5 To See: Venice Film Festival 2021

The 78th Venice Film Festival comes to a close this weekend after welcoming some of cinema’s finest directors to the Lido. Before the coveted Golden Lion is announced by the jury, ASFF selects five of the best new works unveiled in the past few days.

MONA LISA AND THE BLOOD MOON

Her second film in Venice competition after 2016’s The Bad Batch, Ana Lily Amirpour spirited audiences to downtown New Orleans for this blackly amusing tale of witchcraft, as an escaped asylum patient (Burning’s Jeon Jong-seo) discovers she has hypnotic powers. Kate Hudson (as a stripper), Ed Skrein (as a dealer) and Craig Robinson (as a cop) all cross her path in a film that zips along with real comic brio.

TRUE THINGS

British director Harry Wootliff follows her 2018 film Only You with this adaptation of the book True Things About Me by Deborah Kay Davies. Ruth Wilson plays Kate, a needy Ramsgate benefits officer who is still single when she meets Tom Burke’s claimant, known only as Blonde, who has come out of a spell in prison for an unspecified crime. Immediately drawn to him, Kate soon realises that he is as unreliable as he is charismatic. A fascinating look at desire and empowerment.

7 PRISONERS

This Brazilian film, backed by Netflix, was the surprise package of the festival. Alexandre Moratto (Socrates) co-wrote and directed this tale of human trafficking and exploitation that begins as four young men arrive in São Paulo only to find themselves enslaved by the owner of a scrap metal junkyard (a never-better Rodrigo Santoro). A story about corruption that’s sewn into the very fabric of Brazilian society, this was a powerful study of a global issue.

SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE

The Venice Film Festival has often stretched to television offerings, and this year was no different with HBO’s stunning five-hour drama inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s 1974 mini-series. Set over several years, Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac play a couple in the midst of a marital crisis in this compelling study of love and hate. Created by Hagai Levi, the Israeli writer behind The Affair and In Treatment, this was a perfect showcase for two actors at the peak of their powers.

SPENCER

Almost the antithesis of The Crown, Pablo Larraín’s Spencer is a beguiling attempt to enter the mind of Princess Diana across three days during the 1991 Christmas holidays. As the Royals gather at Sandringham, a frayed and lonely Diana has more contact with the staff (Sally Hawkins, Sean Harris, Timothy Spall) and even Anne Boleyn’s ghost than the Royal family. Kristen Stewart visibly melts into the role, while Chilean filmmaker Larraín and screenwriter Steven Knight capture the almost military-like operation behind-the-scenes as the Windsors celebrate the festive season.


The Venice Film Festival runs until September 11th. Click here for more details.

James Mottram