of the images that made the figure emerge as a silhouette almost burnt by the Provencal sun..." 

 

The Diggers (after Millet) (1880) - © Kröller-Müller Museum

2. The formative years. From the mines of Marcasses to Etten

By January 1879, Van Gogh had taken a post as a missionary in the coal-mining district of Borinage in Belgium, but was dismissed by church officials for "undermining the dignity of the priesthood" after giving up his lodgings to a homeless person and moving to a small hut where he slept on straw. He moved between Brussels, the mines and his parents' home in Etten, where he landed for an extended stay, honing his talent as an artist. There, he fell in love with his older cousin, who refused to marry him.

The section opens with Miners in the Snow and The Diggers, a figure study that Vincent drew after the original by Jean-François Millet, an artist he greatly admired. The drawings are rare surviving examples of Van Gogh's early efforts from September and October 1880. The section continues with Van Gogh's production as an artist-in-training during his time spent in Etten in 1881 with his family.
 
On September 24, 1880, Vincent wrote to Theo: 
"You can see then that I'm working like mad, but for the moment it isn't giving very heartening results. But I have hopes that these thorns will bear white flowers in their time, and that this apparently sterile struggle is nothing other than a labor of giving birth. First pain, then joy afterwards."
After a violent quarrel with his father on Christmas day when Vincent refused to attend church services, he took off the same day to The Hague to try to sell paintings and meet with Anton Mauve, a revered and successful artist married to one of Van Gogh's cousins.
 
Sien with Child on Her Lap (1882) - Kröller-Müller Museum - Photo: Cat Bauer
 
3. Sien and the time at The Hague. Drawings and the first paintings
 
Van Gogh arrived at The Hague at the end of December 1881, and spent three weeks with Anton Mauve in his studio, who encouraged the budding artist, saying "I always thought you were a bloody bore, but now I see that this isn't so," a comment that delighted Van Gogh. Mauve lent him money to rent and furnish a studio. Van Gogh and Mauve would have a following out after Van Gogh set up domestic arrangements with Sien Hoornik, a former prostitute who had a five-year-old daughter and another child on the way. Sien, her mother and daughter posed for him, and some of these haunting portraits are included in this section. 
 
In September 1883, Van Gogh left for Drenthe, a province in in the northeastern part of the Netherlands, and stayed there for three months. He was enchanted with the landscape which had yet to be touched by modern industrial society.

From a letter to Theo, November 5, 1883:
My dear Theo,

What I think is the best life, oh without even the slightest shadow of a doubt, is a life made up of long years of being in touch with nature out of doors -- and with the something on high -- unfathomable, 'awfully Unnameable,' because one can't find a name for it -- above that nature. Be a peasant -- be, if that were fitting at the present time, a village clergyman or schoolmaster -- be, and given the present time that's the form that seems to me to be the most fitting, be a Painter -- and in doing so as a person you will, after that spell of outdoor life and manual work, as a person you will, in the end and in the passage of years, gradually become something better and deeper. I firmly believe this. 

 

Loom with Weaver (April/May 1884) - © Kröller-Müller Museum
 
4. The years at Nuenen. Between weavers and peasants
 
In December 1883, Van Gogh arrived in Nuenen where his parents had moved the year before, his father taking a position as a pastor in the vicarage.Van Gogh would stay there until 1885, fascinated by the link between the peasant and the land. He considered "the work of the peasant as the purest and most authentic incarnation of the human condition." This period of Van Gogh's life consisted of dark earth tones, not the vivid colors that we think of today. 
 
On March 26, 1885, Vincent's father died of a heart attack. In August, Van Gogh's work was publicly displayed for the first time in the windows of Leur, an art dealer in The Hague. After one of Vincent's young sitters became pregnant, the village priest forbade his parishioners to sit for him. 
 
In November, Van Gogh moved to Antwerp in Belgium, living in poverty, buying Japanese ukiyo-e woodcuts -- which he incorporated into his own work -- and studying color theory in museums, particularly Peter Paul Rubens. By February 1886, he was so poor that he could not pay his rent, so off he dashed to his old stomping grounds in Paris after becoming intrigued by the art of the Impressionists that Theo had described in his letters.

