Tuesday, September 12, 2017

20 Quickie Reviews from the Venice Film Festival 2017

74 Venice International Film Festival
(Venice, Italy) This year the Venice Film Festival especially felt like you were traveling to another world because of the tight anti-terrorism security. Just to get into the area you had to pass through several cement barriers designed to prevent truck attacks. Every Italian police department seemed to be there; there were cops on horses, cops with bomb dogs, baggage checks and more -- and that was just to walk on the street. To actually get into the Palazzo del Casinò, where the press conferences are held and the press room is located, you had to have the proper accreditation, which was scrutinized. The security was not invasive, but professional, friendly and efficient.

Once you were inside it felt lovely and safe, a happy, relaxed bubble with children dashing and splashing in the new fountain, everyone drinking spritzes (with chips!), fans queuing-up outside the red carpet to see their favorite stars, and creative-types roaming the streets. There were sun-kissed white terraces and deep green parks -- it was idyllic, a cinematic world, far removed from the turmoil on the rest of the planet.

Paolo Baratta, President of La Biennale, said: "The world in general is reacting beyond the most positive expectations with a sort of bold feeling of independence to the terrorism threat. Italy is full of tourists. We need to have faith in our institutions and in our selves. And I think that we, like all those who can feel threatened, can be proud of the way we are reacting.”

Kid-friendly fountain at the Venice Film Festival
I could not be more thrilled that The Shape of Water won the Golden Lion this year, and judging from the reaction in the press room when the winner was announced on Saturday night, that was the general consensus. I am sure it will be nominated for major awards in many categories -- including Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Here is the rave post I wrote, which includes links to a few critics' reviews:

The Movie that Everyone is Raving About: THE SHAPE OF WATER at the Venice Film Festival


Go to La Biennale for the complete list of winners.

The Shape of Water poster by James Jean
This year I managed to see 20 films. Since it is impossible to see everything, I tried to focus on American films, or English-speaking films, with a couple of exceptions. Here are my quickie reviews in the order in which I saw the films, and whether you should make the trip to the theater or stay home and stream it. I've linked the titles to the reviews I agree with the most -- not just the reviews from Venice, but also Telluride and Toronto -- so if you want to know more, click the link.

1. ***Downsizing directed by Alexander Payne opened the festival. Starring Matt Damon, it's a science-fiction comedy about a couple who decide to shrink themselves down to help save the planet (and immediately become rich). The best thing in the film was Hong Chau's dynamic performance of a Vietnamese dissident shrunk against her will. Worth a trip to the theater.

2. ***Nico, 1988 directed by Susanna Nicchiarelli, won the Orizzonti award for Best Picture. Starring Trine Dyrholm as Nico long after the singer left The Velvet Underground, the bio pic captures the last two years of the hard-living former beauty's life. The Orizzonti films have their own jury, and is the section "that represents the latest aesthetic and expressive trends in international cinema." See it at an art house, or stream it.

3. ***First Reformed, directed by Paul Schrader stars Ethan Hawke as a Dutch Reformed priest of a remote, historical church, frequented mostly by tourists, about to have its 250th reconsecration. Since it is a Schrader film, it is bizarre and intense, especially when the priest is called upon to counsel a suicide bomber. Definitely worth streaming.

4. *****The Shape of Water, directed by Guillermo del Toro, is an adult fairy-tale, which I adored, as did most critics and the jury -- it won the Golden Lion for Best Picture. See it at the theater, then stream it, then buy it. But you MUST see it.

5. ***Human Flow directed by Ai Weiwei that illustrates and humanizes the refugee crisis on a global scale. An awesome effort. Stream it.

6. ****Our Souls at Night, directed by Ritesh Batra, starring Jane Fonda and Robert Redford. I wrote a post: Robert Redford & Jane Fonda talk sex at 80, raising kids and growing old at Venice Film Festival that sums it up. Unless you are in NY or LA, you will have to stream it because it is a Netflix production, though it would make a great older folks's date night out.

Charlie Plummer in LEAN ON PETE
7. ****Lean on Pete, by British director Andrew Heigh, stars the next teen idol, Charlie Plummer, who is terrific, and won the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actor or Actress. Set in the US Pacific Northwest, "Lean on Pete" is the name of a race horse, owned by Del, played by a grizzled Steve Buscemi. Charlie has no mother; his father is involved with a married woman, with unfortunate consequences. A story about a lonely boy and the horse he loves. I thought it was terrific, and hope some clever marketers can figure out how to get teenage girls into the theater to see it.
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8. ***Suburbicon, directed by George Clooney, starring Matt Damon and Julianne Moore. Based on horrific real-life events in Pittsburgh when a black family moves into a white neighborhood in the 50s, the story was merged with an old Cohen Brothers black comedy script. Then real-life sidetracked George Clooney when Trump was elected during the making of the film. It should have been great, but it feels like two different movies stuck into one. Stream it.

9. ***Victoria & Abdul, directed by Stephen Frears, starring Judi Dench and Ali Fazal. Based on a true story that was covered up for decades, Queen Victoria becomes smitten with an Indian clerk shipped over to England for her Golden Jubilee, and promotes him to her to be her "Munshi," or guru. At the press conference, Judy Dench said, "It's good to be the queen." Stream it unless you are in the UK, then see it in the theater.

10. ****The Leisure Seeker, directed by Paolo Vitzi, starring Donald Sutherland and Helen Mirren is an American road film by an Italian director with Canadian and British oldster stars. He's got dementia, and she's got cancer, but that doesn't stop them from hauling out the old RV, "The Leisure Seeker," and heading from Massachusetts to Hemingway's house in Florida, escaping the plans of their adult children. I thought it was poignant, witty and wise -- a love story -- and hope folks see it in the theater.

11. ****EX LIBRIS - The New York Public Library, directed by Frederick Wiseman. All the wonders the NYPL offers. It needs some editing, but definitely worth streaming just to remind ourselves how marvelous human beings can be when knowledge is king.

