The Venice Biennale winds down this weekend and here’s a few films we saw at this year’s socially distanced edition:
Julia von Heinz’s antifa drama Und Morgen Die Ganze Welt (And Tomorrow The Entire World) opens with a startling tease – a young woman carrying a hunting rifle walks alone under an overpass before throwing it into an open field in angry frustration. Sadly, the Chekhov’s gun storytelling principle doesn’t come into play and we’re left with a film that spends the bulk of its running time arguing with itself about whether violence against genocidal fascists is justifiable. Tomorrow focuses on three young people living in an activist collective – newcomer/law student Luisa (Mala Emde), the ready-to-rumble ladies’ man Alfa (Noah Saavedra), and Lenor (Tonio Schneider), a gay bro with more pacifist tendencies. Like many conversations in Germany’s leftist/antifa scene, the film has admirable antiracist intentions but concerns itself only with white people’s feelings – POC characters are barely allowed to speak, and apart from Lenor (whose sexuality gets addressed with a blink-and-you-miss-it piece of dialogue), queers merely prance around in the background (ugh LOL @ the lipstick scene). Characters aren’t fully fleshed out, either – everyone’s a symbol that represents an ideal (pro-violence, anti-violence, neutral, etc), while one radicalization feels sudden, forced, and unearned. At times the writing leans too hard on conveniences, like when Luisa steals a Nazi’s phone and they’re able to guess the password on the first try, or that she comes from a hunting family which allows such easy access to weaponry. That being said, the performances are terrific (especially Schenider), cinematopgrapher Daniela Knapp’s camera feels urgently in-your-face, while von Heinz and John Quester’s script ultimately provokes important discussions about State complicity with right-wing violence by showing a compromised police structure more than willing to turn its attention on the wrong people.
A compelling little coming-of-age drama featuring a banging soundtrack with cuts by Johnny Cash and Julee Cruise, Philipp Yuryev’s Kitoboy (The Whaler Boy) transcends some of its minor storytelling flaws with a remarkable performance from its young lead. Vladamir Onokhov plays Leshka, a fifteen-year-old living with his dying grandfather (Nikolay Tatato) in a remote whaling community on Russia’s Chukotla peninsula. After a chance encounter with an online sex model Hollysweet_999 (played by Kristina Asmus and credited as “The Girl From America”), he sets off on boat across the Bering Strait towards America. Although some of the screenplay beats feel a little underdeveloped (especially an event that thrusts Leshka’s journey into motion), Shot in 4:3 format, Yuryev’s lushly photographed Venice Days entry packs a lot of charm into its 90-minute running time (not to mention some bloody whaling gore). Unlike Ben Hozie’s forthcoming PVT CHAT, a more incel-minded film about falling for a cam girl, Kitoboy manages to make a misguided young man’s feelings of entitlement over a complete stranger seem perfectly sweet and innocent.
Opening with a joyously horny scene in a laundromat that feels like it’s from a different film altogether, Bruce La Bruce’s latest offering Saint-Narcisse follows Dominic (Felix Antoine-Duval), a narcissistic motorcyclist with a passion for one thing: himself. After his grandmother dies, he discovers shocking family secrets – his lesbian mother didn’t die in childbirth, and his twin brother lives with an abusive priest in a nearby monastery, setting off a journey of self-discovery that leads to some very dark places. La Bruce’s 12th and most expensive film, Saint-Narcisse is always gorgeous to look at, but leaves an oddly empty feeling most of the time. Ambitious and more narratively complex than much of his other work, the storyline never really goes anywhere unexpected (the film’s name and its promotional material give a huge part of it away), and there’s a certain verve found in the director’s earlier efforts missing here. The camera loves the handsome Antoine-Duval (a native French speaker) and his dual performance requires bravery, but stilted line readings and self-conscious delivery push viewers away instead of drawing them in. Despite all these problems, it’s never boring and the callbacks to ‘70s cult cinema (crash zooms, witchy lesbians) are delightful.
Adapted from Pedro Lemebel’s 2001 novel of the same name, Rodrigo Sepúlveda’s My Tender Matador tells the story of a friendship that blossoms between two different-but-similar radicals in mid-80s Chilean society – an aging, nameless drag queen (Alfredo Castro), and Carlos (Leonardo Ortizgris), an anti-Pinochet guerilla. After a stressful opening scene where a drag performer is gunned down during a police raid on a gay bar, these two meet in an alleyway and soon Castro’s character (a part-time prostitute referred to in the book as “Queen of the Corner”) offers her run-down apartment as a hiding place for materials that could very well place her in the dictatorship’s crosshairs. Castro has played queer before (he appeared in last year’s Venice prison drama The Prince) and gives understated and delicate performance that exudes the worn-down-but-still-hopeful, sweet-but-defiant vibe this story calls for. Sepúlveda and Juan Tova’s screenplay takes plenty of artistic liberties by changing the characters ages and scaling down the political intrigue found in the novel and results in a moving piece about two shadowy outcasts finding light in each other.
Some of our favorite Venice films, like Regina King’s One Night in Miami and Christos Nikou’s Apples, are also playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) – look out for in-depth coverage from Toronto next week.