Montmartre dietro il Moulin de la Galette (1887) - Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

5. Paris, oh dear. Van Gogh and modern art
 
Theo was not expecting his brother, who ended up sharing his living quarters. Theo brought Vincent into the current art scene, which caused a major shift in the colors of his palette. He encountered Toulouse-Lautrec, Bernard, Pissarro, Seurat, and Gaugin, who became his friend. Some of the work of Van Gogh's contemporaries are included in this section.

The year 1887 sees the birth of modern art in Van Gogh as he experimented with the new techniques he had encountered in the Parisian environment, as well as his continuing fascination with Japanese art. He developed his own bold, distinct style. But after two years of living in the city, he longed to once again be surrounded by nature and the countryside. On February 19, 1888, he left for Arles in Provence, the south of France.  
 
The Sower (1888) © 2020 Collection Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, the Netherlands
Photo Rik Klein Gotink, Harderwijk
 
6. A decisive year. 1888 Van Gogh at Arles
 
In the nearly 15 months that Vincent would stay in Arles, he created 200 paintings, more than 100 drawings and watercolors, and wrote 200 letters, mostly to his brother, Theo. After corresponding with Theo, the brothers agreed that they would present Paul Gaugin with the option of joining Van Gogh in Arles. Gaugin agreed, and Vincent prepared the Yellow House, which he was renting, for his arrival. While he was waiting, in August, Van Gogh painted his Sunflowers masterpiece. 

Gaugin arrived on October 23, 1888, and the two painted together. The only painting that Gaugin completed in Arles was The Painter of Sunflowers, a portrait of Vincent Van Gogh. As often happened with Van Gogh when he lived under the same roof with fellow human beings, the relationship began to deteriorate. By December, the two had an altercation, resulting in Vincent famously severing his left earlobe with a razor, bandaging the wound, wrapping the earlobe in paper and delivering it to a 17-year-old cleaning girl named Gaby at a brothel frequented by him and Gaugin. 

Van Gogh ended up in the hospital with no recollection of what he had done. On December 24, Theo rushed to board a night train from Paris to Arles after just having proposed marriage to Johanna Bonger -- a woman who would become critical to our knowledge of Van Gogh today. He arrived by his brother's side on Christmas Day. Gaugin fled the scene, fearing the sight of him would further agitate Vincent.

Van Gogh recovered and returned to the Yellow House, but 30 townspeople petitioned to have "the redheaded madman" institutionalized. In May 1889, Van Gogh voluntarily entered an asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. He did not attend his brother's wedding to Johanna in Amsterdam the previous month.

Landscape with Wheat Sheaves and Rising Moon (1889) © 2020 Collection Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, the Netherlands
Photo Rik Klein Gotink, Harderwijk
 
7. Of moons and clouds. Van Gogh and the end of his journey 

Van Gogh stayed at Saint-Rémy from May 1889 through May 1890, producing 150 paintings and hundreds of drawings. The clinic, its garden and the view from his window became the main subjects of his paintings. His art changed again with the application of thick layers of paint, losing the intense colors of the Arles period. 

After a year of confinement, the painter was ready to once again continue his hero's journey, and come face to face with his fate. Despite his prolific output, Van Gogh was not satisfied. On May 1, 1890, he wrote Theo:

"The unfortunate thing is that the people here are too curious, idle and ignorant about painting for it to be possible for me to practice my profession... Ah, if I'd been able to work without this bloody illness! How many things I could have done, isolated from the others, according to what the land would tell me. But yes -- this journey is well and truly finished. Anyway, what consoles me is the great, the very great desire that I have to see you again, you, your wife and your child, and so many friends who have remembered me in my misfortune, as, for that matter, I don't stop thinking of them, either."
 
Vincent left Saint-Rémy and moved to the Paris suburb of Auvers-sur-Oise to be closer to Theo and Dr. Paul Gachet, an amateur painter and doctor who had treated several other artists, recommended by Camille Pissarro. Van Gogh did not place much faith in Gachet, writing, "I've seen Dr. Gachet, who gave me the impression of being rather eccentric, but his doctor's experience must keep him balanced himself while combating the nervous ailment from which it seems to me he's certainly suffering at least as seriously as I am."

Wheat Stacks under a Cloudy Sky (1889) 
© 2020 Collection Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, the Netherlands
Photo Rik Klein Gotink, Harderwijk
 
In the last two months of his life, Van Gogh painted some 80 works, an average of more than one a day. Chestnut trees in blossom, landscapes and houses, portraits -- including two of Dr. Gachet -- and wheat fields are some of the subjects that he visited. It is believed that Wheat Field with Crows painted in July 1890 is his last painting. A similar canvas painted the year before, Wheat Stacks under a Cloudy Sky, while he was at Saint-Rémy is included in the exhibition.
 
On July 27, 1890, Van Gogh shot himself in the chest, although some credence has been given to a theory that he was accidentally shot by a group of teenagers with whom he had been drinking. In any event, he got himself back to inn where he was staying around 9PM. Dr. Gachet was notified, and dressed the wound, saying that he still hoped he could save Vincent's life, to which Van Gogh replied "Then I'll have to do it over again." Theo arrived by train the following afternoon, and spent the last hours of beloved brother's life by his side. 
 
Vincent Willem van Gogh was pronounced dead at 1:30AM, July 30, 1890. Theo later wrote: "One of his last words was, 'I wish I could pass away like this,' and his wish was fulfilled. A few moments and it was over. He had found the rest he could not find on earth..."

Vincent Van Gogh had accomplished his mission, leaving behind more than 2,000 artworks, consisting of 1,100 drawings and sketches and about 900 paintings for us to ponder. Most of his best-known works were produced during the final two years of his life. The modern hero had sacrificed everything to bring humankind closer to forces of heaven.

Van Gogh - The Colors of Life opens on October 10, 2020 and runs through April 11, 2021 at the San Gaetano Cultural Center in Padua, about a half hour outside Venice by train. The walk to the cultural center is about 15 minutes, with the chance to visit the newly-restored gardens at Giardini Giotto. If you are clever, you can combine a visit to the Van Gogh exhibition with a stop at the Scrovegni Chapel, which is on the way, to see Giotto's magnificent frescoes, which I wrote about back in July 2017 in a post entitled The Most Powerful Kiss in Art.

Reservations and more information, some of it in English, is on the site of Linea d'Ombra, curator Marco Goldin's global management company for art exhibitions. Be warned that the English translation of the exhibition's sections has not been updated accurately to include The Colors of Life in its present form. Much of what I've written in this post is the result of my own research. An excellent resource, of course, is the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. You can find all Van Gogh’s letters with annotations on their site. 

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer

Friday, September 18, 2020

20 Films from the 2020 Venice International Film Festival - Quick Recaps

Cate Blanchett, President of Jury - Image courtesy of La Biennale ASAC - Photo: Andre Avezzù
 
(Venice, Italy) Many people expressed concern about the dangers of attending a film festival during a pandemic. For me, it was worth taking a chance. I have worked with La Biennale di Venezia for more than two decades, and trust the institution to do everything in its power to maintain high standards. Cinema is such a crucial art form that it was imperative to demonstrate how a film festival could be held safely, with reasonable precautions, and still be entertaining, enlightening and enjoyable. That two-time Academy Award-winning actor Cate Blanchett was the President of the Jury gave it an extra kick. 
 
In case you missed it, I wrote about the experience in a separate post:

Here are some quick recaps of the films I saw in the order in which I saw them, what language they were in, and links to the reviews I agree with the most, which will give you a fuller description. Some of the films have since screened at TIFF, so I am also including some reviews from there. I was so starved to see movies in a theater that I became a little obsessed, and saw 20 films. 