12. ***Michael Jackson's Thriller 3D, directed by John Landis and the Making of Michael Jackson's Thriller, directed by Jerry Kramer. Of interest is you are a huge Michael Jackson fan. Stream it.


13. *****Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, directed by Martin McDonagh, starring Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell. McDonagh is an Irish-born Londoner, and the film is set in Missouri, which gives the film a different take. After The Shape of Water, I liked this movie the best. McDonagh knows how to get the best out out his actors, taking them to extremes with a heightened, extraordinary vision that works. Frances McDormand is brilliant, and deserves an Oscar nomination -- as does Sam Rockwell. See it in the theater.

14. ****My Generation, directed by David Batty, narrated by Michael Cain. A fascinating history lesson about the class system -- and the reasons behind the 60s when the working class broke through to the top -- not with violence, not with protests, but by sheer talent -- and why the world is in the mess it is today. Stream it.

15. **mother!, directed by Darren Aronofsky, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Barden. This movie was booed in Venice, and called, "a spectacular disaster." People laughed, the way you laugh when a film is ridiculous, so self-important that it becomes silly, and just doesn't work. Usually I like Aronofsky, but this time he seemed almost cruel. Of all the critics, Xan Brooks had the guts to address the elephant in the room: "Aronofksy likes to push his audience to the brink. I’ve heard that he likes to do it to his performers as well. Mickey Rourke – Oscar-nominated for his brilliant performance in The Wrestler – described the director as “an old-style Jew gangster”. He has a reputation for being combative and controlling, for breaking actors down and shooting them in extremis." Jennifer Lawrence, the 27-year-old real-life girlfriend of 48-year-old Aronofsky, dislocated a rib. “I have oxygen tubes in my nostrils, and Darren’s like, ‘It was out of focus; we’ve got to do it again,'” Lawrence said. “And I was just like, ‘Go fuck yourself.'” See it in the theater to get the full effect -- if you must.

16. ***Jim & Andy: the Great Beyond - the story of Jim Carrey & Andy Kaufman with a very special, contractually obligated mention of Tony Clifton, directed by Chris Smith, narrated by Jim Carrey. Like many other fascinating creatures, Jim Carrey is not of this earth, but he is earnest and compelling to watch. Stream it.

17. ***Loving Pablo, directed by Fernando Leòn de Aranoa, starring real-life couple Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, based on the book, Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar, by Virginia Vallejo, Escobar's real-life journalist lover. It kept me in my seat. See it in the theater.

18. ***Cuba and the Cameraman, directed by Jon Alpert is a documentary that spans several decades from the 70s and up to Fidel Castro's death. No critic seems to have reviewed this film. Weird. It is a "Netflix original" and labeled "provocative." I thought it was interesting, and definitely watchable, if only to see Cuba metamorphosize. Jon Alpert is the only American cameraman who was allowed to get up close and personal with Fidel Castro. He travels to Cuba over the decades, filming the same places through times of plenty and times of despair. Needs some snipping. Stream it.

Charlotte Rampling at Venice Film Festival press conference - Photo: Cat Bauer
19. ***Hannah, directed by Andrea Pallaoro, starring Charlotte Rampling. Pallaoro is Italian, but the film is in French, and it feels like a French film, which always frustrates me because we must see every little detail of ordinary life, and there is never a clear ending. However, Charlotte Rampling is so riveting and courageous -- she allows us to see every wrinkle on her 71-year-old body -- that I stayed until the end (just to learn that, once again, there is no clear ending, nor is there a clear story). Rampling justifiably won the Volpi Cup for Best Actress. Stream it or see it in an art house.

20. ****Wormwood, directed by Errol Morris. This should count as two movies because I saw 258 minutes (4 1/2 hours) of all six episodes. Morris gets as close as anyone can to proving that the CIA deliberately assassinated biochemist Frank Olson in 1953 because he no longer wanted to do his job, part of which was developing biological weapons for the United States to use in the Korean War. He knew too much, so he had to go. The Feds first said he committed suicide by leaping from a hotel window in Manhattan after taking LSD. His son, Eric, who was 9-years-old at the time, has never bought that story, and has spent his entire life searching for the truth, which has included exhuming his father's body. (Did you know there is a 1953 CIA manual, "The Study of Assassination?!") For 60 years, Eric has relentlessly sought closure. Let's hope this series gives him some peace. Morris wanted the tagline to read: "The LSD was a red herring." It's a Netflix, so you must stream it.

Annette Bening, President of the 74th Venice International Film Festival - Photo: Cat Bauer
It is always difficult emerging from the high energy inside the Venice Film Festival cocoon and going back to the outside world, especially when Annette Bening is the President of the jury. We will be cheering all the contenders that premiered here when it comes time for the Academy Awards.

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

Thursday, September 7, 2017

All Together Now - The Venice Glass Week

The Glass Week press conference in Venice Town Hall - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) What is most amazing about the first international Venice Glass Week is how so many different organizations, businesses, venues and individuals in Venice have put aside their differences and come together to make it happen. At the press conference this morning, Venice's mayor, Luigi Brugnaro declared, "I love Murano glass and I love this idea."

Image courtesy of Fondazione Querini Stampalia
The Venice Glass Week starts on Sunday, September 10 and runs through September 17. It is promoted by the Town Council of Venice, and was conceived and organized by Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia, LE STANZE DEL VETRO - Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Istituo Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti and the Consorzio Promovetro Murano. 

The Cathedral - Image courtesy of Najean & Sy
There are over 140 events, including exhibitions, meetings with the artists, open furnaces, conferences, parties, screenings, guided tours, educational activities and much more. It seems like the events are happening everywhere, in every section of town -- from Teatro La Fenice, to the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, inside most museums and art galleries, inside shops, cafes, restaurants and hotels, and, of course, out on the glass-blowing island of Murano.


Il trabaccolo Il Nuovo Trionfo - Image courtesy of ArtSystem
Not only that, it is very well organized, especially for an event of this scope, in both Italian and English -- which proves that they can do it if they want to:-)

I wrote a post back in 2013, sponsored by Promovetro, which explains how you can tell if a piece of Murano glass is authentic, and gives a bit of the history:

Treasures of Venice - Authentic Murano Glass


Image courtesy Venetian Dreams - Marisa Convento
If you will be in Venice (or you want to live vicariously and see what you're missing) The Venice Glass Week website has set up a system with plenty of filters where you can search by date, venue, topic of interest, etc. There will be a free App that you can download starting on September 10 from H-Farm, and free maps all over town from Venezia News.

Judi Harvest, Honeybee, 2017 - Murano glass + Pollen - Photo by Francesco Allegretto
For more information, go to The Venice Glass Week site and start clicking around.

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

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Robert Redford & Jane Fonda talk sex at 80, raising kids, and growing old at Venice Film Festival

Robert Redford & Jane Fonda - Octogenarians at Venice Film Festival
(Venice, Italy) Jane Fonda will be 80-years-old in November. Robert Redford is 81. They are here in Venice to receive the Golden Lion Lifetime Achievement Award, and to promote their new Netflix film, Our Souls at Night, a poignant love story that Redford said he made because very few films are geared toward an older audience, and "I wanted to do another film with Jane before I died."

Both stars radiate youthful energy. They have known each other for more than 50 years, and have played lovers in four films, the most famous being Barefoot in the Park in 1967. Jane Fonda, feisty as ever, said: "I wanted to fall in love with him all over again. I've been in love with him in every movie we've done." She thought the director, Ritesh Batra, cut the sex scene too soon (so did I). "I live for sex scenes with him. He's a great kisser."

I found a YouTube clip of a slice of the press conference where they talk about sex and older love. (Fonda: "So my skin sags. So does his.") The beginning of the clip is a little bit scratchy, but hang in there. And if you don't want to know how the movie ends, stop watching at about 9:00:



Since both stars have been known for their political activism, they were asked several questions about US and global politics, which Redford mostly avoided. However, when asked what the most important issue was today, Fonda said: "Save the planet." Redford agreed: "We must do whatever we can to preserve the planet."

Our Souls at Night is about two older people who begin a relationship, which grows more serious, only to have it interrupted by their adult children. Fonda said, speaking about herself personally and her character, that you never get over the fact that you have not been the best parent, and that she had to seize the chance as a mother and a grandmother to make up for what she didn't do.

Barefoot in the Park (1967)
I grew up with Jane Fonda and Robert Redford always there in the background, Jane Fonda protesting against the war in Viet Nam, inspiring millions of women with her exercise videos, marrying Tom Hayden and then Ted Turner(!) -- Robert Redford exploding on the scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, melting the hearts of young and old, then proving he was not just a pretty face when he started up Sundance -- so it was a great privilege to be in the same room with them and hear them speak. Even though their bodies were older, their internal energy -- their souls -- seemed the same, but more refined, like pearls. It was almost as if the two stars had become White People Elders, grown older and wiser, come down off the mountain to bring a message of hope for the future.

Jane Fonda said, "If you're brave, you can make the leap and become what you were meant to be, even if you've never been that before."

Our Souls at Night will debut on Netflix at the end of the month, and have a limited theatrical release in New York and Los Angeles.

Ciao from the Venice Film Festival,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog


Friday, September 1, 2017

Variety Soirée FACES OF A WOMAN Celebrates Annette Bening + the eVe Project

Annette Bening at Variety party - photo: Mirco Toffolo
(Venice, Italy) The exclusive Variety party held on the terrace of the Hotel Danieli is in its ninth consecutive year, and honors the President of the Jury of the Venice International Film Festival, which this year is Annette Bening -- the first woman to serve as president in 11 years. There have only been six female presidents in the history of the world's oldest film festival -- this is the 74th edition -- so let's hope her appointment shakes things up a bit. Over the years, it has been my experience that the president does influence the choices the jury makes, and I think it is in fine hands with Bening at the helm.

The name of this year's soirée was Faces of a Woman, with food and cocktails inspired by four different films in which Bening has starred, prepared by the executive chefs of four hotels: The Kids are Alright by The Western Europa & Regina, Being Julia by The Gritti Palace, The Grifters by Hotel Danieli and 20th Century Women by the JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa.

Annette Bening at Variety party - Photo: Cat Bauer
Annette Bening was friendly and charming, gamely sampling each of the dishes and drinks created in her honor (the food was yummy, but some of it was pretty strange-looking), posing for photos, chatting with the guests -- I even had the opportunity to meet her myself.

At the party, I ran into Alberto Bozzo, the CEO of Al Duca d'Aosta, a fashion brand with shops in Venice and the Veneto. Alberto is always doing great things for Venice, like giving the gondoliers their own logo and line of clothing and donating a percentage of the sales to support the ancient profession, and providing all the white umbrellas when about 1,000 residents of Venice made a huge white heart in Piazza San Marco to show the world the deep love we have for our city.

Cat Bauer wearing eVe T-shirt: Words are not enough
Alberto invited me to a party yesterday evening during the film festival at the Terrazza Mediterranea overlooking the sea to promote his latest good cause: The eVe Project: Words are not enough, whose mission is to help women who have experienced a form of violence. Al Duca d'Aosta has created some very cool T-shirts and hats with the eVe logo, which you can buy during the film festival at Terrazza Mediterranea, which is directly across from the Palazzo del Casinò on the Lido. All the proceeds go to support The eVe Project. So, if you are at the Venice Film Festival, please stop by and support the very fine cause.

Ciao from the Venice Film Festival,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat- The Venice Blog

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Movie that Everyone is Raving About: THE SHAPE OF WATER at the Venice Film Festival

The Shape of Water
(Venice, Italy) I love romantic fairy tales, and I always dream that I can breathe underwater. So I wasn't sure if anyone else would love The Shape of Water as much as I did until the industry audience broke into wild applause here in Venice this morning. Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro has captured a spark of the divine. It is a masterpiece.

I had never seen a Guillermo Del Toro film before, so I didn't know what to expect. What kind of fantastic mind imagines a plot like this: Elisa, a mute cleaner at a U.S. government aerospace facility falls in love with a captive watery Creature, a merman, during the Cold War.

Sally Hawkins & Guillermo Del Toro - Venice Film Festival
At the press conference, I fell immediately in love with Guillermo Del Toro, too, when he said that choosing fear over love is a disaster. "The Beatles and Jesus both can't be wrong, and when they disagree, I go with the Beatles."

Del Toro has drawn out the purest, most creative aspects of everyone working on the film. It is a perfect unit, led by Sally Hawkins' silent, sublime performance, and enriched by Alexandre Desplat's musical score. All the actors -- Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, Octavia Spencer -- are in top form as they bring the screenplay by Del Toro and Vanessa Taylor organically to life. The costumes by Luis Sequeira and production design by Paul Denham Austerberry are magical, captured by Dan Lausten's ethereal cinematography.

Venice has earned the reputation as an "Oscar Launch Pad," which The Shape of Water is certain to enforce. Guillermo Del Toro has created a timely gift for humanity. 

Sally Hawkins
Here are some rave reviews, which also describe the story:

From The Daily Beast:
A majestic 1960s movie palace, glistening in the rain. A derelict apartment awash in antiquity. A mute woman (Sally Hawkins, lovely as always) and her elderly gay caretaker (Richard Jenkins, ditto) parked in front of the tube. The Shape of Water casts a spell over its audience from its opening moments and holds you in its thrall long after the credits have rolled.
 From The Hollywood Reporter:
Guillermo del Toro delivers pure enchantment with The Shape of Water. A dark-edged fairy tale as lovingly steeped in vintage movie magic as it is in hypnotic water imagery, this captivating creature feature marries a portrait of morally corrupt early-1960s America with an outsider tale of love and friendship molded by a master storyteller.

Centered on an exquisite performance from Sally Hawkins that conveys both delicacy and strength, this is a visually and emotionally ravishing fantasy that should find a welcome embrace from audiences starved for imaginative escape.
Sally Hawkin & Octavia Spencer
From Variety:
A ravishing, eccentric auteur’s imagining, spilling artistry, empathy and sensuality from every open pore, it also offers more straight-up movie for your money than just about any Hollywood studio offering this year. This decidedly adult fairytale, about a forlorn, mute cleaning lady and the uncanny merman who save each other’s lives in very different ways, careers wildly from mad-scientist B-movie to heart-thumping Cold War noir to ecstatic, wings-on-heels musical, keeping an unexpectedly classical love story afloat with every dizzy genre turn.
Lit from within by a heart-clutching silent star turn from Sally Hawkins, lent dialogue by one of Alexandre Desplat’s most abundantly swirling scores, this is incontestably Del Toro’s most rewarding, richly realized film — or movie, for that matter — since 2006’s “Pan’s Labyrinth.”
 From IndieWire:
At one unexpected moment in Guillermo del Toro’s virtuosic new film, the characters break into a song. The lights dim, the colors drain to black and white and Sally Hawkins’ otherwise mute Elisa takes Doug Jones’ unnamed creature by the hand, and the two begin hoofing old Hollywood style in a “Top Hat” reminiscent musical number set to the old standard “You’ll Never Know (Just How Much I Love You).” It’s just one more magical moment in a film full of them, another reminder that not only is “The Shape of Water” one of del Toro’s most stunningly successful works, it’s also a powerful vision of a creative master feeling totally, joyously free.
The Shape of Water will be released on December 8, 2017 in the United States.

Ciao from the Venice Film Festival,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Live! From the 74 Venice International Film Festival! A Star is Born: Hong Chau in DOWNSIZING

Hong Chau in Downsizing
(Venice, Italy) Kudos to Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor for writing a script with a great role for a woman -- and a Vietnamese dissident with an amputated leg, no less. Hong Chau will certainly be nominated when award season rolls around for her role as Ngoc Lan, a house cleaner who captures Matt Damon's heart after he shrinks down and moves into Leisureland, New Mexico, the ultimate suburbia for small people.

Searching for a compassionate solution to overpopulation, Norwegian scientists discover a method to shrink human beings down to five inches. The perk for the planet is that an entire community produces a single ordinary bag of trash in a year. But the real appeal for most of those who volunteer to undergo the procedure is that they instantly become rich.


Downsizing stars Kristen Wiig and Matt Damon arrive at the Venice Film Festival Credit:Joel Ryan
Matt Damon stars as Paul Safranek, who still lives in the same house in Omaha that he grew up in, first with his mother, then with his wife (Kristen Wigg). When they are turned down for a mortgage, they decide to join the ever-growing group of folks who have downsized after they learn that their assets of $125,000 would be worth $12.5 million in a town designed for the small. They could easily afford a McMansion -- not to mention spa treatments, tennis, jewels -- everything the consumer culture dreams of achieving, and not exactly what the Norwegian scientists had in mind when pondering ways of how to save the planet.

Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Hong Chau and Alexander Payne
The reviews are mostly positive, but with caveats:

From Variety:

Alexander Payne's science-fiction comedy about humans who get miniaturized to save the planet (and live like royalty) is that rare thing: a ticklish and resonant crowd-pleaser for grown-ups.

 ...Payne may be the closest thing we have to a studio-system classicist. His films are built with a craftsmanship so beveled and honed that it’s beyond impeccable, yet that very precision can, at times, rob his movies of spontaneity. ...the movie, in the end, is more amusing than exhilarating, and what should be its emotional payoff hinges too much (for my taste) on the director’s apocalyptic vision of climate change. “Downsizing” turns into a movie about saving the human race. But it’s most fun when it’s about saving one man whose life turns out to be bigger than a hill of beans.
What I liked best about the film were the international characters that Paul encounters in Leisureland and beyond, throwing him completely out of his Omaha middle-class comfort zone.

From the Daily Beast:

...Paul sets off on one of those oh-so-Hollywood journeys of self-discovery, encountering a series of outsize characters along the way. There is Dusan (Christoph Waltz, deliciously extra), a Serbian smuggler with a penchant for drug-fueled all-night parties in his penthouse suite, and Ngoc Lan (Hong Chau, extraordinary), a cleaning company owner who resides in a dilapidated tenement on the outskirts of Leisureland populated by the (predominately Hispanic) mini-forgotten.

During the press conference, a journalist asked if Payne and Taylor had intentionally set out to write a film where an American man gets educated by Europeans and an Asian woman -- a question I thought was terrific because I had wondered the same thing. Taylor sputtered a bit until finally admitting, "This is the first time we're hearing that."

Christoph Walz and Hong Chau
Hong Chau has been singled out for her dynamic performance:
Variety again: “...Hong Chau’s performance is remarkable. She starts off as a borderline stereotype — a bitter refugee spitting venom in broken English — and then melts into the film’s most surprising character.”
From The Wrap: "If there’s a standout here, it’s Chau, taking a character who could easily have been a saintly martyr and making her funny, bristly, moving and occasionally profane. As awards season kicks up, she should definitely be part of the conversation."
From The Telegraph: "..it’s rescued from mawkishness by some well-placed jabs of dry humour and a terrifically appealing performance from Chau, whose character’s snappy matter-of-factness beautifully complements Damon’s nicely pitched bluff affability. Their chemistry turbo-charges the film through its increasingly foreboding final stretch, in which the fate of humanity (really!) hangs in the balance."
It is a striking coincidence that the film premiered during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, and the catastrophic flooding in Houston, Texas -- even though Jim Taylor said they had been working on it for about ten years.

Downsizing opens on December 22.

Ciao from the Venice Film Festival,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Picasso on the Beach - Peggy's Granddaughter, Karole Vail, Steps into the Spotlight at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice

Karole Vail & Luca Massismo Barbero - Photo: Cat Bauer
Director Karole Vail & Curator Luca Massismo Barbero - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) If ever an exhibition fit perfectly into a space, it's Picasso on the Beach, which opened today (Peggy's birthday - she would have been 119 years old) in the new Project Rooms at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Intimate and classy, the space offers a chance to get up close and personal with three of Picasso's masterpieces, On the Beach, Women Seated on the Beach and Large Bather with a Book, as well as studies that allow a glimpse into the maestro's creative process. Curated by the profound and prolific Luca Massimo Barbero, the exhibition is deeply moving and ties Picasso's artistic output to dramatic world events.

The opening of the show was especially exciting for those of us here in Venice because yesterday, August 25, Karole Vail, Peggy's granddaughter, held her first press conference as the new Director of the museum.

On the Beach by Pablo Picasso, Oil conté crayon & chalk on canvas, Feb 12, 1937 - Photo Cat Bauer
In February 1937, within a span of a few days, Pablo Picasso painted three beach-themed masterpieces while the Spanish artist was in Tremblay sul Mauldre, a village about 30 minutes outside of Versailles in France -- in the middle of winter and nowhere near a beach.

On the Beach study by Pablo Picasso, Feb 12, 1937, pencil on paper - Photo: Cat Bauer
At that time, world events were building to a dangerous crescendo. The Nazis were consolidating their power in Europe, and supported the policies of the Spanish military dictator, Francisco Franco. Two months later, on April 26, 1937, Franco would order the bombing of the town of Guernica, the spiritual capital of the Basque people, during the Spanish Civil War, an event that shocked Picasso, and outraged the world --  compelling Picasso to create his famous mural-sized oil painting, Guernica, in June, two months after the horrific event.

By that time, Picasso had already created The Dream and Lie of Franco, which is also on display, and contains such images as Franco riding a horse waving a sword and flag, and Franco being gored by a bull.

The Dream and Lie of Franco, part 1 (1937) by Pablo Picasso - Photo: Cat Bauer
The exhibition includes ten drawings, three paintings and a sculpture made by Picasso between February and December 1937, and is part of the Musée national Picasso-Paris Picasso-Méditerranée, an international cultural event. One of the studies is a preparatory drawing for On the Beach that Picasso gave his lover, Dora Maar as a gift.

On the Beach study by Pablo Picasso, Feb 10, 1937, pencil on paper - Photo: Cat Bauer
Back on March 8, 2014, I wrote a post about the Surrealistic artist, a woman in her own right -- and the only person who Picasso allowed to photograph the progression of Guernica -- which you can read here:

Dora Maar - DESPITE PICASSO - Women Artists Welcome Spring 2014 at Palazzo Fortuny


I thought that Peggy's granddaughter, Karole Vail, was terrific, hitting the perfect key at the press conference in her role as the new director: energetic, knowledgeable, poised and friendly. I had the opportunity to have a conversation with her during the nibbles, and she was charming. She comes to us from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, where she worked on the curatorial staff for 20 years, and looks uncannily like a (prettier) version of Peggy.

Picasso on the Beach is timely and cautionary, and runs through January 7, 2018, so you have plenty of time to see it. Go to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection for more information.

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

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Where to Find Pleasant Tourists in Venice

Ca' Pesaro - Foto di Giovanni Porpora courtesy Comune di Venezia
(Venice, Italy) Venice has been in the international news lately with reports about Tourists-Behaving-Badly: having public sex, jumping into canals, sitting on bridges and blocking the flow of foot traffic, riding bicycles, wearing beach clothing, etc. The New York Times recently published an article entitled: Venice, Invaded by Tourists Risks Becoming 'Disneyland on the Sea,' (someone needs to blow the dust off that headline) about how mass tourism is killing the city. The other day, The Guardian piled on with "I Don't Mean to Ruin Your Holiday, But Europe Hates Tourists -- And With Good Reason, and last month: "Imagine Living With This Crap: Tempers in Venice Boil Over in High Tourist Season." The Economist chimed in with Not Drowning But Suffocating, suggesting that splitting Venice from Mestre was the solution, as if that were an original idea.


None of this is anything new. Way back in 2008, out of frustration with the tourist flow, I wrote a piece called TIPS FOR MOVING AROUND VENICE, a condensed version of which was picked up by the Financial Times and published in their Weekend Magazine. In an article called That Was Then, This is Now: Venice, my words were paired with comments from John Evelyn's Diary, dated 1645:

1645: from John Evelyn, Diary “...add the perfumers & Apothecaries, and the innumerable cages of Nightingals, which they keepe, that entertaines you with their melody from shop to shop, so as shutting your Eyes, you would imagine your selfe in the Country, when indeede you are in the middle of the Sea: besides there being neither rattling of Coaches nor trampling of horses, tis almost as silent as the field.”
2008: from “Venetian Cat – Venice Blog” by Cat Bauer “Tips for moving around Venice: 
1. Stay to the right when walking (even if you are British). Pass slow-moving creatures on the left. 
2. Do not sit on the bridges, under any circumstances whatsoever. One person sitting on a bridge can cause a traffic jam for miles.
3. Before stopping, look both ways, plus, in front and behind ... Do not stop short. Someone could rear-end you.”

Henry James used to stay on the top floor of Pensione Wildner on the Riva degli Schiavone, which was thick with tourists even in the 19th century. Here is what he had to say about Venice back in 1881:
...The barbarians are in full possession and you tremble for what they may do. You are reminded from the moment of your arrival that Venice scarcely exists any more as a city at all; that she exists only as a battered peep-show and bazaar.
There was a horde of savage Germans encamped in the Piazza, and they filled the Ducal Palace and the Academy with their uproar. The English and Americans came a little later. They came in good time, with a great many French, who were discreet enough to make very long repasts at the Caffè Quadri, during which they were out of the way.
The months of April and May of the year 1881 were not, as a general thing, a favourable season for visiting the Ducal Palace and the Academy. ...They infest the Piazza; they pursue you along the Riva; they hang about the bridges and the doors of the cafés....
Photo: Savvy Backpacker
Now we have arrived in the year 2017, where, thanks to technology, a bunch of foreigners have become "authorities" on Venice, hawking self-published books and "expert" services, feasting off the moribund body of Venice from afar. They do not live in Venice, but try to control the local narrative, manipulating social media to promote their skewed view of life in a deeply complex city -- a Byzantine city that carefully guards her secrets.

So, not only have local residents been pushed out of Venice by foreigners buying properties and renting them out to other foreigners, we are also bombarded on social networks by opinionated foreign marketers who link their names to unsuspecting local individuals and organizations, trying to gain legitimacy for their superficial "Venice" brands. As the late Martin Roth said, "You see how art and culture can be controlled for political purposes without you realizing it."

Forbidden Behaviours from the Venice Comune
The Venice Comune has launched their own awareness campaign on social media called #EnjoyRespectVenezia, with Good Rules for the Responsible Visitor, and clear, simple diagrams of Forbidden Behaviour. Most no-nos should be obvious, like don't get drunk and jump off a bridge because you might land on a boat.

On Ferragosto, August 15, I decided to head over to Ca' Pesaro, Venice's International Gallery of Modern Art because I had missed the opening of David Hockney - 82 Portraits and 1 Still-Life exhibition. On my way over, I witnessed with my own eyes five out of six of the Forbidden Behaviors, including a bicyclist zooming down the Zattare. The only forbidden behavior missing that day was that no one happened to be diving off a bridge -- at least, not that I saw.

When I asked a father sitting on a bridge with his three kids to get up because they were blocking foot traffic -- specifically an elderly Venetian man with a cane and his wife who needed to use the handrail -- the father glared and ignored me until I took his photo. It is a €200 fine to sit on a bridge and block the flow of traffic, which, to me, is a rule the Comune should strongly enforce. In about 45 minutes I would have collected €3000!

Larry Gagosian by David Hockney
"I've known Larry for forty years, 
since he had a poster shop in Westwood. 
Now he's a big art dealer."
Anyway, when I arrived at Ca' Pesaro, I was pleasantly surprised to see the museum teeming with visitors, a whole other breed of traveler who had managed to get their families over to Venice's modern art gallery during their mid-August holidays. Ca' Pesaro is an enormous Baroque palace on the Grand Canal, built in the second part of the 17th century. Just the opportunity to enter and wander around such an imposing structure is worth the price of admission. There was a sign at the entrance apologizing for the lack of air conditioning, and I wondered if that was supposed to be a joke because the marble palazzo was so naturally cool.

Cat Bauer in the David Hockney chair
I made my way up to the David Hockney 82 Portraits and 1 Still Life exhibition, which is of interest if you are someone who wants to see who the 82 people he painted are -- some of the portraits have comments by Hockney, some don't. For the rest of us, there is a terrific hands-on project you can participate in, kids and grown-ups alike: You can create your own cut-out paper portrait, posed sitting in the Hockney chair.


You wander into the end room, where there are six different patterns to choose from for your pose, and two different angles of the chair. You settle down at one of the two tables stocked with colored markers, scissors and glue. It is up to you to color in the figure, which is blank, cut it out, and then glue it in the chair.

Cat Bauer - work in progress
It was great fun. There were all types of people, male and female, grownups and kids, young and old, black and white, brown and yellow -- everyone sitting at the tables and concentrating on creating their masterpieces. We were quiet and respectful, asking politely if someone was done with a certain color, trying not to jiggle the table with our strokes. We chatted softly amongst ourselves, remarking about how long it had been since we had done something creative with our hands. It was so human, not cyber -- I got enormous pleasure by just being in the same space and time with other human beings doing a simple human thing.

Cat Bauer Hockney finished product
After you finish your portrait, you tape it on the wall. Well, you don't have to tape it on the wall, you can take it home with you, but most people tape it on the wall, so there is a glorious gallery of self-portraits inspired by David Hockney, which, frankly, I found much more interesting than the portraits Hockney did himself.

Portraits inspired by Hockney
After taping my effort to the wall (it's the first one on the bottom left), I went downstairs to see where the controversial Judith II (Salomè) by Gustav Klimt had been hung. You regular readers will remember that when our billionaire mayor Luigi Brugnaro first came into office, he threatened to sell it to raise cash, causing all sorts of commotion.

Later, Brugnaro completely flipped his attitude and supported the painting -- it had a starring role in an exhibition called Around Klimt - Judith, Heroism and Seduction in the Candiani Cultural Center in Mestre on the mainland, with Brugnaro posing next to the painting. I wrote a post about it, which you can read here:

Klimt's Judith II (Salomè) Stars at Centro Culturale Candiani in Mestre (Venice)


After the exhibition ended, Judith returned to her home inside Ca' Pesaro, but in a more prominent location. I found Judith beautifully framed by a prominent doorway on the first floor, making her much easier to find.

Judith II (Salomè) by Gustav Klimt - Photo: Cat Bauer
So, if you are looking for pleasant tourists in Venice, head over to Ca' Pesaro. Not only will you be surrounded by civilized human beings, you will find many other sights for sore eyes, such as treasures by Chagall, Picasso, Kandinsky, Calder, Klee, Rodin, and many, many more.

The Oriental Art Museum is located, oddly, on the top floor of the palazzo (how it got up there is the subject for another post), and crammed with the priceless collection of Japanese art from the Edo period that Prince Henry, Count of Bardi hauled back to Venice from his travels to Asia from 1887 to 1889. The 30,000 exotic artifacts -- swords, daggers, silk-dresses, rare porcelain, Chinese art, Indonesian shadow puppets and more --  make the Oriental Art Museum another kid-pleaser.

Go to Ca' Pesaro for more information.

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

Monday, August 7, 2017

In Memory of Martin Roth - Under One Sun

Martin Roth - Photo: Under One Sun
(Venice, Italy) Martin Roth, one of the most dynamic museum directors on the planet, has died. I had the great good fortune to hear him speak on more than one occasion, so this news shocks and saddens me.


President of La Biennale di Venezia Paolo Baratta
remembers Martin Roth

Following the death of Martin Roth, President of La Biennale di Venezia Paolo Baratta remembers him with these words:

Martin Roth was an extraordinary man of culture endowed with a vital and visionary energy. The collaboration between La Biennale di Venezia and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, which he directed until last year, was born in a climate of generosity and enthusiasm. We remember him with deep affection and appreciation”.

Martin Roth was born in Stuttgart in 1955. He served as director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London from 2011 to 2016 and had been recently appointed President of the IfA, the German Institute of Foreign Relations.

Venice, August 7th, 2017

From The Guardian - Photograph: Nick Harvey/Rex/Shutterstock

From The Guardian:

Martin Roth, former V&A director, dies aged 62
First German to head major UK museum oversaw record visitor numbers but left V&A after disillusionment with Brexit vote

... Roth was the first German to head a major British museum, leaving the V&A in 2016 shortly after it won the museum of the year award. That victory meant that Roth, after five years in charge, could leave while the museum was on a high. However it was a decision also hastened by his disillusionment over the Brexit vote....

Under One Sun installation by Elvin Nabizade - Photo: Cat Bauer
Martin Roth was the co-curator of the Azerbaijan Pavilion for this year's Venice Biennale International Art Exhibition. The pavilion is entitled, "Under One Sun. The Art of Living Together, and you can find it in Palazzo Lezze in Campo Santo Stefano. Roth was passionate about different cultures coming together in harmony, and used the country of Azerbaijan, with its multicultural society, as an example of people who had mastered the art of living together in peace. "Azerbaijan is a perfect example of a complex society which promotes acceptance of different languages and cultural backgrounds...living together mostly in harmony and equality..." Roth was criticized for working with the country, which has been described as "authoritarian."

Go to the Azerbaijan Pavilion for more information about the exhibition.

Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK
Back on October 17, 2014, I wrote a post entitled Top International Museum Directors Meet in Palazzo Ducale, Venice and highlighted what Martin Roth had to say:

Martin Roth, the Director of the Victoria & Albert Museum, declared, "I believe in museums." He said a museum is never the same, and changes with the culture and politics. He said the V&A was a brilliant idea by Prince Albert, an ongoing World's Fair, and that a museum is an open institution for everyone; it belongs to us all -- from the taxi drivers, to the Queen, to the green grocer.

Since the UK has had such a huge influx of refugees, they have created exhibits to reflect those cultures -- "If you are a refugee, come to the V&A."

Roth said their Board of Trustees is completely independent, and he didn't like the US system where you buy yourself onto the Board. He said he had a friend in the US who was going to retire from a Board because it was "too dangerous." He said, "It's not supposed to be that way!"

Roth said the V&A was a local museum for a global audience, and that it attracted a lot of young people who came just to hang out. All museums in the UK are free. He said, "A museum is never a business, but you can run it business-like."
Click to read the entire post:

Top International Museum Directors Meet in Palazzo Ducale, Venice


Martin Roth made a deep impression on me. He was outspoken and courageous, with strong opinions and original thought that shocked the system. In a world that seems to have fallen asleep, I thought he was refreshing. Rest with the angels.

