Venice Film Festival 2019 day 2 roundup: Pedro Almodovar wins Golden Lion for lifetime achievement
Pedro Almodovar was nominated for Venice Film Festival's top Golden Lion prize in 1988 for Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, a movie that brought him international recognition.
Spanish director Pedro Almodovar added a Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement to his list of accolades on Thursday, when the Venice Film Festival presented him with the prize for a long and illustrious career.
The 69-year old Oscar winner, known for acclaimed films such as Talk to Her, Volver and most recently his loosely autobiographical portrait Pain and Glory, made his debut at the festival in 1983 with the comic drama Dark Habits.
He was nominated for the festival’s top Golden Lion prize in 1988 for Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, a movie that brought him international recognition.
“Venice... is the place where I was born (made) as a director. For me this is something very special,” Almodovar told reporters.
On Dark Habits, in which a singer hides out in a convent of quirky and eccentric nuns, a movie Almodovar claimed did not sit well with everyone on the jury, he said: “The simple fact that I was participating in an international film festival seemed like a miracle.”
Almodovar, who has regularly worked with actors Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz, has won several awards for his movies, including a best original screenplay Oscar for drama Talk To Her.
All About My Mother, which he also wrote and directed, won the best foreign-language film Academy Award in 2000.
Roman Polanski's new film premieres in the festival on Friday after the defiant director lashed out at critics and as fury over his inclusion in the festival cast a shadow over the star-studded celebration of cinema.
Polanski's An Officer and a Spy, a historical thriller about the persecution of the French Jewish army officer Alfred Dreyfus, has been a lightning rod for criticisms of the film festival, already embroiled in the second year of controversy over the place of female film-makers.
The 86-year-old, who was convicted for the statutory rape of a 13-year-old in 1978, is not due to appear at the festival.
Venice organisers have been forced to defend the decision to include An Officer and a Spy among the 21 movies selected to compete for the top prize. Only two films in the running are directed by women.
Critics have said the move is out of touch in the era of #MeToo.
"This is a new world and behaviour that would have been swept under the carpet and dismissed as 'this is just the way it is' is no longer acceptable," Melissa Silverstein, founder of Women and Hollywood, told AFP.
Polanski on Thursday responded via an interview with French writer Pascal Bruckner in which he dismissed new abuse claims against him.
He said these were "absurd stories by women I have never seen before in my life who accuse me of things which supposedly happened more than half a century ago".
In the interview, contained in a press pack released to accompany his film, the director was asked by Bruckner if "as a Jew" he will "survive the present-day neofeminist McCarthyism".
The director draws a parallel with his film, which traces the history of the late 19th century Dreyfus Affair — the wrongful conviction of a Jewish officer against a backdrop of virulent anti-Semitism.
"In the story, I sometimes find moments I have experienced myself, I can see the same determination to deny the facts and condemn me for things I have not done. Most of the people who harass me do not know me and know nothing about the case," Polanski said.
- A 'last master' of cinema -
Polanski fled to France in 1978 and has been a fugitive ever since from the US justice system, despite repeated attempts to have him extradited.
He is currently suing the Academy of Motion Pictures for stripping him of his membership.
Venice festival director Alberto Barbera defended Polanski's inclusion, calling him "one of the last masters still active in European cinema".
The controversy has triggered a heated debate that has threatened to take the sparkle off the glitzy gathering.
Argentine filmmaker Lucrecia Martel, president of the judging panel for this year's Golden Lion top award, told the festival's opening news conference that the inclusion of Polanski had made her "uncomfortable" and that she would not attend a celebration of his movie.
But she later released a statement stressing that she did not object to the selection of the film.
"I have no prejudice against the film and naturally I will watch it in the same way as all other films in competition," she said.
The festival is also facing criticism for presenting a new film in a side event from director Nate Parker, who was embroiled in a rape trial while still at university.
Saudi Arabia's Haifaa al-Mansour cried as she spoke about the barriers to women's success around the world Thursday in Venice, where she is one of only two female directors in contention for the festival's top prize.
Mansour's film The Perfect Candidate tells the story of a young Saudi doctor who decides to run in local elections in her city despite formidable resistance. The movie dwells on the challenges and new opportunities in the conservative kingdom.
The director, who had to direct parts of her acclaimed 2012 film Wadjda while concealed in the back of a van, said Saudi Arabia was now "more open", but women were "shy" to grasp new freedoms and opportunities, such as driving and voting.
"I don't have to be in a van now," she said at a press conference at the Venice film festival, which is itself facing controversy over a lack of female representation.
The Perfect Candidate is one of two films directed by women out of 21 in the running for this year's Golden Lion top prize, a year after just one movie by a woman was selected.
The row has been further stoked by the festival's decision to select a film by Roman Polanski, who was convicted for the statutory rape of a 13-year-old in 1978.
Mansour said that while she wanted to see more films directed by women, a boost was also needed to help them at the earlier stages of finding scripts and financing.
The first woman to shoot a film in her country, Mansour has lived and worked extensively outside of Saudi Arabia, particularly in the US. She said she felt women all over the world were facing a "similar resistance".
"You don't come with a sense of authority as a woman. And when you take a leadership position, you always have to really fight," she said.
She gave an example of her own experience facing pushback from a prop assistant when she told him to change the picture on a wall.
And she burst briefly into tears when she said she wanted women to work together to overcome these obstacles.
"We can empower younger generations... to come to the workplace and find themselves respected without really having to go through that fight," she said.
"I want my daughter to enjoy a place like that in the future."
For Wadjda — about a girl who dreams of riding her own bicycle — Mansour talked to her team via walkie-talkie while hidden in the van.
The Perfect Candidate, with its scenes of women driving, working and running for elected office, as well as musicians playing public performances, showcases the country's reforms since then.
This month, Saudi Arabia officials said they had begun implementing a landmark change allowing women over the age of 21 to receive passports and travel abroad without permission from a male "guardian".
The reform comes after high-profile attempts by women to escape alleged guardianship abuse despite a string of reforms by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, including a landmark decree last year that overturned the world's only ban on women drivers.
A decades-long ban on cinemas has also been overturned.
Bombay Rose, produced by Cinestaan Film Company and created, written and directed by Gitanjali Rao, had its World Premiere as the opening film of the International Critics Week at Venice International Film Festival.
Rohit Khattar, Chairman of Cinestaan Film Company, says in a statement, “We are so proud that Bombay Rose has had its World Premiere at such a prestigious festival. We are delighted with the response and I congratulate Gitanjali, my team and everyone else who have helped in creating this beautiful film.”
Says Gitanjali Rao chips in on her film in a statement, “The response to Bombay Rose has been overwhelming. I have worked hard to evidence the skill of Indian animators and storytellers and Venice’s response has proved that the hard work has paid off. I am delighted that Bombay Rose is discovering such an enthusiastic audience after 6 years in the making.”
Bombay Rose is the first Indian Animation Film ever selected to open Venice Critic’s Week. The film will have its North American premiere in the Contemporary World Cinema section at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) on 7 September 2019. Bombay Rose has also been selected as part of Special Presentations to play at the BFI London Film Festival 2019.
The 76th Venice festival runs until 7 September.
(With inputs from agencies)
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