Full House at Venice Film Festival during Pandemic - Photo: Cat Bauer
What a full house at the Venice Film Festival looked like during the pandemic - Photo: Cat Bauer
 
1. MOLECOLE (Venetian Molecules) - Italian

Andrea Segre's masterful love letter to Venice and to his deceased Venetian father, filmed in the lagoon during quarantine. I gave it its own post: The Haunting Film “Venetian Molecules” (Molecole) shot in Venice during Quarantine pre-opens the Venice Film Festival. Review from Film Inquiry. Grade: A

2. LACCI (The Ties) - Italian

Lots of Italian critics liked this movie, which was the first Italian film to open the Venice Film Festival in 11 years, but I thought the leaps back and forth in time were confusing. The film was about a thoroughly dysfunctional marriage and the offspring it spawned. I couldn't keep track of who was who, especially when the characters aged and a completely new set of actors took over the roles. Review from Indie Wire. Grade: C-

3. MILA (Apples) - Greek

Apples is Christos Nikou's debut film set (coincidentally) during a pandemic where people are losing their memories and sent into a dystopian rehabilitation program. Nikou is an original, talented director and Apples is an impressive debut. Review from The Hollywood Reporter. Grade: A-

4. FINAL ACCOUNT - German

The late Luke Holland, who died in June just three months before Final Account premiered in Venice, interviewed elderly Germans from various walks of life who were alive during the Holocaust in yet another attempt to understand why human beings commit genocide. Review from Variety. Grade: B

5. THE DISCIPLE - Marathi, Hindi, English

Chaitanya Tamhane won the award for best screenplay, which, to me was puzzling. I was really looking forward to this film because I love classical Indian music, but I thought the movie was too long and repetitive, and needed a good dose of editing. Review from Screen Daily. Grade: C

6. THE DUKE - English (UK)

Based on a true story, The Duke is a very British film that will delight those who remember the escapade back in 1961, but did not click emotionally with this American. Review from Screen Daily: "The Duke pairs national treasures Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren in a by-the-Brit-playbook film about a well-meaning Newcastle cabbie who steals a Goya painting from the National Gallery in 1961 in a half-baked attempt to get free TV licenses for pensioners." Grade: B

Greta (I am Greta) - Official still
 
7. GRETA (I am Greta) - Swedish, English

I went to see Greta planning to leave early to catch a press conference, and ended up staying for the entire film. Like most of us, I am concerned about climate change, but was only aware of Greta Thunberg by the glimpses I caught of her on the news. The documentary changed my entire perception of her. She is articulate, intelligent, courageous and definitely her own person making her own decisions, writing her own speeches, and she is genuinely passionate about waking up humanity to the dangers of climate change.

However, to me, it was essential to understand how the documentary came into existence in the first place to put all the conspiracy theories to rest. Throughout the film, I kept wondering how the filmmaker Nathan Grossman just so happened to capture the sudden rise of Greta Thunberg onto the international scene. How did he get involved? He was there at the beginning when Greta was sitting outside Swedish parliament, mostly alone, holding a school strike, and followed her as the climate change movement exploded across the globe. He was there when she met world leaders and spoke before parliaments and the United Nations, and when she crossed the Atlantic Ocean by sailboat. Her father was by her side, but her mother was only briefly on screen, and her sister not at all. What were the family dynamics? The answers are not in the documentary.

To fill in the missing background, I had to do my own research. I recommend reading Nathan Grossman's interviews with Cineuropa and the Golden Globes to fill in some blanks. 
 
Greta's father, Svante Thunburg, is an actor. Her mother is the Swedish opera singer Malena Ernman, who wrote a book with the other members of the family entitled Our House Is on Fire: Scenes of a Family and a Planet in Crisis, which was excerpted by The Guardian that gives raw insight into the dynamics of Greta's family, and the emotional struggle they went through when Greta was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OSD) and selective mutism.
 
