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Italian Season: My Biennale. How it all started. Part I

Anastasia Sviridova tells us the story of her personal experience of attending Venice International Film Festival in 2014 and 2019 as a cinema lover and blogger...

It all started seven years ago... From August 27 to September 6, 2014, the 71st Venice Film Festival, or Mostra, as the Italians call it since the establishment of this event in 1932, was taking place on the Lido di Venezia. The Biennale is Europe's oldest film festival and is still competing with Cannes for dominance on the continent. Thousands of journalists live, sleep and eat in a small "cinema village" built specially for the ceremony (then I often had the feeling that the audience was somewhat interfering with the work process, and that all the action was far from entertainment, but solely a tribute to the creativity itself).

The festival area includes the Grande cinema with premieres and the rest, where there are repeated films, information points, ticket offices, few small cafes – all on the open air, there are also special areas for the press and photo shoots.

The Venice Biennale, consists of different categories: films of the main competition (about 20), the ones out of competition (about 10), Horizons (20 films from the competition and out of competition), Week of Criticism (debuts and second films) and Venice Days (cinema d’auteur competition).

The main prize of the festival is the Golden Lion, which replaced the Mussolini Cup and it is an award for the best film. The Silver Lion is for the best director. There is also the Jury Grand Prix, the Volpi Cup for Best Actress and Actor, the Best Screenplay Prize and the Marcello Mastroianni Prize, which is given to support young actors.

Lido, at that time, welcomed me as a guest eager for getting on the red carpet and the premiere of the film by the famous American actor and director James Franco, ‘The Sound and the Fury’. For an unusual look at the novel by William Faulkner, Franco was awarded the Jaeger LeCoultre Glory to the Filmmaker Award and happily visited Venice for the fourth time with his film.

On the red carpet, the director impressed everyone with his new image: a clean-shaven head with a temporary tattoo of Elizabeth Taylor on the back of his head. For those who did not know about this, he did not just want to shock the audience, he was preparing for the filming of the new film "Zeroville". Other actors of the ‘The Sound and the Fury’, Ana O'Reilly and Scott Hayes, also came out to bask in the glory and camera flashes.

It seems difficult to understand a person only once having met him/her, but the first impression is often the most accurate and most correct. James Franco is undoubtedly one of the most outstanding people in Hollywood of our time, his sharp mind, inhumanly hard work, self-confidence and lack of fear to appear as something "different" in the eyes of the press and ordinary viewersю He is much more than an attractive image. Europe loves modern cinema, an unusual and fresh look, and therefore rightfully appreciates Franco, and his work without a twinge of conscience can and should be called cinematography. Of course, in his directing and acting projects, Franco appeals to the intellectual public, to people who are close to him in spirit and an extraordinary way of thinking. Definitely, events like Mostra bring together such people who are not afraid of bold experiments, prepared, appreciate and selflessly love the art of cinema.

The film premiere and my selfie with James Franco

I am well acquainted with the works of James Franco and every time I am convinced that he is a great experimenter. All his paintings are not similar to each other, they are truly bold, strong, deep, with the right drop of irony, sometimes even daring and challenging. Faulkner's adaptation is no exception.

The film, like the novel, is divided into parts, only into three, not four ones. And each of the parts tells the story of three brothers from the oldest and most influential family of the American South - the Compsons. The family suffers personal and financial ruin, some of its members end their lives tragically. Franco, like Faulkner, is trying to place different accents, to look at the current situation from different points of view. The fading of an aristocratic family is always a drama, and the director talentedly reveals it in the smallest detail. We are going through nervous shocks and tears along with the characters on the screen. Realistically shown, not a theatrical kind of people’s life, natural acting give us a feel for the picture in all its little things.

Franco himself acted the role of the younger, mentally retarded brother Benji Compson (the first part is dedicated to him), who, like a child, was attached with all his heart to his eccentric and frivolous Caddy. It is difficult to say whether Franco succeeded in this role, but there’s definitely the fact that he surprised and made Benji flinch with every hysteria and piercingly blank look. Other brothers: both the malachy Quentin (Jacob Loeb) and the arrogant character Jason (Scott Hayes) created balance in the dark atmosphere of the film. The action now and then takes place at different times, as in the novel, as if giving us at the same time a complete and private perception of events, changes in the behavior of the characters. The second part ("Quentin") is the most thought-provoking, it is about the frailty of life and human fate, and the statements of the father of the family, wise and moderately sarcastic, give a unique gloss to the whole understanding and, as it were, prepare us for a sad outcome. The third part is about Jason, it is perhaps the most noisy and furious, taking the whole culmination of the picture upon itself. This passage is remembered for the outstanding performance of Scott Hayes, trying to cope with the thirst for money of his niece Quentina and the forgotten Caddy, who no longer wants to return to the family after being defiled by her dissolute behavior.

Just as sometimes in Faulkner's novel he pushes punctuation into the background, leads the narration in short chaotic phrases, Franco also delivers material in large strokes, focusing on emotions, looks, facial expressions, scattered screams or whispers off-screen, and just like the novel, the film ends strongly and uneasily. Immersed in a kaleidoscope of flashbacks and moderately brooding retreats, you can barely notice how a film flashes quickly and brightly, the plot of which at first glance may seem boring and drawn-out.

I would like to note the camera work: the picture was shot really very beautifully. You would pay due attention to little things (which are not really little things) like flowers in Benji's hands, there is nothing superfluous in the scenes. Close-ups are always appropriate, and the colors of the film are calm and warm, "narrative", to contrast with that is happening on the screen. In a word, this is an amazing book on the screen, this is what is called contemporary art and, unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately?), it barely gets into wide distribution.

The new breath that Franco gave to the classics of American literature did not leave the audience of the festival indifferent: to hear thunderous applause and stand up together with all the Sala Grande in the luxurious Palazzo del Cinema, bursting with applause - at that time it was a very unusual and unique feeling for me. (The same as sitting with the author almost in the same row!)

I knew that once again some critics would begin to accuse the film of being overconfident, perhaps “loud” and chaotic, others would say that this was just another project of an American director and actor from a thousand others, others would call it a masterpiece. And I would not want to pass any verdicts, since it is happiness to be able to enjoy the high and meaningful works that are still being filmed in our time of the mass market dominance, the films which are created by talented, hardworking and deeply involved people with extraordinary intelligence, like James Edward Franco and are shown in one of the most beautiful cities in the world at the legendary Biennale.

To Be Continued...

Text and photos: Anastasia Sviridova

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