Venice Film Festival: A very British affair

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Daniel Radcliffe's turn as Allen Ginsberg was one of the highlights of the 70th Venice Film Festival, where Britain made up for its near-invisibility at Cannes, says Geoffrey Macnab

A moment which summed up the 70th Venice Film Festival in its glory and absurdity occurred at last weekend's public screening of John Krokidas's Kill Your Darlings. The film's star (and erstwhile Harry Potter) Daniel Radcliffe was in attendance. The local press had been full of stories trumpeting the arrival of “Hogwarts on the Lido”. There was a hint of Beatlemania, too, at the response of countless teenage girls to Radcliffe's presence. Then, the film started. A bespectacled Radcliffe appeared on screen looking reassuringly like the character he played in the JK Rowling adaptations. He was even playing a student. However, the world of Kill Your Darlings (set in Columbia University in 1944) was a long way removed from that of Potter-land. The film is about the artistic and sexual awakening of American “Beat” poet Allen Ginsberg. The moment which stunned the Potter fans in Venice came when Radcliffe had a prolonged screen kiss with... another man, Dane DeHaan's Lucien Carr. You could hear the intake of teenage breath as celebrity culture and art-house cinema collided head-on.

If the fans were startled, they gave Radcliffe a warm response. So did the critics. Radcliffe may seem like strange casting as a gay Jewish American intellectual but his performance as Ginsberg was exceptional. The film, which also features the youthful William Burroughs (Ben Foster) and Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston), captures very effectively the arrogance and naiveté of the young writers searching for their own voice.

Venice has marked a strong festival for the Brits after their near invisibility in Cannes. The opening film Gravity may have been American but it was shot in Britain and its astonishing visual effects were contrived by British crews. The most warmly received film in the festival (and a front-runner for both the festival's main prize the Golden Lion and the Best Actress award) was Stephen Frears's Philomena, starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan.

Also admired was Steven Knight's minimalist feature Locke, starring Tom Hardy. The film is set entirely during a fraught motorway car journey at night. The life of Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy), a Welsh building-site manager, begins to unravel as he drives. He is trying to supervise a huge job while also telling his wife (Ruth Wilson) that he has cheated on her. Hardy is sombre and intense – and he is also the only person we see in the entire film. The downside is that the film, shot over only eight nights, is intensely claustrophobic.

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin, the British visionary director's first film since Birth (2004), which also premiered in Venice, provoked an ecstatic response from some reviewers even as it deeply alienated others. Another British film in the festival was Still Life, directed by Uberto Pasolini (the producer and moving force behind The Full Monty). This stars Eddie Marsan as a shy, lonely council worker in London whose job is to find the next of kin of those who have died alone. Quiet and downbeat in tone, the film provoked a mixed response.

Away from the Brits, Nicolas Cage gives a barnstorming performance in David Gordon Green's full-blooded but very bleak competition entry, the Austin-set melodrama Joe. He plays an ex-con who runs a wood-cutting crew in an impoverished part of Texas.

He's a decent man but likes his alcohol and has a combustible temper and no respect for the law. Cage at his best – as he is here – is one of the few contemporary screen actors with the physical intensity and charisma of a Brando. He won an Oscar as an alcoholic in Mike Figgis's low-budget, independent Leaving Las Vegas (1995) and it would be no surprise if he repeats the feat with Joe.

Less striking was Kelly Reichardt's competition entry Night Moves, starring Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard as environmental activists who blow up a dam but then feel huge remorse about the unintended consequences of their actions. Reichardt's storytelling style is slow and reflective. She is very good at portraying just how the young eco-terrorists plot their bombing and she probes deeply into the psyches of her characters, idealists who end up with very dirty hands. However, as a thriller, Night Moves is on the laborious and introspective side.

Venice in its 70th year has been as chaotic as ever. The Festival has an old-world charm that more modern and far bigger pretenders like Toronto simply can't emulate.

One of the delights of this year's festival – which has had a far stronger programme than initially feared – has been the short archival films preceding competition screenings. In one snippet, we see knobbly-kneed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, attending the festival in the 1940s, in his trunks, waddling into the Venice lagoon for a swim as the commentator approvingly tells us that such a busy and important man deserves his recreation. A youthful looking Orson Welles is shown at a masked ball. Big-name directors like Renoir, Kazan and Bresson rub shoulders with voluptuous Italian actresses. Gina Lollobrigida is pictured on the canals and Diana Dors, Britain's “blonde bombshell”, smiles for the cameras at the airport.

The Venice Film Festival from years gone by is glamorous and carnival-esque – and seemingly just as disorganised as its modern-day equivalent. As Daniel Radcliffe's experiences on the Lido attest, Venice in 2013 is still a place where the obsession with film as art is only matched by an equally fervent fascination with celebrity in all its guises.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing