Mostra internazionale d’arte cinematografica

Don’t mention i fascisti!

d'Lëtzebuerger Land du 02.09.2022

A few years ago, the Germany branch of Coca-Cola triggered a shitstorm when it launched an advertising campaign regarding the soft drink Fanta’s 75th birthday. To celebrate the German icon they thought: we’re going to bring back the feeling of the good old days. The connection to Nazi Germany was quickly made – officially, Fanta was developed for the German market in 1940 due to a lack of resources; however, the symbolic imperialist value of Coca-Cola was clear to everyone involved from the get-go – and the campaign was quickly amended. The Venice Film Festival is in a similar position. It opened its 79th edition on Wednesday, but it is also celebrating its 90th birthday. The official poster naturally wants to take this into account – and incidentally irritates with a lot of numbers. The birth of the Mostra is as bittersweet as that of Fanta. After all, it was brought to life by the Italian fascists in 1932, who used it as their platform. Until 1942, no Golden Lion was awarded but Coppi Mussolini instead. But we digress.

The Mostra internazionale d’arte cinematografica, under the long-standing artistic direction of Alberto Barbera, continues its recipe for success. It expands on it and gives streamers even more space. Netflix feels very much at home in the late-summer sun of the Veneto and has no less than four titles in competition. It is these films that constitute the buzz around the festival: the Marylin Monroe biopic Blonde by Andrew Dominic, starring Ana de Armas; Alejandro González Iñárritu is back after a seven-year break with his 3-hour film Bardo, o falsa crónica de unas cuantas verdades – and Romain Gavras sat down with Ladj Ly to write and direct Athena. The prestigious opening slot was also offered to the streaming giant with Noah Baumbach’s screen adaptation of Don DeLillo’s White Noise. It all comes at a good time: after all, Netflix has had a bumpy year due to a post-pandemic downward trend in subscribers.

Baumbach daring to tackle DeLillo’s breakthrough book from the 1980s, a reference work of American postmodern literature, is a little surprising. The director is thus far not know for dealing with the themes of the book i.e consumerism, religion and conspiracy-theory in the very society portrayed by Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig and their big roster of children. Driver embodies the academic Jack Gladney, who is head of department of Hitler studies at a Mid-Western university and Gerwig is Babette, housewife and mother, who among other things offers posture classes for senior citizens. The couple share a fascination – or fear, the difference is not entirely clear – with death. One day, however, an airborne toxic event brings their near daily routine of – among other things – pilgrimages to the supermarket to a standstill.

Baumbach remains very faithful to the literary source material, even adopting the book’s chapter divisions and, in some cases, copy-pasting blocks of dialogue. A connection to the
Covid-19 pandemic is obvious, but the director is clever enough not to exploit this connection too much. In this respect, too, he wants to do justice to the literary model. But the irony DeLillo displayed in 1985 has to be channelled differently in 2022. The treatment of the role of media, of religion and consumption is anything but new and, like the beige-brown 80s look of the film, seems almost pleasantly regressive and retro. But the irony on display is also an entirely personal one for Baumbach and his role as director. Precisely because the fascination with DeLillo’s book lures him out of his comfort zone, one can’t shake the feeling that he overdoes it almost out of a directorial insecurity, thereby superficialising DeLillo. Either way, White Noise will stand out in his filmography. But whether Venice will be the springboard for a long career in the American awards season is not a given and remains unclear. Netflix, as we know, has several candidates up its sleeve in terms of American prestige cinema anyway.

In terms of Luxembourg-related productions, it’s very easy to keep track this year. Tarantula co-produced Blanquita, the new film by Chilean director Fernando Guzzoni, which tells the story of a sex scandal that is traced back to the most important political circles of the country. And all thanks to a young woman – the titular Blanca, Blanquita – whose role in all of it becomes increasingly unclear. Blanquita will have its world premiere in the second Venice competition, Orrizonti, on Sunday. And then there is a Ukrainian film with the striking title Ljuksemburg, Ljuksemburg... Let’s see what the festival will offer over the next week. Forza.

Tom Dockal
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