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Venice Film Festival

We look back at a few of our favourite flicks shown at the Italian film frenzy

The Lido smoldered under the scorching sun of the 69th Mostra Internazionale D’Arte Cinematografica. Patrons flocked around the Palazzo del Casinò, cooling in the air-conditioned marble hall, downing cappuccinos like there was no tomorrow and rolling in pizza and pasta. Vaporetti chugged around the island, overloaded with festival attendees, while the Hotel Excelsior had its own private port for the VIPs. Spike Lee strolled in to receive his ‘Glory to the Filmmaker’ Award at the Palazzo del Cinema, the festival’s host of premieres. A white art deco building, the Palazzo stands wide on the strip amidst a moat of red carpet around which fans gather to scream at their idols.

The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson)

With searing cinematography, The Master opens with sailors wrestling on a beach in pacific at the end of WWII, the observational style and sensory power reminiscent of Malick’s The Thin Red Line. Joaquin Phoenix is magnetic and fascinating as Freddie, a troubled naval veteran, plagued by a ferocious self-destructive drive who boozily tumbles through jobs, brewing lethal alcoholic concoctions and bristling with hostility. One drunken night Freddie stows away on a ship belonging to Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a charismatic, articulate storyteller and leader of a self-help movement. Lancaster sees the vulnerable alcoholic, sex addict Freddie as his new project and sets to work taming the beast. The science fiction of scientology pervades Dodd’s psychological games as the battle of dysfunctional wills unfolds. Richly and evocatively shot with the stunning light contrast of seminal black and white films, The Master has the clout of classic cinema.

Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine)

Harmony Korine’s latest feature is a lurid neon poem of a spring break road trip that descends into drugs, gang war, and pink balaclavas adorned with unicorns. Disney tweenstars Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens are among the four girls who end up at the wrong party and in the hands of Kevin Federline lookalike, Alien (James Franco). A local rapper with gold teeth, dreads and an immense pride in his belongings; shorts in every colour, baseball caps, a selection of Calvin Klein fragrances. With a grand piano and an astutely picked Britney song, Korine expands upon the pop dream; illuminating the vulnerability of pop icons and their public downfalls and the fine line between fiction and reality.

Bad 25 (Spike Lee)

With the 25th anniversary of the album’s release approaching, Spike Lee’s documentary compiles interviews, anecdotes and archive footage to tell the story of Bad. Big names and former colleagues contribute their memories in this thorough and engaging exploration of the cultural phenomenon; a unique explosion in musical history, and insight into the loneliness of the performer, isolated in a fame bubble and devoured by the press.

To The Wonder (Terrence Malick)

In a rumination on the nature of relationship breakdowns, Ben Affleck’s silent, impenetrable Neil sweeps the passionate Parisian, Maria and her daughter off to a suburban nightmare in Texas. Interspersed with contemplative shots of water turbulence, the claustrophobia of his characterless home in the middle of nowhere is draining. A sense of disconnect emerges and Maria’s daughter becomes restless, sensing there’s something missing. This elusive ‘something’ is key to Malick’s film; the intangible tide that disconnects people with as much mystery as it drew them so intensely together.

The War of the Volcanoes (Franceso Patierno)

A collage of archive footage and clips from the actresses iconic films mirror the high drama unfolding in their real lives, in the story of Roberto Rossellini’s separation from his wife Anna Magnani following the arrival of Ingrid Bergman. Italy was divided over the leading women, while in America, Ingrid’s colleagues feared rumours of immoral conduct. Exploring the tensions and passions that flowed on the island during this tumultuous time, this documentary captures one of cinema’s great love stories.

Apres Mai (Olivier Assayas)

The 1970s student riots are at the heart of Assayas’ deeply autobiographical film. His sensory style captures the exhilarating promise of freedom and possibility in the air, fused with the heady intensity of adolescent emotion. Summer approaches and Gilles escapes France with friends after committing violent acts of vandalism against his school. The experiential form of the film evokes the sense of submergence in a time, with the 60s soundtrack swelling in and out with the ebb and flow of their drives.

Low Tide (Roberto Minervini)

This quiet film captures a powerful tale of solitude and neglect. The camera follows a young boy as he drags a bag of ice back to his mobile home in Texas. Questions of freedom and fate resonate, as he observes nature around him during breaks from caring for his substance-abusing mother, who barely utters a word to him on the rare occasion she’s home. With non-professional actors and a documentary approach, the simplicity of Roberto Minervini’s story-telling leaves a haunting impact.

Harry Dean Stanton Partly Fiction (Sophie Huber)

“You use pain and mistakes in your life to act”, shares Wim Wenders, the director of Paris, Texas, for which Stanton played one of his most memorable roles. Singing, smoking and keeping himself to himself, Harry Dean Stanton’s quiet enigma suggests a restless sense of perpetual escape and loneliness. An appearance from David Lynch, visuals of light saturated night drives, and a dusty Texan road accompany the black and white Stanton singing country and blues, in this ode to the mysterious film legend.

Paradise: Faith (Ulrich Seidl)

Brutally repressed passion permeates the symmetry and stillness of Ulrich Seidl’s second installment in the Paradise trilogy. Annamaria, an X-ray technician and strict Christian, grimly punishes herself for the carnal sins of humanity. Her sterile, suburban home is silent but for the heavy hiss of her thick hairspray, cementing her matronly hair in place, as she prepares for her holiday activities; door to door visits with her Virgin Mary statue, sternly preaching prayer and repentance. Her Egyptian wheelchair-bound husband, Nabil, returns out of the blue and attempts to break through her cold abhorrence, but has violent demons of his own. A dark humour simmers under the bleak dogme style, with fleeting glimpses of the beauty in nature providing relief from the dingy, hard-lined 70s interiors.