The 79th Annual Venice Film Festival

By Shane McKevitt

The 2022 Venice International Film Festival held its closing ceremonies last weekend and, in the wake of eleven days packed with screenings from 8am to midnight, there is plenty to discuss.  While I am eager to get into some of the festival’s highlights, I should also note some of its lesser points.  Waking up at 6:45am every morning to join an online queue certainly didn’t help with what was already a packed screening schedule, nor did the booking system’s tendency to send you back to the end of the line after making just a single reservation.  Nonetheless, I was lucky enough to see virtually every film I had wanted, as well as many others that hadn’t even been on my radar.  As for the selection overall, I’d say my impression was mixed.  Marquee films such as Tár (Todd Field, 2022), Blonde (Andrew Dominik, 2022) and White Noise (Noah Baumbach, 2022) left me extremely underwhelmed, although I recognize that I may be in the minority.  Nevertheless, there were some massive highlights that I cannot wait to get into.

The Whale, dir. Darren Aronofsky

Darren Aronofsky’s latest outing, The Whale, not only proves to be yet another success for the director but also a monumental rebirth for its star, Brendan Fraser. He plays Charlie, a 600-pound man attempting to reconnect with his daughter after having abandoned his family years prior.  The casting of Fraser – which mirrors Aronofsky’s casting of Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler (2008) – was inspired and the praise Fraser has received since The Whale’s premiere has been well deserved.  The film is heartbreaking, riveting, and – to my surprise – remarkably funny.  Hong Chau delivers an excellent performance as Charlie’s friend, Liz, and the relationship between her and Charlie made for some of the film’s most moving moments.  Nonetheless, certain character decisions and narrative developments during the film’s second act make it feel slightly out of focus at times, acting as peculiar detours from the film’s narrative through line.  This is a minor complaint, and my only real issue with The Whale, but I feel that it is something that keeps it from ascending to the heights of Aronofsky’s best work.  Moreover, although it absolutely worked for me, the ending might not be for everyone.  Overall, The Whale is a very good film with a career-revitalizing turn by Brendan Fraser and an understated, yet perhaps equally impressive performance by Hong Chau.

The Banshees of Inisherin, dir. Martin McDonagh

The Banshees of Inisherin sees director Martin McDonagh reunite with Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson in what is a subtle, heart-wrenching, and hilarious film. Colin Farrell plays a man whose best friend (Brendan Gleeson), has decided to abruptly end their friendship.  The performances by both Farrell and Gleeson are excellent, with the actors deftly balancing the script’s heart-breaking dramatic turns with frequent moments of levity.  Although the film’s plot unravels at a relatively slow pace, the riveting dialogue between Gleeson, Farrell, and the entire supporting cast manages to keep you engaged throughout.  The film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Ben Davis, who truly makes you feel like you are on the island with them, crafting an environment that feels strikingly real.  Additionally, the film doesn’t hold anything back and I was pleasantly surprised by the director’s willingness not to pull any punches when it came to disturbing themes and imagery.  Finally, MacDonagh never feels the need to spoon-feed the audience and, particularly with the film’s conclusion, entrusts them with coming to their own conclusions, an admirable trait that I feel many more filmmakers should adopt.

Pearl dir. Ti West

After the credits rolled on Ti West’s slasher X, audiences were treated to a teaser for a prequel. Pearl was set to be released just six months later.  The studio’s willingness to greenlight a prequel to X before it was even released was bold, yet after seeing both films, it was clearly the right call.  The premise of X could have easily been plucked straight out of the slasher boom of the late 70s or early 80s.  This familiar formula was deftly combined with excellent direction, deep characterisation, fascinating overarching themes, and engrossing narrative turns, making for one of my favourite films of the year.  Ti West has made some of the most unique and refreshing horror films of the last decade and a half, with The House of the Devil (2009) being a personal favourite of mine.  Thankfully, after the recent success of X, Pearl continues this trend, thrusting audiences into a narrative that is familiar, yet doing so in a manner that is decidedly unique. The plot, which details the origin of X’s antagonist Pearl (Mia Goth), doesn’t offer up many surprises, nor does it have to.  We know how this story ends, what’s important is that we have a lot of fun getting there, and Pearl achieves that to a tee.  Mia Goth’s lead performance unsurprisingly steals the show.  Nevertheless, Emma Jenkins-Purro, David Corenswet, and the rest of the supporting cast are all given plenty of room to shine as well.  The film’s use of bright, pastel colours is reminiscent of colorized versions of black and white footage, apropos of the film’s 1910s setting.  To this effect, the film uses the influenza pandemic as an equal parts fascinating and disturbing emulation of modern times.  While – for me – it doesn’t quite reach the heights of The House of the Devil or X, Pearl is certainly a worthy addition to West’s filmography and one of my favourites of the year so far.

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