To me, it would have presented a more complete picture if some of this critical background had been included in the film. I am Greta will be in cinemas on October 16 and then stream on Hulu starting on November 13. Review from The Hollywood Reporter. Grade: B

8. PIECES OF A WOMAN - English (USA)

Vanessa Kirby won the Volpi Cup for Best Actress for her performance in Pieces of a Woman. I had never seen her before, and thought she was brilliant, especially after also seeing her in The World to Come, which also premiered at the Venice Film Festival. But after the first thirty minutes of a home birth gone terribly wrong, which was riveting, the film lost my interest. Review from Slash Film. Grade: C

9. MISS MARX - English (UK)

Romola Garai stars as Carl Marx's youngest daughter, a female pioneer of socialism. The film isn't perfect, but it held my attention and I enjoyed the history. Susanna Nicchiarelli, whose critically acclaimed Nico, 1988 won Best Film in the Orrizonti section of the 2017 Venice Film Festival, directed. Review from Screen Daily. Grade: B

10. THE FURNACE - English (AUS) , Badimaya

Australian Roderick MacKay's engrossing debut feature is set in the Western Australia desert in the late 19th century when the British imported camel caravans and their drivers from Afghanistan, India and Persia to transport goods across the vast terrain, and where the Chinese also had set up shop. Different religions and languages collide with the indigenous people, as gold fever strikes. Review from Variety. Grade: B+

11. MAINSTREAM - English (USA)

Director Gia Coppola allowed Andrew Garfield, talented as he is, to have total freedom in her satire on social media. That was a mistake. Review from Indie Wire. Grade: D

Vanessa Kirby - Image courtesy La Biennale ASAC - Photo: Jacopo Salvi

12. THE WORLD TO COME - English (USA)

Katerine Waterston and Vanessa Kirby both give excellent performances in a story directed by Mona Fastvold of forbidden love set in Upstate New York in 1856, told through diary entries. It is quiet, intelligent and beautifully moving, and whisks Vanessa Kirby up to the stars. Review from Variety. Grade: A-

13. ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI - English (USA)

Regina King makes history as the first Black woman to direct a film selected by the Venice Film Festival in Kemp Powers' fictional account of an actual gathering in Miami with Cassius Clay, Malcom X, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke. I gave this film its own post: Black Power: “One Night in Miami” Moves the Needle Forward at the Venice Film Festival. Review from Variety. Grade: A

14. DOROGIE TOVARISCHI! (Dear Comrades) - Russian

The story of the real-life Novocherkassk massacre on June 2, 1962 when Soviet soldiers opened fire on workers who were protesting for better living conditions and lower food prices, shot in black and white. Review from Indie Wire. Grade: B

15. NOTTURNO - Arabic, Kurdish

Italian director Gianfranco Rosi's vision of the effect war torn Middle East has upon the civilian population. Powerful images, but no narrative. Review from The Wrap. Grade: B

16. SPY NO TSUMA (Wife of a Spy) - Japanese

Set in 1940 when Japan joined the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy, Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Wife of a Spy has many clever plot twists and plenty of intrigue that drive the story forward. Yu Aoi was terrific as the wife. One of my favorites. Kurosawa won the Silver Lion for Best Director. Take the time to read the review from Variety. Grade: A-

17. NOWHERE SPECIAL - English (IRL)

Set in Northern Ireland, a single father (James Norton) is dying and must find a new home for his four-year-old son (Daniel Lamont). There is genuine chemistry between the two leads as they interview potential families. Umberto Pisolini created the film based on a true story he read in the newspaper. You will cry. Review from The Upcoming. Grade: A

18. NOMADLAND - English (USA)

Winner of this year's Golden Lion, the Venice Film Festival's top prize, Chloè Zhao's Nomadland takes us into the real lives of nomadic Americans who live out of vans and RVs and work gig jobs. The always amazing Frances McDormand is surrounded by non-actors who play versions of themselves. Review from Polygon. Grade: A-

19. CRAZY, NOT INSANE - English (USA)

Alex Gibney's documentary features Dorothy Lewis, a forensic psychiatrist, whose radical views about what makes serial killers tick brought her fame as a defense witness. Her most famous case was Ted Bundy, whom Gibney saves for the end. Review from Variety. Grade: B-
 
