It’s always a great privilege and pleasure to come out here and tell you about some of the movies I saw. But the main reason I’m here is the Biennale College, the remarkable program sponsored by the festival that selects some projects from a pool of applicants, workshops them in Venice and then funds them with 150,000 euros and a directive to return ten months later with a completed feature film. Part of the final process is having a group of critics watch them and talk about them in a panel now held at the Excelsior Hotel (because the former venue for press conferences in the casino is now, well, the screening room that used to be on the first floor ).
Sometimes this way of composing a picture produces radical results, as in 2019’s “This Is Not A Burial, It’s A Resurrection.” It’s not a rebuttal to note that the four films this year were linear narratives that went straight down a line. Which is not to say they were conventional. Three out of the four pictures were directed by women; two of them starred the director. I’ll start with those two.
In director Monica Dugos “Come le tartarughe” (which translates as “Like Turtles”), the veteran Italian actress plays a matriarch whose doctor husband does what I’ve come to think of as a very 1970s thing (even though this isn’t a period film): he goes out on his family to find himself. Dugo’s Lisa reacts to the event by living out of one part of the huge wardrobe that dominates the family apartment. This leaves her teenage daughter and younger son in a bit of a bind.
The basics of the setup are reminiscent of 2002 Elena Ferrante novel Abandonment days, although its details are not as raw and violent; this is a melancholic drama marked by humor. Being arguably Ferrante-adjacent certainly helps its commercial chances, as I observed at the panel attended by all the filmmakers. For better or worse, in these days of algorithm, it’s a good hook to say, for example, “If you liked ‘The Lost Daughter,’ you might enjoy this”. And apart from that, Dugo’s work is a sleek, honest, safe, smart and accessible image.