Saturday, August 31, 2019

I loved Marriage Story! A Film about Divorce at the Venice Film Festival

MARRIAGE STORY photo call - Laura Dern, Noah Baumbach, Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver
Photo courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia - ASAC
(Venice, Italy) I loved "Marriage Story." As someone who lived in New York and Los Angeles for two decades, and was married to a television director, I completely related to it. I want my ex-husband to see it so he will appreciate how much money I saved him in lawyer's fees!

Those of us who have gone through a divorce know how shattering the process is, a real human drama. It is tragic and comedic, devastating and cathartic. Noah Baumbach wrote "Marriage Story" after his divorce from Jennifer Jason Leigh. He didn't know when he first spoke to to Scarlett Johansson about the project that she was going through a divorce, too.

Charlie (Adam Driver) is a theater director, and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) is an actor from a family of mid-level actors in Los Angeles. They have an eight-year-old son, Henry (Azhy Robertson). Charlie has an experimental theater company in New York, and after Nicole fell in love with him, she left LA to become the star of his company. So Henry has grown up in New York, though the way bi-coastal relationships work, they are often in LA to visit Nicole's wacky family.

Baumbach wrote the film specifically for Johansson and Driver, and also for Laura Dern, who nails it as Nicole's LA fierce and funny divorce attorney. Alan Alda and Ray Liotta co-star as Charlie's divorce attorneys (one gets fired for being too nice).

Noah Baumbach
There is a powerful scene in the film -- actually, there are many powerful scenes, but one intense scene really stands out. Driver and Johansson are having a vicious argument, which was so real, their emotions jumped off the screen and into the theater. It was like watching a live performance.

Later, at the press conference, they were asked about that particular scene -- when you see the movie, you will know exactly which scene it is. Driver said, "Obviously, there is a theme of theater and performance. I am a theater director and Scarlett is an actor. There is something about the theatrics of getting a divorce... you're kind of performing for a judge and the mediators... It felt like theater -- we blocked it out, we talked about where we going to go; it wasn't something we winged. Noah's scripts are very well written and concise... there wasn't a lot of changing things on the day. The words are the words, which also feels like theater to me; working on it felt very much like theater."

Anyone who has a background in theater and film knows how difficult it is to crank up the emotional level in a scene, while, at the same time, remembering to hit the mark. The performance is staged. It is a dance between losing control while knowing exactly what you are doing. 

Baumbach elaborated, and said that it was a very technical scene. They blocked it out. He knew when he was going to cut to close ups, and when he needed the actors to stop and hit their marks, or lunge, or turn their heads to the camera. "To have these two actors completely lose themselves and at the same time they are in absolute control... it was such a privilege. It was the most rewarding experience I've had as a director."

Laura Dern at Marriage Story press conference
Photo courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia - ASAC
Laura Dern has never been better as she goes for the jugular in a very Los Angeles way (I wish I had had Nora Fanshaw as my divorce lawyer!). She has a hysterical scene about the difference between mothers and fathers (the Virgin Mary is involved) that had the audience of journalists roaring with laughter.

The performances are so outstanding, I think everyone will get nominated for Oscars -- Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson for Best Actor, Laura Dern for Best Supporting and Noah Baumbach for Best Director and Original Screenplay.

Here is an excerpt from a review by Owen Gleiberman of Variety that I like a lot. You should click over and read the whole thing: of the powerful subtleties of “Marriage Story” is that the divorce process, flawed as it is, becomes the vehicle through which Charlie and Nicole confront the underlying reality of their marriage. They go to court, and tear up their lives, all to solve a problem that Charlie, if he was a different sort of man, could have solved in two minutes.
Baumbach’s brilliant screenplay never falters or hits a wrong note. He has come up with smart, witty, saddened, and searching characters whose ability to articulate their feelings is never less than lifelike, and he writes scenes that are like verbal arias.
"Marriage Story" is also about the eternal battle between New York and Los Angeles, theater and film, subways and cars. It is a battle of lifestyles. Being based in Los Angeles and commuting to New York for work is utterly different than being based in New York and commuting to LA.

I asked some Italian journalists who do not live in Hollywood and New York and were never married to a director if they liked it as much as I did, and they said yes. Go see it! There are no superheroes. It's a real movie with a real story and real characters, just like the good old days.

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

Thursday, August 29, 2019

All About Mujeres (Women) - Variety Bash at Hotel Daniel - 76th Venice Film Festival

Lucrecia Martel, President of Jury with partner Julieta Laso - Photo: Cat Bauer
Lucrecia Martel, President of Jury with partner Julieta Laso - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) The exclusive Variety bash at the Hotel Danieli that kicks off the Venice Film Festival is a warm-hearted tradition, now in its11th edition. Usually it celebrates the President of the Jury with whimsical food and creative drinks inspired by his or her body of work. This year the party took slightly a different twist, honoring both Argentinian Lucrecia Martel, the President of the Jury, and Spaniard Pedro Almodóvar, one of the winners of the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, with the theme: All About Mujeres (Women).

In these "Me Too" times, Venice has been criticized for its lack of films directed by females, while including the controversial directors Roman Polanski and Nate Parker in its line-up. The Hollywood Reporter led the charge with an article entitled "Completely Tone Deaf": How Venice Became the F-You Film Festival -- illustrated with a cartoon of a male winged lion sprawled in a gondola, a cigar in one hand, his other hand raised in a middle finger salute.

Let us not forget that the Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel is at the helm of the jury of the 76th Venice International Film Festival, and she is no wimp (and she smokes cigars:-). Recovering from a broken arm after she fell off a hoverboard a couple weeks ago, Martel is here in Venice with her partner, Julieta Laso, and sees her position as President of the Jury as a responsibility and an opportunity.

I had the chance to speak to Martel, and she is cool. She told Paolo Baratta, La Biennale President, that she would like to see a list of all the films submitted to the festival. "Is the problem with the choices the film festival itself is making? Or is the root of the problem at the national level and the amount of submissions by female directors?" 

Let's take Hollywood itself. Despite all the chatter about equality and the "Me Too"movement, according to a January 3, 2019 article in IndieWire the percentage of female directors actually decreased in 2018:
The new study, released today by executive director Dr. Martha Lauzen, reveals that the percentage of women working as directors on the top 250 grossing films declined from 11% in 2017 to 8% in 2018. The percentages of women directing films in the top 100 and 500 films declined as well, with women only directing 4% of the top 100 films (a decline of 4 percentage points) and 15% of the top 500 (a decline of 3 percentage points).

 All About Women? - Photo: Mirco Toffolo
These are some touchy times, and I do think that Venice is making an effort despite the optics. Alberto Barbera, Director of the Venice Film Festival, praised Martel in his written statement:  
“Four feature films and a handful of shorts, in just under two decades, have been enough to make Lucrecia Martel Latin America’s most important female director, and one of the top worldwide. In her films, the originality of her stylistic research and her meticulous mise-en-scène are at the service of a worldview free of compromises, dedicated to exploring the mysteries of female sexuality and the dynamics of groups and classes. We are grateful to her for having enthusiastically agreed to put her exacting, yet anything but uncharitable, gaze at the service of this commitment we have requested of her.”
During the opening press conference Martel challenged Barbera. According to Variety:
Martel then said to Barbera: “For this 76th edition of the festival, you could have tried as an experiment, Mr. Barbera, to have 50-50, just to see what happens – if it’s so certain that the quality of movies would suffer or if this could foster a distinct industry-wide movement. The industry transformation underway is so deep that, after 76 years, Venice could experiment for a couple of years.” 
Barbera declined to take up the idea. “If I had found 50% of movies directed by women [that were worthy of the selection], I would have done that, without any need for a quota,” he said.
By putting films by Polanski and Parker on the line-up, two male directors accused of rape, and then appointing a strong, independent, intelligent woman like Lucrecia Martel as President of the Jury, Venice has actually provided a platform for what could be a vital conversation. Whether anything productive will come of it has yet to be seen.

Cat Bauer and Alejandro Aravena
Cat Bauer and Alejandro Aravena
Meanwhile, I was happy to run into Pritzer-Architecture-Prize winner Alejandro Aravena, who was the Director of the 2016 Biennale Architecture Festival. Alejandro is here in Venice with his brother and childhood friend. I asked him if he knew Lucrecia Martel, and he said no, but he would be happy to meet her. I spent much of the evening wading through the sea of party-goers, trying to locate Martel and Aravena in the same space and time. Since they were both cool and from South America -- Martel is from Argentina; Aravena is from Chile -- wouldn't a Meeting of their Minds be something fantastic?

Santa Maria Bloody Mary prepared with flair by the St. Regis Venice
The evening's food was inspired by Almodóvar's body of work, and the cocktails by Martel's.


Spanish director and writer Pedro Almodóvar, a two-time Academy Award winner, made his name as a "women's director," and the tasty nibbles were inspired by the complex characters in his films. Volver was the inspiration for Executive Chef Alberto Fol of the Hotel Danieli. He whipped up meatballs of Raimunda: beef meatballs and chorizo with a soup of roasted peppers, and a datterino tomato Gazpacho with Manchego cheese and caramelized onion crumbs, a dish from the regional cuisine of La Mancha, where the film's main characters are from.

Inspired by Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, chef Nadia Frisina of the new St. Regis Venice, was live with a cooking station that served pescado Mojo Rojo and Pulpo tinto.

