The first ever Venice Film Festival was held in 1932, from the 6th to the 21st of August and it opened with 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' -- the Fredric March version. March went on to win favorite actor and since there were no official prizes, he was picked by the audience.
In that magical moment, during the first edition of the first ever world film festival our own profession -- film criticism and film writing -- was also born. There hadn't been a true need for it before, so wrap your head around that.
When I come to Venice, I realize this is where it all comes from, and despite some problematic years in our Italian history, we should remember the heritage of the Venice Film Festival. All journalists should take a moment and think about that when they first set foot on the Lido. Without Venice, we probably wouldn't be here. Any of us. They started it. All.
This naturally takes me into the next trio of films, which deal with creativity in one way or another, and the problems of the artist.
WHY ARE WE CREATIVE? THE CENTIPEDE'S DILEMMA by Hermann Vaske
For the past thirty years filmmaker, author and at one time advertising creative Hermann Vaske has been going around the world asking people from the Dalai Lama to David Bowie, from Quentin Tarantino to Yoko Ono, from Vivienne Westwood to Stephen Hawking the same question: "Why are you creative?" And from that simple yet important question a whole project has risen -- part book, part art installation and a whole lot film. 'Why Are We Creative?' premiered in the Giornate degli Autori sidebar in Venice.
While at times Vaske's work could seem uneven and imperfectly filmed (because of the change in filming techniques through time), turns out that doesn't matter. Because ultimately, a documentary that manages to include David Bowie talking about how he always connected to a non-linear narrative more than a linear one, since it seemed so much more like real life or Willem Dafoe admitting "I think better when I'm in movement," is quite OK in my book.
Small gems in the film include Yasser Arafat saying "creativity is the hope of the world, to carry on for the sake of the future," Shimon Perez admitting he is creative to "hand over a better world to the next generation," and Stephen Hawking, through his fantastic machine declaring "it's better to travel hopefully than to arrive." With those, I don't need the film to be perfect, because it already has all the heart and soul I require for my viewing pleasure.
P.S. the only person who gives the wrong answer in the film turns out to be Bill Gates, who simply ignores the question and the one doing the questioning and moves past, as if too important to stop for anyone.
DOUBLES VIES (Non-Fiction) by Olivier Assayas
I'm happiest with Olivier Assayas when his work doesn't try to prove how intelligent and witty he is. Something quietly brilliant like 'Personal Shopper' truly manages to capture my heart and live long in my dreams.
His latest, which premiered in Competition in Venice, is 'Doubles Vies (Non-Fiction)' and it's Assayas at his smartest and most witty. It will make his French-speaking fans happy with some of the most creative dialogue I've heard in film. Wait, let me rephrase that -- read in film. And the fast moving subtitles, the speed at which Juliette Binoche, Guillaume Canet, Vincent Macaigne and Nora Hamzawi say their brilliant lines left me struggling to breathe. I wanted to know it all, and I couldn't catch it all and I guess perhaps that's the whole point of Assayas' film.
In his director's statement, Assayas says:
See what I mean?! He is simply too smart. And yet 'Doubles Vies' turned out to be a personal favorite in Venice, probably because it represented better than most films the struggle of the creatives and the perils of my generation, or the one just before mine, when we get into the mystical world of digital. It's a brilliant work of art and a great way to make the audience think. So yes, Assayas has done it again... Even if not the way I wished he had. I'll have to wait for the next one to discover the thoughtfulness I crave from the filmmaker once again.
For now, I'll keep giggling about the perfect inside jokes, how Assayas pokes fun at the creative process and they way writers always use their real-life disappointments as inspiration.
AT ETERNITY'S GATE by Julian Schnabel
Coming into the festival, I anticipated Schnabel's film more than most in the lineup. I have a personal soft spot for the artist and filmmaker and the work he gifts to us, his audience. He is the true artist of his generation and his latest film is as much about his own creativity as it is about the painter Vincent Van Gogh. It's easy to realize that as soon as 'At Eternity's Gate' begins.
With his beautifully shot, perfectly acted (by Willem Dafoe as Van Gogh but also various supporting actors like Rupert Friend as his brother Theo, Mads Mikkelsen as the priest and Emmanuelle Seigner as Madame Ginoux) and wonderfully set film, Schnabel once again makes us, his audience, question our intentions. With 'Miral' I found myself doing that but also earlier with films like 'Basquiat' and 'Before Night Falls'.
It's a constant in Schnabel's work, this idea that we reexamine our preconceived ideas. Would we have treated Van Gogh as a crazy man too, had we been alive during the years he lived and worked? Would we have understood his genius, because his vision was so far ahead of his time? Do we fully understand Schnabel's vision and genius today, because he truly has an eye like no other and a way with film that requires a full visual and mental adjustment...
What is great about 'At Eternity's Gate' is that the film never tries to provide us with a biography of the artist, rather an interpretation of his work and thoughts by a fellow painter. And what it's truly like to paint. Thus, we become fully immersed in the creative process and end up emerging from the screening of Schnabel's film changed. For the better of course.
'At Eternity's Gate' screened in Competition at the festival.