- This year’s Venice Film Festival was fraught with delays, overcrowding, and other snafus impacting average festivalgoers and big names alike, among them actor Al Pacino, studio owner Harvey Weinstein, and the crown prince of Malaysia.
- Also at the Venice Festival, smaller movies – and their makers – were often sidelined by Hollywood titles and stars.
…And snafus for all: Venice Film Festival glitches impacted the screenings of Al Pacino’s The Merchant of Venice and Malaysia’s A Legendary Love
This year’s Venice Festival has seemingly consisted of nearly two weeks of Glitz, Glamour, and Glitches.
Presentations featuring all three of Venice’s Big Gs included those of Michael Radford’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, starring Al Pacino as Shylock and Lynn Collins as Portia, and Teong Hin Saw’s Malaysian romantic epic A Legendary Love / Puteri Gunung Ledang, starring Tiara Jacquelina as a 15th-century Javanese Hindu princess suffering through a forbidden romance with a Malay Muslim warrior (M. Nasir).
Professedly due to an uncooperative computer system, Al Pacino couldn’t find a seat for himself at the screening of The Merchant of Venice, whereas the crown prince of Malaysia and his entourage arrived at the long-delayed presentation of A Legendary Love – at a reported US$4 million, the most expensive Malaysian movie ever – to find nearly every seat available.
Harvey Weinstein’s ‘death threat’
Perhaps echoing a sentiment felt throughout the festival, at the (much-delayed) 2 a.m. screening of Marc Forster’s J.M. Barrie-themed Finding Neverland, Harvey Weinstein vowed – supposedly in jest: “I’ll drown [Marco Müller] in the lagoon, with his feet encased in cement.”
In addition to pesky computer woes, other Acts of God (or Acts of Lack Thereof) blamed for the overall mess were, in no particular order of importance:
- Bigger than expected crowds.
- Outdated infrastructure.
- Overlong autograph sessions on the red carpet.
- Demands by the Hollywood studios that their films be shown during the first five days of the festival.
Self-inflicted Hollywood gridlock
That may help to explain why Marco Müller, who at first had Hollywood stars in his eyes, underwent a major about-face some time in the last few days.
Müller now says that “my main problem is the American films,” and claims that he may eliminate the out-of-competition slots that have served as a European entryway for Hollywood blockbusters.
As per the recovering Hollywood addict, “the problem is that those who are suffering the gridlock the most are the small and fragile films that we are supposed to highlight.”
Tepidly received Steven Spielberg romantic drama opened festival
However belatedly, Marco Müller has a point. For starters, let’s not forget that on Sept. 1 the Venice Festival kicked off with a gala screening of something called The Terminal.
Directed by Steven Spielberg, and starring two-time Best Actor Oscar winner Tom Hanks (Philadelphia, 1993; Forrest Gump, 1994) and Best Supporting Actress winner Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago, 2002), the JFK Airport-set romantic drama could hardly be labeled a “small and fragile film” despite having been a critical and financial misfire in the United States, where it had opened a couple of months earlier.
At Venice’s press screening, The Terminal received an equally unenthusiastic reception. But surely none of that mattered to festival organizers, who hadn’t selected the latest Steven Spielberg movie as their opening night presentation because of its cinematic qualities.
What mattered was that both Spielberg and Tom Hanks were on hand at the gala evening – a surefire way of guaranteeing worldwide coverage of the event.
Star-struck international media
Besides Spielberg, Hanks, and Al Pacino, among the other Hollywood luminaries generating free publicity for this year’s Venice Festival were:
- Performers Meryl Streep, Liev Schreiber, and Denzel Washington, and director Jonathan Demme, promoting the remake of John Frankenheimer’s 1962 political thriller The Manchurian Candidate, which had starred Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, and Angela Lansbury.
- Nicole Kidman and veteran Lauren Bacall (The Big Sleep, Key Largo) plugging Jonathan Glazer’s controversial – there were loud boos at the press screening – psychological drama Birth.
- Reese Witherspoon, the star – as Becky Sharp – of Mira Nair’s filmization of William Makepeace Thackeray’s 19th-century novel Vanity Fair.
- In addition to Angelina Jolie, Will Smith, jury member Scarlett Johansson, and the Italo-surnamed John Travolta, Robert De Niro, Joe Dante, and Quentin Tarantino.
As to be expected, in their initial English-language Venice reports, Reuters, The Associated Press, and Agence France-Presse made no mention of any non-Hollywood celebrity attendee.
That is, unless one considers Golden Lion presenter and Best Actress Oscar winner Sophia Loren (Two Women, 1961) – whose extensive list of credits includes Houseboat, opposite Cary Grant; It Started in Naples, opposite Clark Gable; and Arabesque, opposite Gregory Peck – a non-Hollywood talent.
A few ‘small and fragile films’
But what about the Venice Festival’s “small and fragile films” in need of all the publicity they could get?
Here are a handful of key titles:
- Wim Wenders’ Land of Plenty, a downbeat exploration of life in the United States following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Michelle Williams stars.
- François Ozon’s 5×2, about the five stages of romance between a man (Stéphane Freiss) and a woman (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi).
- Veteran Claude Chabrol’s thriller The Bridesmaid / La demoiselle d’honneur, an adaptation of Ruth Rendell’s 1989 novel. In the cast: Benoît Magimel, Laura Smet, and Aurore Clément.
- Claire Denis’ psychological/family drama The Intruder / L’intrus, in which a recluse (Michel Subor) about to get a heart transplant travels to Tahiti in an attempt to connect with the son he had never met.
- Eros, an amalgam of three erotic short films directed by Wong Kar-Wai, Steven Soderbergh, and nonagenarian Michelangelo Antonioni (La Notte, Blow-Up). In the international cast: Gong Li, Chang Chen, Christopher Buchholz (son of Fanny actor Horst Buchholz), Robert Downey Jr., and two-time Best Actor Oscar nominee Alan Arkin (The Russians Are Coming the Russians Are Coming, 1966; The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, 1968).
Non-Hollywood Golden Lion winners
Update: With most big-name, U.S.-made product being screened out of competition, non-American movies dominated this year’s Golden Lion Awards.
The only U.S. titles in the running – none of which mainstream productions despite the presence of several Hollywood stars – were Birth, Land of Plenty, Todd Solondz’s Palindromes, and the Anglo-American Vanity Fair.
“Venice Festival Snafus + Harvey Weinstein ‘Death Threat’” notes
Venice Festival website.
Tiara Jacquelina A Legendary Love image: Enfiniti Productions.
Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones The Terminal image: DreamWorks Pictures.
“Venice Festival Snafus + Harvey Weinstein ‘Death Threat’” last updated in April 2023.