From the JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa, Chef Dario Parascandolo and Chef Fabio Trabocchi of Fiola at Dopolavoro Venezia teamed up for a menu inspired by Everything About my Mother, with Travestiti Cod and Paella Impostor.


The cocktails were just as fanciful and creative as the food.

Martel's La Ciénaga inspired barman Facundo Gallegos of The St. Regis Venice to create the "Laguna Roja, an Argentine reinterpretation of the classic Negroni made with Mate and Beefeater Gin infusion, as well as the "Santa Maria Bloody Mary," a signature cocktail of the St. Regis brand, zapped with a modern twist and dedicated to the Venetian grape.

The Hotel Danieli and its bartender Roberto Naccari celebrated the movie Zama with "Don Diego Chimarrao," a cold infusion of berries and ginger, inspired by Don Diego, the protagonist of the film, and from the Chimarrao, a typical South American drink.

The JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa paid homage to La Mujer sin Cabeza with cocktails created by the barman of the hotel, Lorenzo Romano: "Septimo Capitulo" with Gin, Campari, Martini Bianco and Ginger Syrup; and the "Cabeza," dedicated to the main character Maria Onetto – a darkly colored cocktail that symbolized her obscure mind and psychic disorder, with Fernet Branca, Earl Grey Syrup, Lemon zest, topped with Chinotto.

Lucrecia Martel and Cat Bauer
Lucrecia Martel and Cat Bauer
As the evening went on, I finally spotted Martel's partner, Julieta Laso. "Where is Lucrecia?" Julieta took my hand and pulled me straight toward Martel, who was swamped with people wanting a photo with her. I wanted one, too. As we smiled for the camera, I told her that I would like to introduce her to Alejandro Aravena. But it was too late. She said the boat taxi had just arrived to whisk them away. Another time...

Then I ran into Alejandro's brother. "Where is Alejandro?" "He's got to be around somewhere." "Would he leave without you?" "No." I searched again through the mass of bodies and eventually spotted Alejandro out on the terrace. "When I finally found Lucrecia Martel, the boat taxi had just come to take her away. Another time, perhaps."

Alejandro smiled. "But I did meet her. We were in the line for risotto, and we heard Spanish being spoken, so we started to chat."

The Spirit of Venice (who is female, of course:-) must have thought it was a good idea for them to meet, too... and what better place than the Variety party at Hotel Danieli, with the spectacular view of the lagoon as the backdrop, and the magic of the film festival wafting through the air?

One thing is certain -- the topic of conversation at the Venice Film Festival is All About Women!

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

Sunday, August 4, 2019

The Canova Museum & the Gypsotheca wing designed by Carlo Scarpa - Daytrip to Possagno from Venice

Venice Blog - Canova Temple - photo by Cat Bauer
Canova Temple - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Possagno, Italy) During his lifetime, Antonio Canova was the most celebrated artist in Europe. The neo-classical sculptor carved images of the gods into human form, and carved exceptional humans into marble gods. He immortalized both Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and President George Washington in marble, depicting Napoleon as "Mars the Peacemaker" and Washington decked out as an ancient Roman general, complete with sandals. Canova captured love and beauty and courage and strength, and carved those noble attributes solidly into stone.

George Washington by Canova - Photo: Cat Bauer
Yet, at his core, he remained a hometown boy. Canova was born in the small village of Possagno in the foothills of the Dolomites in a province of Treviso. The population is less than 2,100. But tiny Possagno cherishes an enormous treasure, for that is where Antonio Canova built his temple, laying the cornerstone himself on July 11, 1819, two hundred years ago.

VENICE BLOG Vittorio Sgarbi with Paolina Bonaparte as Venus Victorious by Canova - Photo: Cat Bauer
Vittorio Sgarbi with Paolina Bonaparte as Venus Victorious - Photo: Cat Bauer
Possagno celebrated the 200th anniversary with a concert, guided tours, lectures and more. From July 11 to 14, the number of visitors were double the population of the town, with more than 4,000 participants in four days. The colorful Vittorio Sgarbi, an "Italian art critic, art historian, politician, cultural commentator and television personality" was on hand in his position as the new President of the Canova Foundation, taking over in January from the beloved Franca Coin, whose tireless efforts put Possagno on the map by connecting the sculptor's provincial hometown to the majesty of Venice.

(An aside: during the preview of the Venice Art Biennale, I was walking through Arsenale, absorbed in the art, when suddenly -- standing in a nook right in front of me in a strategic location where visitors must turn right -- there was Vittorio Sgarbi, jumping around, yelling into his phone and gesturing wildly. Two young Japanese women stood gaping at him. "Is he part of the installation?" they asked. "No," I grinned. "He's an Italian politician. That's how he is.")

