As the 79th Venice Film Festival arrives at the halfway mark, a handful of titles are emerging as this year’s favorites, at least judged by the response of audiences and festival critics.
With just under a week to go before the Venice jury, under president Julianne Moore, crowns the 2022 Golden Lion winner on Sept.10, Todd Field’s Tár is lengths ahead of the festival pack. The bracing drama, a portrait of a driven, tyrannical classical composer and conductor who gets caught up in a #MeToo scandal — played by Cate Blanchett with a ferocious intensity that already has handicappers whispering “Oscar” — the film wowed critics and the Venice audience. in equal measure.
The key talking point will be Blanchett’s astonishing performance — flinty, commandingly self-possessed and ever so slowly splintering under pressure,” wrote The News84Media‘s chief film critic David Rooney in his rave review. The Sept. 1 premiere of the Focus Features release, which drew a raucous response from the gala crowd, set a high bar for all to come.
But the re-teaming of Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino with star Timothée Chalamet in the cannibal love story, Bones and All, appeared up for the challenge. The Sept. 2 premiere set Venice alight. The premiere audience jumped to their feet the moment the credits rolled and stayed up, giving round after round of whoops and cheers and a standing ovation that lasted nearly 10 minutes. Guadagnino’s combination of gentle love story with occasionally gory violence could present a marketing challenge for MGM, which is rolling Bones and All out worldwide, but it will be helped by the critical response, which has been nearly universally positive.
“Guadagnino has made a kind of emo horror movie,” writes Rooney. “He’s far less interested in the shock factor than the poignant isolation of his young principal characters [Chalamet and co-star Taylor Russell] and the life raft they come to represent to one another as they slowly let down their guard.”
Matching the praise for Blanchett’s turn in Tár has been the critics’ celebration of Brendan Fraser’s “comeback” performance in Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale. In the chamber piece, adapted by Samuel D. Hunter from his own play, sees The Mummy star plays a 600-pound recluse struggling with guilt and looking for redemption. Although more mainstream than most of the offerings in Venice this year, The Whale won over cynical international critics, many of whom rose to a standing ovation after the film’s first press screening Saturday night. Co-starring Stranger Things actors Sadie Sink, Samantha Morton and Hong Chau, The Whale will go out via A24 in the US, with a release planned for Dec. 9.
Roman Gavras’ Athena can’t boast the star power of The Whale, Tár or Bones and Allbut the French director’s epic action tragedy stunned critics and festival-goers alike on day three of Venice with its technical prowess and wrenching story of four brothers torn apart by a protest that explodes from within a Paris housing estate.
“Athena is a live grenade, beginning in full ignition mode and dialing up its intensity throughout with virtuoso technique,” writes Rooney in his THR Review. “It’s a tough watch at times, but one that keeps the audience in a firm chokehold.”
The film’s timely message, immersive action and sweeping electro-symphonic score — Gavras is best known for his memorable music videos for MIA, Kanye West and Jaimie xx — could help it catch fire on Netflix when it launches globally on Sept. 23.
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