Venice Film Festival - A cascade of quality on the Venice Lido

The Venice Film Festival hasn't changed much since the 1930s, but despite the competition, it still puts on a good show says Geoffrey Macnab

One of the charms of the Venice Film Festival is its stubborn refusal to change. Looking at photographs from the very first edition, way back in 1932, is disconcerting. The same mood of genteel chaos that exists today was evident in the 1930s, too. This year's Venice, the 69th edition, has unfolded in the same carnivalesque way as most of its predecessors. There have been huge outpourings of emotion (a 10-minute standing ovation for Michael Cimino after the screening of the restored Heaven's Gate), lots of booing (even at the end of the screening of Terrence Malick's sublime To The Wonder), and some Fellini-style protesting. (At the opening, performers staged a mock funeral to highlight their anger at the way Rome's legendary studios, Cinecitta, have been run down in recent years.)

Venice may be caught in a timewarp but the world around it has been transformed. The Festival's new director Alberto Barbera (in his second stint at the helm) confided that he was startled by how different his job was from when he first did it a decade ago.

"You can't compete with the fastness and velocity of the internet with a structure like a festival," Barbera lamented. Some of the sheen has been taken off even the most anticipated world premieres screening this week on the Lido. It was considered a great coup for Barbera to have secured Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master for this year's Venice competition. However, the Weinstein Company had already held various sneak previews back in the US. The online world was already buzzing with discussion about Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance as the L. Ron Hubbard-like cult leader and that of the mercurial Joaquin Phoenix as his disciple.

Phoenix was in taciturn mood at the press conference. At least, he and Hoffman turned up. Ben Affleck and Javier Bardem, the stars of Malick's To The Wonder, stayed away, citing other work commitments. This year's Venice Festival hasn't exactly been quiet but the circus-like atmosphere couldn't hide the fact that there were fewer visitors than in previous years. The antics of the paparazzi seemed half-hearted. The economic crisis is clearly beginning to bite. These days, the industry delegates and journalists come to the Lido with one eye already on rival event Toronto, which is where the films are bought and sold and the stars really do turn up for their junket interviews.

The upside is that Barbera still managed to put together a strong programme showcasing the best of world and US cinema. Any competition that has Malick and Paul Thomas Anderson in it has to be respected. There were other less heralded films that also sparked intense discussion.

Austrian auteur Ulrich Seidl is currently midway through "a Kieslowski" – the film world equivalent of a grand slam. He has directed a trilogy of features that are going to play at the three major European festivals. In Venice, his extraordinary Paradise: Faith is about an middle-aged Austrian woman obsessed by Christianity. Anna Maria (Maria Hofstätter) has renounced flesh and the devil but her fascination with Christ is fraught with masochism and erotic longing. At one stage, we see her masturbating with a cross.

Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov's competition entry Betrayal, an absurdist drama about infidelity, is in a similar tragi-comic register to Seidl's film. It features an extraordinary performance from the very striking German actress Franziska Petri as the betrayed wife who embarks on an affair of her own.

It will be intriguing to see where Michael Mann and his jury bestow their prizes. The Italian audience was surprisingly hostile to Malick's love story To The Wonder, perhaps because of its heavy handed religious subtext. One critic accused him of "taking God in vain". However, in its artistry and visual inventiveness, this was surely the most startling title in competition. Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master, too, was an utterly distinctive piece of filmmaking. These two American movies were the most high-profile titles in contention for The Golden Lion. Ironically, they were among the most experimental. Both eschew conventional narrative and tell their stories in a way more familiar from esoteric European arthouse than from Hollywood. it would be a major surprise if Malick and Anderson aren't in the frame when the awards are announced this weekend.

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne with his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rowan Atkinson is bringing out Mr Bean for Comic Relief

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project