A hit parade at Venice 75

The Venice Film Festival

by Jason Solomons

Like a sort of golden compilation – Now That's What I Call Venice 75, maybe – the hits just kept on coming on the Lido as the world’s oldest film festival celebrated its three- quarter century with one of its strongest-ever line ups.

Stars were born, bold world cinema was feted and lashings of glamour filled the red carpet.

Perhaps the biggest splash was made by Lady Gaga. Could she act? That was the big question as the premiere of A Star is Born was hotly anticipated. And the big answer was a resounding, yes. she channels both Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand, playing Ally, a girl plucked from the obscurity of a drag club by world-famous, booze-addled rock star, Jackson Maine, played by Bradley Cooper with a bushy beard and bags of charm.

Cooper also directs and sings, adding surprising new layers to his suave repertoire. But it’s the ever-changing Lady Gaga who strips to the bone, wipes off the make-up and re-invents herself, treating Venice to a gamut of new looks. ‘Movie star’ is, you get the feeling, just her latest incarnation.

We had two queens on the red carpet. Claire Foy followed up her success in The Crown by playing Janet Armstrong, wife of astronaut Neil, in First Man. It’s a role that mainly has her at home, nervously answering the phone from NASA every time her husband takes off, but she does it well enough and tells the boys a thing or two.

Her successor in the Crown followed her on the Lido, too. Olivia Colman delivered the knockout performance of the festival, playing Queen Anne in The Favourite in a portrayal so ripe, rich and nuanced that great awards surely beckon. We rarely see much of this particular monarch on screen – she’s more famous for furniture than anything – so this film is an eye-opening slice of history, depicting Anne as a lonely, obese, gouty incompetent who is dominated by Sarah Churchill, Lady Marlborough, a cold-hearted tyrant played by Rachel Weisz, looking like a New romantic fop in a series of fabulous Sandy Powell outfits.

Queen Anne soon transfers her affections to a scullery maid, Abigail Hill, who inveigles her way into the monarch’s bed and becomes the new favourite at court. She’s played with malicious ambition – and a decent British accent – by Emma Stone. It’s a delicious, vicious new take on the old period movie, full of wigs, swearing and sexual suggestion.

Mike Leigh’s history lesson, Peterloo, is less fruity. The focus is mithering, ooh ’ave ye come all t’way from Wigan?’ dialogue was too ripe for French and Saunders mockery, but Maxine Peake does her dignified best with it while Rory Kinnear waves his hat around a lot as radical orator Henry Hunt and Tim Mcinnery has a royal time as a ridiculous Prince Regent.

I marveled at Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, a beautiful black-and-white memoir of his childhood in Mexico City, where he was brought up by the family maid. There’s always something happening in this remarkable film: a forest fire, a wedding party, a human cannonball landing in a net.

Tilda Swinton is at her most imperious as a scary dance teacher à la pina Bausch in Luca Guadagnino’s Italian horror remake Suspiria, in which an American dance student (Dakota Johnson) arrives in 1970s Berlin and gets sucked into a cultish coven of ballet obsessives. It’s all shattered mirrors and broken bones and quite a shock, but its images remain on my mind.

The other home favourite here was the biggest Italian tv series ever made: My Brilliant Friend. Yes, Elena Ferrante’s best-selling Neapolitan novels are getting the box-set treatment, with 32 parts mooted. I watched the first two episodes (of the four covering Ferrante’s first book) and I don’t think fans of her writing will be disappointed. The young actresses playing Elena and Lila are terrific, and the atmosphere is heavy with local flavour, which means peasant violence and female oppression, all of which slowly gives way to a wider perspective as the girls’ friendship grows. The use of old Neapolitan dialect meant that subtitles were needed, for theItalianss as well as the rest of us.

There was much else to relish – watch out for Juliette Binoche playing an actress having an affair with a novelist in the French comedy Non-Fiction. Venice 75 showcased a tantalising parade of good things to come at the movies.

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