Venice Film Festival 2012 highlights

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The most notable films from the world's oldest international film festival

This year’s Venice Film Festival – the first big event of the autumn film calendar – was dominated  by a clash of the American titans, as Paul Thomas Anderson (‘The Master’) and Terrence Malick (‘To the Wonder’) brought new films to the Lido. But there were other fascinating – and frustrating – movies at the world’s oldest film fest. Dave Calhoun takes a look at the eight that got the festival talking…

  • The magnum opus

    Rating: 5/5
    'The Master' - will be released on Nov 9

    ‘The Master’ riffs on the early lure of Scientology with the same intensity that Paul Thomas Anderson brought to ‘There Will Be Blood’. Before the festival, there was an attempt to distance the film from Scientology, but the finished product is less equivocal: the organisation depicted might be called The Cause and its leader Lancaster Dodd (played with a frenzied, red-nosed exuberance by Philip Seymour Hoffman), but Dodd is clearly modelled on L Ron Hubbard. Anderson also gives us a troubled ex-serviceman (Joaquin Phoenix) who leads us into Dodd’s world. Anderson won the Best Director prize, while Hoffman and Phoenix shared Best Actor.

    Read 'The Master' review
  • The pure pleasure

    Rating: 4/5
    'Something in the Air' - will be released next year

    French filmmaker Olivier Assayas’s ‘Something in the Air’ is a swooning, swirling and level-headed study of the lives of a small group of Parisian teenagers in the years soon after 1968. An ensemble drama with a light touch, it looks back with warmth and candour at these young people who march on demos, work for the free press and graffiti their school with slogans. It’s a captivating, fresh snapshot of a well-documented time. Free of nostalgia, it captures the immediacy of youth endearingly and won Venice’s Best Screenplay prize.

    Read 'Something in the Air' review
  • The disappointment

    Rating: 2/5
    'To the Wonder' - will be released next year

    Little more than a year since ‘The Tree of Life’, Terrence Malick returns with a very personal, pained story of a love affair starring Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko. There’s no faulting the beauty or allure of the imagery but the story is near-impossible to decipher beneath dreamworld aesthetics, whispery voiceovers, and even a stray image of sea turtles. Frustrating.

    Read 'To the Wonder' review
  • The resurrection

    'Pieta' - will be released next year

    The world – well, a tiny fraction of it – last saw 51-year-old South Korean filmmaker Kim Ki-duk (‘The Isle’) in ‘Arirang’ – a semi-autobiographical doc in which he appeared to be having a breakdown. Now he’s back in action, and this grisly story tells of a sadistic money lender who mellows when a woman claiming to be his long-lost mother enters his life and offers him sexual pleasure. But so determined is Kim to shock that it’s hard to take him seriously. The Venice jury clearly disagreed and gave him the hugely prestigious Golden Lion.

    Read about 'Pieta'
  • The what-the-fuck-film

    Rating: 3/5
    'Spring Breakers' - will be released next year

    It’s not just the ample teen flesh that’s tender in the new film from Harmony Korine. This absurd, brightly glowing tale of three girls (Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine) who rob a restaurant to fund a booze-and-sex holiday in Florida with a fourth friend (Selena Gomez) is surprisingly dreamy and soft-centred. What threatens to be a down ‘n’ dirty tits ‘n’ ass fest in the style of Larry Clark, or even a kids-in-peril thriller, turns into a warped fairytale of the hedonistic American teen dream. And one that takes itself seriously enough not to be dismissed as exploitation.

    Read 'Spring Breakers' review
  • The guilty pleasure

    'Love is All You Need' - will be released next spring

    Corny but entertaining, this Danish-produced, Italian-set Europudding flits between English, Danish and Italian and tells of two youngsters who bring together their fractured families for a marriage on the Amalfi coast. It draws comparisons to ‘Mamma Mia!’ with a sunny wedding at its core, the presence of Pierce Brosnan and the light, cross-generational anguish of its ensemble story.

    Read about 'Love is All You Need'
  • The Hollywood portrait

    Rating: 4/5

    This is an intimate portrait of Harry Dean Stanton, the 86-year-old actor and former hellraiser. A perennial character actor, co-star to the likes of Paul Newman, Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando and celebrated for his lead role in ‘Paris, Texas’ (1984), Stanton reminisces – somewhat reluctantly – about a career in the half-shadows. He performs songs, too, from the privacy of his sofa, and is joined briefly by David Lynch (who has directed him several times) taking on the role of interviewer.

    Read 'Harry Dean Stanton - Partly Fiction' review
  • The rediscovery

    Rating: 4/5
    'Tell Me Lies' - will be available on DVD next year

    Theatre legend Peter Brooks’s 1968 film, ‘Tell Me Lies’, based on the anti-Vietnam war protest play ‘US’ he staged with the RSC in 1966, has been missing, presumed lost, for years. A new copy has emerged and been restored. It’s a startling work, born of an extraordinary time. It describes itself as a ‘semi-documentary’, although that doesn’t do justice to its rapid-fire mix of dramatic reconstruction, agitprop songs, news footage and sense of personal and political enquiry. It feels strikingly immediate.

    Read 'Tell Me Lies' review

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