Tight race to close MeToo-influenced Venice film fest
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The Venice Film Festival was set to award its coveted Golden Lion on Saturday after roaring back to life this year with a starry and feminist-tinged selection that leaves the competition wide open.
The MeToo movement appears to be making its mark on the film industry if the Venice premieres were anything to go by.
The festival closed with "The Last Duel", playing out of competition, a medieval jousting drama starring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck that went heavy on its message of historical injustice towards women.
"The definition of feminism is to believe that men and women are equal, it's not a particularly radical notion," Affleck told AFP Saturday in an interview.
"I think any reasonable humane, empathetic, conscionable person would have to be a feminist."
Slasher pic "Last Night in Soho", starring Anya Taylor-Joy, took a similar approach to Swinging Sixties London, revealing the misogyny beneath our nostalgia.
Other films at the festival -- from French abortion drama "Happening" to Maggie Gyllenhaal's unflinching look at motherhood in "The Lost Daughter" (starring Oscar-winner Olivia Colman) -- suggested some progress in the effort to bring more female stories to the screen, although the 21 films in the main competition only included four female directors.
One woman who seems destined to grab the headlines in the coming months is Kristen Stewart, who wowed critics at Venice with her turn as Princess Diana in "Spencer".
Stewart is already picking up Oscar buzz, as is New Zealand director Jane Campion for her emotionally complex Western, "The Power of the Dog".
Its star Benedict Cumberbatch is also being tipped for awards for his part as the conflicted cowboy at the centre of the film.
He praised Campion and the women's movement ahead of the premiere last week, saying: "There's such rich female talent to nurture and enjoy. Jane is such a key icon in that movement."
Golden Lion race
The Golden Lion for best film will be chosen by a jury led by "Parasite" director Bong Joon-Ho and presented at the Saturday night closing ceremony.
Success at Venice has become a key launchpad for Academy Award campaigns in recent years.
The last four winners -- "Nomadland", "Joker", "Roma" and "The Shape of Water" -- have all gone on to Oscar success.
Last year's edition was a low-key affair due to the pandemic, with even the winners (for "Nomadland") unable to attend.
The glamour was certainly back this year, with a dazzling Hollywood guest list capped by the appearance of Affleck with his old/new girlfriend Jennifer Lopez to the delight of gossip mags everywhere.
Almodovar and Sorrentino
Venice is also about the cream of the arthouse world, and the competition featured beloved cineastes such as Spain's Pedro Almodovar ("Parallel Mothers") and Italy's Paolo Sorrentino ("The Hand of God") -- both offering strikingly personal and heartfelt films.
There were also heavy-hitting dramas like "The Box", which delved into the harsh world of Mexican sweatshops, and "Reflection" with its brutal look at the war in Ukraine.
There was lighter fare as Spanish megastars Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas made a rare appearance on screen together, mercilessly ripping into their own profession as egomaniacal filmmakers in "Official Competition".
Pandemic precautions -- including mandatory masks, vaccine passes and 50-percent capacity in the cinemas -- continued to dull some of the shine at this year's festival.
Timothee Chalamet -- in town to promote mega-blockbuster "Dune" -- had to leap up the new Covid-security wall separating the public from the red carpet to give his adoring teen fans a bit of face time.
But with "Dune" bringing an army of stars to the Lido island -- including Zendaya, Oscar Isaac and Javier Bardem -- it seemed to confirm that the festival circuit was back on glitzy form.