VENICE BLOG - George Washington in the Nude by Canova - photo by Cat Bauer
George Washington in the Nude by Canova - Photo: Cat Bauer
Back on November 23, 2014, I wrote a post entitled George Washington in the Nude - Sublime Canova - Revival of the Famed Sculptor in Venice. Here is an excerpt:
I was astonished to learn that Antonio Canova (1757-1822), the renowned sculptor from the village of Possagno in the Veneto, had been commissioned to create a sculpture of George Washington by the North Carolina General Assembly back in 1816 for their State House when the Carolinians were feeling euphoric after the War of 1812. Thomas Jefferson himself urged that Canova, whom he considered the greatest sculptor in the world, create the neoclassical statue, which was brought to the United States on a war vessel, and arrived in Raleigh on December 24, 1821. Canova's depiction of Washington as an enlightened Roman general became "the pride and glory" of North Carolina, attracting visitors from near and far to their state capitol, including Washington's close friend, Lafayette.
Canova had never met George Washington, so he was sent a bust and a full-length portrait; the portrait never arrived, so Washington's body was left to Canova's imagination. Canova's instructions were that the style should be Roman, the size somewhat larger than life, and the attitude to be left to the artist.
 Click here to continue reading.
VENICE BLOG Inside the Canova Gypsotheca - Photo: Cat Baue
Inside the Canova Gypsotheca - Photo: Cat Bauer

Then, on October 1, 2017, I wrote a post on the Canova, Cicognara & Hayez exhibition at the Accademia Gallery, in which I presented more details about the dramatic historical events that took place in Europe during Canova's time entitled When Venice's Loot Came Back from France:
When Napoleon forced the Venetian Republic to surrender on May 12, 1797 and ended the 1000-year-old realm of La Serenissima, his soldiers hauled a lot of loot back to France -- the most cherished being the four bronze horses on the outside of Saint Mark's Basilica, dating from antiquity. In 1205, Venice herself had plundered the four horses from Constantinople, capital of the Roman Empire and Christian civilization. Napoleon hoisted the horses up on the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in Paris to commemorate his victories.

The French swiped many other precious works of art, and hacked to pieces five thousand winged lions, the symbol of St. Mark, Venice's evangelist. They also nabbed the prized Lion of San Marco that was on the column in Piazza San Marco.

To continue reading, click here.

VENICE BLOG - Venice & Mars by Canova - Photo: Cat Bauer
Venice & Mars by Canova - Photo: Cat Bauer

If you read both posts, it will give you a better idea of what was happening in the United States and Europe during the time of Canova. While a new nation was being born, the Venetian Republic was collapsing and Napoleon was charging through Europe. It was in this context that Canova created his astonishing sculptures.

After Canova died, his step-brother, Bishop Giovanni Battista Sartori, decided to erect a building to house all the works of art and plaster models found in Canova's studio in Rome. The "Gypsotheca" was designed by Venetian architect  Francesco Lazzari, and completed in 1836. During the first World War, in 1917, a shell crashed through the roof of the Gypostheca, destroying major plaster casts completely and ruining others. The restoration work was undertaken by father and son team Stefgano and Siro Serafin, and in 1922 the museum opened its doors again. During World War II, the some of the statues were transferred up the hill and into Canova's Temple.
VENICE BLOG Canova's Three Graces dancing in Carlo Scarpa's Sun - Photo: Cat Bauer
Canova's Three Graces dancing in Carlo Scarpa's Sunlight - Photo: Cat Bauer

Then, between 1955 and 1957, Carlo Scarpa, the genius Venetian architect designed a new wing to include some plaster casts that had arrived from Venice (on a very long-term loan, as they are still there). Scarpa was a magician when it came to lassoing sunlight to illuminate beauty on earth. From the museum notes:
One more peculiar aspect of the structure designed by Carlo Scarpa is the presence of a stretch of water at the foot of the Graces. The reflection of sunlight on water creates endless variations... the three bodies seem to move all day long, playing with light and creating shadows on the open space around them. 

VENICE BLOG Carlo Scarpa self portrait - Photo: Cat Bauer
Carlo Scarpa self portrait - Photo: Cat Bauer
Proving he had a sense of humor, Carla Scarpa dashed off a caricature of himself above the door to the Gypsotheca, which is difficult to find unless you know what you are looking for. (Hint: it's covered by glass.)

A day trip to Possagno is a wonderful way to enrich a stay in Venice and gaze upon some works of genius far from the maddening crowds. First, visit the Correr Museum in Piazza San Marco and the Accademia Gallery to see what Canova treasures are in La Serenissima herself. (The original Canova marble monument to Admiral Angelo Emo is inside the Naval Museum, which is being restored.) Then, head up to Possagno. If you don't have a car, take the train to Bassano del Grappa, and then the bus, which drops you off right in front of the door.

Go to the Gypsotheca and Canova Museum for more information, and be sure to read my other two posts about Canova to get a more complete picture about the sculptor who turned humans into gods.

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