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Venice Film Festival opening night: Fewer stars, much more controversy

Massimiliano Rossi poses for photographers during the photo call for the film 'Comandante' during the 80th edition of the Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy,
Massimiliano Rossi poses for photographers during the photo call for the film 'Comandante' during the 80th edition of the Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy, Copyright Vianney Le Caer/Invision
Copyright Vianney Le Caer/Invision
By David Mouriquand
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All the latest developments from the opening ceremony and world premiere of 'Comandante' at the 80th edition of the Venice International Film Festival.


The Venice Film Festival officially kicked off its 80th edition with the world premiere of Edoardo De Angelis’ Comandante, an Italian World War II movie starring the celebrated Pierfrancesco Favino.

The film replaced Challengers, the eagerly anticipated movie by Luca Guadagnino that had to be taken off the line-up due to the ongoing writers and actors strikes in the US.  

Set in 1940, Comandante is the true story of Commander Salvatore Todaro (Favino), who saved the lives of enemy sailors who had survived the sinking of their merchant ship, the Kabalo, a Belgian vessel that had opened fire and precipitated Belgium’s involvement in the war. By disregarding his orders, Todaro endangered the safety of his own submarine and his men in order to show mercy to his fellow man.

Festival director Alberto Barbera described Comandante as “a powerful call for the need to place the values of ethics and human solidarity before the brutal logic of military protocol.”

Indeed, the film finds humanity in the darkest of places and has timely resonances with regard to the necessity for empathy in a world at war and considering the displacement of those affected by conflict.

AP Photo
Director Edoardo De Angelis, right, and Pierfrancesco Favino pose for photographers during the 80th edition of the Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy, on 30 August 2023AP Photo

It’s a strong start to the 80th edition, which has also seen the screening of the new film by celebrated Italian director Liliana Cavani, The Order of Time. Both Cavani and the actor Tony Leung Chiu-wai have received the Golden Lions for Lifetime Achievement.

“I am very happy and grateful to the Biennale di Venezia for this wonderful surprise", said Liliana Cavani in accepting the offer.

The director made herself known in Venice in 1965 with Philippe Pétain: Processo a Vichy, Lion of San Marco for best documentary, followed by Francesco d’Assisi (Francis of Assisi, 1966), Galileo (1968), I Cannibali (The Year of the Cannibals, 1970), Il gioco di Ripley (Ripley's Game, 2002) and Clarisse (2012).

Tony Leung Chiu-wai has starred in three movies that have won the Golden Lion at the Venice International Film Festival, A City of Sadness (1989) by Hou Hsiao-hsien, Cyclo (1995) by Tran Anh Hung, and Lust, Caution (2007) by Ang Lee.

Upcoming premieres at the Venice Film Festival include the new film by Michael Mann, Ferrari, a biopic that stars Adam Driver as Enzo Ferrari, the Italian race car driver-turned-automobile entrepreneur; Poor Things, Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest film – his first since his 2018 Venice-premiering and award-winning The Favourite; and Wes Anderson’s The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, the director’s second Roald Dahl adaptation following Fantastic Mr. Fox, about a rich man who learns about a guru who can see without using his eyes and then sets out to master the skill in order to cheat at gambling.

Vianney Le Caer/Invision
Jury president Damien Chazelle wears a tee shirt with the slogan 'Writers Guild on Strike' as he poses for photographers during the photo call for the Jury.Vianney Le Caer/Invision

Also premiering in the coming days is Dogman, by Luc Besson. This is a controversial pick for the Competition section as, since 2018, multiple women have alleged sexual misconduct against Besson and accused him of rape. The director has denied any wrongdoing, and even if the charges were dropped due to insufficient evidence by a French court earlier this year, the director’s reputation has been left in tatters.

He joins two other controversial directors in this year’s line-up: Roman Polanski and Woody Allen, who will both premiere their films The Palace and Coup de Chance respectively.

Barbera has defended his decision to include new films the directors, stating that he is "a festival director, not a judge."

Allen’s film Coup de Chance, a film entirely in French (a first for the director), will premiere at the festival, regardless of the director being accused of sexual abuse against his adopted daughter in 1992, allegations for which he was never charged and which he has denied.

Polanski’s film, The Palace, will also screen Out of Competition, despite the director being accused of sexual assault of a minor in 1977.

Barbera has previously stressed that both Allen and Besson were exonerated from their respective accusations, stating that “from a formal and legal point of view, Besson and Allen were acquitted, and Besson never even had to face a trial.” Regarding Polanski, Barbera said: “I don’t understand why one cannot distinguish between the responsibilities of the man and those of the artist.”

He recently added that Polanski “is one of the last great European directors.”

The 80th Venice International Film Festival runs until 9 September.

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