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As Venice Film Festival celebrates its 78th year, here's a throwback to Biennale's best over the years
Shreya Paul
Sep 02, 2021
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With the premiere of the 78th Venice Film Festival this year, it was evident that the world would witness yet another round of Avante-Garde films that redefine our understanding of movies. Being one of the first festivals to set the standards for each year, the Biennale promises a sophisticated selection of global films.

On the festival’s seventy-eighth year, here’s a throwback on Venice over the years and a few films that you cannot afford to miss.

1
Rashomon
8.6OTTplay Rating
Directed by Akira Kurosawa, this one is easily the auteur’s most popular film. Toshiro Mifune’s compelling performance subverted the meaning of “truth” and exposed how man is a mere product of his senses. The film thrust audiences into an insecure space with questions about the authenticity and integrity of mankind.
2
Aparajito
8.1OTTplay Rating
Bengal’s solo win at the Venice Film Fest, Satyajit Ray’s Aparajito (part of his critically acclaimed Aputrilogy). Based on Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s novel Pather Panchali, Ray’s films captured a post-independence Bengal, grappling with both economic and identity crises. The series captured the interim period of Bengal’s world-building, where the state (along with the nation) was trying to establish a voice of its own. And it is through Apu that Ray positioned his narrative of the state’s changing attitudes towards corporatisation and development. The film focused on a mother-son relationship and how Sarbajaya (Kanu Bandyopadhyay) and Apu (Smaran Ghosal) navigate the spaces between village and city life. As Apu ventured into the big unknown of Calcutta's hustle-bustle, Sarbajaya suffered silently in Apu's absence. Ray infused in the plot subtle markers that traced the different developments of each character, both emotionally and physically. Apu grew into a man, while his mother gradually submitted to a quieter life of old age. Ray successfully captured the vulnerabilities of Sarbajaya as she receded to the background, hesitant but proud of Apu's newfound confidence. The film had opened to positive reviews and garnered considerable accolades across the board. Ray used the film as a narrative weapon to arm the middle-class for their future.
3
Vagabond
7.8OTTplay Rating
French filmmaker Agnès Varda created history with Vagabond and became the first female director to win the honour. This drama follows a young woman Mona (Sandrine Bonnaire), essentially a vagabond, who decides to traverse the Languedoc-Roussillon wine country. The film begins with the sudden discovery of her dead body, abandoned in a ditch, completely frosted out. Through a series of flashbacks, Vagabond charts Mona’s fascinating journey till she met her unfortunate end.
4
Monsoon Wedding
7.4OTTplay Rating
Mira Nair’s masterpiece on the ethos of Indian families took centre-stage in 2001’s Biennale where Nair became the second woman to bag the prestigious award. Nair’s film was a keenly incisive look into the complicated workings of a North Indian joint family with an imminent wedding playing at the forefront of all action. With a stellar cast that included veterans like Naseeruddin Shah, Rajat Kapoor, Shefali Shah, Tilottoma Shome and Vijay Raaz, the film exposed the hypocritical setup of upper-class Indian households and the multiple skeletons that remain stacked neatly behind closets.
5
Brokeback Mountain
8.2OTTplay Rating
Ang Lee’s directorial on two friends and consequent lovers stitches a beautifully sensitive narrative on loves lost and found. Set in the exact backdrop of what we’re told is Brokeback Mountain (near Wyoming), the film’s languid pace patiently uncovers the growing fondness between the two cowboys. Especially noteworthy is the painful catharsis when they end their Roman Holiday to descend from the mountains and marry their respective girlfriends. Lee delves into the pain of these closet homosexual men, who struggle to juggle between a dual life and fail at it miserably.
6
The Shape of Water
7.1OTTplay Rating
This romantic fantasy juxtaposes all childhood dreams of having an imaginary creature as our closest confidant. Director Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor’s poignant script placed a deaf and mute female protagonist (Sally Hawkins) at the centre of all the drama. Del Toro’s immense research behind the otherworldly creature’s design and his keen observations regarding its anthropomorphic ticks made the story even more relatable and allowed for the love to shine unadulterated through language and species barriers.
7
Roma
8OTTplay Rating
Alfonso Cuarón’s semi-autobiographical feature depicts his early days in the Colonia Roma neighbourhood of Mexico City. The film follows a family in the throes of a crisis when the house’s patriarch unexpectedly runs away with his mistress, compelling the wife Sofía to try and spend quality time with her children on a special vacation. Cuarón’s keen lens captured the vulnerabilities of the family in the wake of a crisis and how they navigate this difficult space despite their initial scepticism.
8
Joker
8.5OTTplay Rating
Very few roles such as The Batman’s Joker are as overdone in Hollywood. Thus, when Joaquin Phoenix stepped into the shoes of Arthur Fleck, the Todd Phillips directorial was immediately compared to Heath Ledger’s version in The Dark Knight. Phoenix underwent a drastic physical transformation to embody Fleck’s mental ill-health. Phillips chose to take a rather unconventional cinematic decision of charting Fleck’s early life, where he takes baby steps into becoming his alter-ego. This provided audiences with a much-needed origin story of sorts, where they also witnessed Fleck’s descent into complete madness.

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