Venice Film Festival 2021

This year’s Venice Film Festival got underway this week, with a feeling of (semi) normality as cinema-goers headed to the Lido to gorge on some the biggest movies of the year. ASFF selects five of the best films that have been unveiled in the first week.


Opening the festival, Pedro Almodóvar’s latest reunites him with Penélope Cruz for this tale of two women who give birth on the same day, in the same hospital. While Cruz plays a single photographer, the magnetic Milena Smit co-stars as a teenager who must handle her pregnancy alone. But with the director also exploring past trauma, history and victims of the Franco regime in an intriguing way, this is a skilfully handled melodrama that ripples with poignancy.


A well-intentioned political drama that never takes the obvious route, operating in shades of grey not black-and-white, Thomas Kruithof’s French drama sees Isabelle Huppert play the mayor of an impoverished town on the outskirts of Paris. As she fights to renovate a dilapidated tower block, dealing with red tape bureaucracy as well as angry residents, it’s a complex look at the difficulties of contemporary politics. Reda Kateb co-stars in what is an impressively-scripted and intelligent work.


After her television sojourn with Top of the Lake, Jane Campion is back with her first movie in twelve years, since 2009’s Keats biopic Bright Star. This rich, combustible adaptation of Thomas Savage’s novel sees Benedict Cumberbatch and Jesse Plemons play brothers who come to blows when the latter marries a widowed mother, played by Kirsten Dunst. Set in 1920s, but filmed in New Zealand, this is a beautiful, bruising encounter.


Oscar Isaac plays a gambler in this brooding tale from writer-director Paul Schrader, following up his Oscar-nominated First Reformed. Fresh out of jail, Isaac’s buttoned-down character counts cards, skilfully, but bets low, carefully managing the odds. But with Schrader dealing with trauma, PTSD and American atrocities in Abu Ghraib, this is no ordinary gambling movie. Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan and Willem Dafoe co-star in this unexpected tale.


Italian maestro Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty) delves into his own Naples childhood in this wondrous, bizarre and tragic odyssey. Filippo Scotti plays Fabietto, a teenager growing up in the Italian city in the mid-Eighties, just as football legend Diego Maradona makes the decision to join Napoli. Despite the title, this is not a film about the beautiful game, but the pain and pleasure of adolescence. Filled with trademark Sorrentino strangeness, and an appearance by his regular star Toni Servillo, this is a work of, well, great beauty.

The Venice Film Festival runs from 1 – 11 September. Click here for more details.

James Mottram