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

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Most Powerful Kiss in Art: Do you know what MAGISTER GIOTTO in Venice is?


(Venice, Italy) The husband and wife kissing in the poster for MAGISTER GIOTTO you see all over Venice are Joachim and Anne, the grandparents of Jesus Christ.

Joachim was a wealthy, pious man, and Anne was his beloved, but childless wife -- a situation that gave the couple much grief. Both were descendants of the house of David. Joachim was generous with his wealth, giving to the poor and making offerings to the temple. Then one day the high priest said he would not accept Joachim's offerings because he was childless, and, therefore, God must be displeased with him.

Joachim went off to the desert to fast and pray for 40 days and nights, while Anne sobbed and prayed at home in their garden. An angel appeared separately to both of them, and promised the devout couple that they would have a child, even in their old age -- and not just any child, but the mother of God. They were instructed to meet each other at the Golden Gate in Jerusalem.

The Meeting at the Golden Gate by Giotto
In 1305, Giotto di Bondone, one of the greatest artists to grace the planet, captured the moment that Joachim and Anne kissed each other for the first time after receiving the angelic news, and immortalized it in a fresco inside the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua. Some people interpret the kiss as the Immaculate Conception itself.

And the woman in black? There is much disagreement about who she is, but the theory I like the best is that she is Mary, the mother of Jesus, after Christ was crucified, witnessing the moment of her own conception.

Back in 2007, Tom Lubbock wrote an excellent piece for The Independent called, Bondone, di Giotto: The Meeting at the Golden Gate (1305) where he examines famous kisses in art, this kiss in particular.

I did not know any of that before I saw MAGISTER GIOTTO at the Scuola Grande della Misercordia.

Magister Giotto
MAGISTER GIOTTO is billing itself as an exhibition in an unprecedented format, a visual journey that tells a story with high-definition images, narration and music. It is not an interactive bombardment of the senses, but rather a 55-minute spiritual and intellectual experience that hopes to blow the dust off Giotto and fling him into the spotlight of the present.

Giotto is considered the first great artist to contribute to the Renaissance, and after you visit the exhibition, you will understand why.

Giotto press conference - Scuola Grande della Misericordia - Photo: Cat Bauer
MAGISTER GIOTTO is the first in a series of three exhibitions backed by Cose Belle d'Italia, a company founded by Stefano Vegni, VP General Manager of Citibank, Milan. The great Italian sculptor Canova is up next in 2018, followed by Raphael in 2019. Originating in Venice, the exhibitions will then travel around the world. From the Cose Belle d'Italia website:

Cose Belle d’Italia is a group that aggregates Italian companies representing Made in Italy excellence, acquiring, preserving and valorising them within an integrated system based on the perennial values of Italian beauty, culture and ‘the good life’.

The group operates across all sectors, creating value and promoting the propagation of excellence among its subsidiaries.

Fully owned by Europa Investimenti S.p.A., Cose Belle d’Italia was founded in 2013 following the definition of its ‘Manifesto’, which sets the key points on which the vision and mission of the company are based. The first acquisitions began in the spring of 2014.

Magister Giotto
Luca Mazzieri, the Artistic Director, said they chose Giotto because it is the 750th anniversary of his birth, and that he is an artist who is "much talked about, but not yet well-known."

The main exhibition consists of seven spaces on the first floor of the immense Scuola Grande della Misericordia, each with a different theme. Visitors are organized into groups of about 15-20 people that depart every 15 minutes. The visitors put on headsets, and the narrative starts, sort of like a documentary film that you wander through, with background music by jazz musician, Paolo Fresu.

The Italian narrator is Luca Zingaretti, one of the most well-known actors in Italy, who plays Salvo Montalbano in the Commissario Montalbano TV mystery series. (The TV show is based on the addictive novels by Andrea Camilleri, which I highly recommend reading. They are translated into English, with a creative solution when the characters slip from Italian into Sicilian.)

The themes of the seven spaces are:

1.  The Birth of the Myth 
2.  The Story of Saint Francis
3.  The Places of Giotto
4.  Giotto and the Painted Cross
5.  Giotto and Florence
6.  The Scrovegni Chapel
7.  Giotto and Halley's Comet

i
Envy by Giotto
The images are high-definition, blown up to reveal details not possible to see in situ; you are surrounded by images so that you can immerse yourself in Giotto's work. For instance, during the last decade, I have become fascinated by the deadly sin, "Envy," which Wikipedia defines as:
Envy (from Latin invidia) is an emotion which "occurs when a person lacks another's superior quality, achievement, or possession and either desires it or wishes that the other lacked it".
I was speaking about envy just before I went to see the exhibition, and then there it was -- wicked tongue, big ears, bag of money and all -- up there on the wall, so close that I could walk over and almost touch it.

Magister Giotto - Photo: Cat Bauer
I thought the exhibition was terrific. An immense amount of research provided by a cast of luminaries in their fields takes us through many aspects of Giotto's life, revealing an impressive amount of fresh information. Giotto completely transformed the art of painting. The Italian painter Cennino Cennini nailed it when he said, "Giotto translated the art of painting from Greek to Latin."  

Adoration of the Magi by Giotto
The exhibition concludes with the Giotto spacecraft mission in 1986, run by the European Space Agency. The spacecraft was the first to get up close and personal with Halley's Comet. The ESA named the spacecraft "Giotto" because the painter had seen the comet in 1301, and included it as the Star of Bethlehem in his Adoration of the Magi manger scene that he painted in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua around 1305.

MAGISTER GIOTTO is at the Scuola Grande della Misericordia through November 5, 2017, and is a MUST SEE. Tickets are €18, but there are many discounts; for instance, the exhibition is FREE for residents of Venice every Tuesday. Go to MAGISTER GIOTTO for more information.

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