20. LASCIAMI ANDARE (You Came Back) - Italian
 
The closing film of The Venice Film Festival was on location in Venice when exceptional high water hit last November and December. The weather was cleverly incorporated into the film, which gave it an added dimension. It's hard enough to film in Venice under "normal" conditions, let alone when the city is flooded. The movie reminded me of Nicholas Roeg's Don't Look Now. I featured it in a separate post: Venice Film Festival Closes with the Eerie "Lasciami Andare" (You Came Back) - Filmed during the Venice 2019 Floods. Grade: B

New Talent: Greek director Christos Nikou - Photo: C. Nikou
New Talent: Greek director Christos Nikou - "Mila" (Apples) - Photo: C. Nikou

This year's film festival was not about escapism and sheer entertainment, but was quieter and more thoughtful -- perfect for going to the movies during a pandemic when we are all feeling a bit more retrospective and bewildered. The magical experience of viewing a film with fellow human beings invokes a precious camaraderie -- there is nothing else like it. The void left by the absence of Hollywood films was filled with distinct voices that might otherwise have been overlooked. I learned a lot, and am grateful to have had the opportunity to attend La Biennale di Venezia's 77th Mostra internazionale d'arte cinematografica. See you at the movies!
 
Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Venice Film Festival Closes with the Eerie "Lasciami Andare" (You Came Back) - Filmed during the Venice 2019 Floods

Image Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures - Photo: Andrea Pirrello

(Venice, Italy) The closing film of the 77th Venice International Film Festival was Lasciami Andare (You Came Back), which was filming on location in Venice last November and December when the city was hit by the devastating November 12th flood, followed by endless periods of acqua alta, or high water. Production continued on the movie, and the weather was skillfully incorporated into the film. Venice and all her mysteries add an intriguing element to a movie that questions if there is life after death.  

The movie starts with the sound of the siren that alerts Venetians that acqua alta is approaching. Everyone who lives in Venice understands the dread you feel when the air is filled with the blast of the air raid siren. Then, one by one, the wailing tones go up, up, up, depending on the level of the water. The fourth tone, rarely heard, is ominous, and warns residents to prepare for the worst. By using the high water siren to start the film, director Stefano Mordini invokes an eerie backdrop for a movie that confronts the supernatural.

Here is a YouTube clip from La Repubblica -- from real life in Venice, not from the movie -- so you can hear the haunting siren for yourselves:


The movie reminded me of Nicholas Roeg's Don't Look Now -- both films are about the loss of a child and supernatural contacts, and both are set in Venice. However, Lasciami Andare is a more internal story about grief and guilt and a man torn between two women -- his former wife, the mother of his dead child, and his new, pregnant lover -- than a thriller. 

I saw the Saturday afternoon screening at the film festival, and thought it was compelling. I posted on social media alerting everyone to see the film that evening, as it was playing all over town. To my surprise, someone in the States replied on Twitter that the film was based on the book You Came Back written by Christopher Coake, who was a friend of hers. I was amazed that the book was actually set in the American Midwest. Venice is so much an element of the film that it seemed it had been written just for the city.

Next, up popped Christopher Coake himself, who tweeted that he had not yet seen the film. He and his wife were supposed to be at the opening on Saturday night during the Venice Film Festival but could not travel due to the pandemic. But he did say that he had watched Don't Look Now for the first time while writing the novel.

Stefano Mordini's Director's Statement:

There are houses in Venice where the sun enters through the cracks, capturing the image of what it encounters and reflecting it on the walls. The process is like the camera obscura. Marco and Clara lived in a house like this and it is in the image of a canal, with wooden boats and the odd gondola passing by, that something more than a simple landscape is reflected. Looking more closely, in the beams of light you can see something else. And that is where the camera starts in its search for young Leo, to help him leave.


Lasciami Andare, which translates to "Let Me Go" not "You Came Back," opens in theaters in Italy on October 8. Let's hope it becomes available on streaming with English subtitles for all the Venice lovers out there. I can't find an English-language review, but just that it is set in Venice makes it worth watching (I'm biased). Go to La Biennale for the synopsis and details.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer