• 'From Afar' (Desde Alla)Source: Desde Alla
Here are our movie picks from the 2015 Venice International Film Festival.
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16 Sep 2015 - 3:21 PM  UPDATED 16 Sep 2015 - 3:45 PM

From Afar

In what may seem a follow-up to the Coen Brothers-led Cannes jury awarding the Palme d’Or to Jacques Audiard’s refugee drama Dheepan in May, this year's Venice Festival jury has also favoured the little guy.

Headed by Alfonso Cuaron, the jury has awarded the Golden Lion to Venezuelan first-time director Lorenzo Vigas for From Afar (Desde Alla), marking the first time a South American film has won the top prize. Based on a story by 21 Grams writer Guillermo Arriaga, the film follows a wealthy middle-aged man whose life is changed after he falls for a street thug. From Afar does not yet have an Australian release date.

The Clan

It wasn't just From Afar that had Festival head Alberto Barbera describing South America as “a hotbed of emerging new talent”. Argentinian director Pablo Trapero arrived at the festival with his film The Clan already a huge hit back home. Around two million people have seen the film since its August 13 release, making it the most successful opening ever for an Argentinian movie. The film proved popular on the Venice Lido as well, taking out the Silver Lion.

The real life family crime drama, produced by the Almodovar brothers, is set in Argentina just after the dictatorship when democracy was being restored in 1983. Arquimedes Puccio (played magnificently by local star Guillermo Francella from the Oscar-winning The Secret in Their Eyes) is a former military man with government ties who had thrived in his illicit business of kidnapping rich neighbours in order to extort ransoms from their relatives. He soon becomes unstuck. The film eerily has shades of Animal Kingdom, while Puccio resembles Johnny Depp’s glassy-eyed gangster in Black MassThe Clan does not yet have an Australian release date.

Anomalisa

The Grand Jury Prize was justly awarded to Charlie Kaufman who shows he is back to his Being John Malkovich form with his stop-motion Anomalisa, about a woman who is a bit of an anomaly, voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Kaufman admits his film is widely open for interpretation. Based on a 2005 'sound play' he developed for the stage, it focuses on a man with a delusional condition (voiced by David Thewlis). He believes those around him are not who they appear to be, rather a single tormentor hiding behind multiple disguises. The film is hard to explain but easy to watch which is where Kaufman’s genius lies. It probably marks the first time cunnilingus has ever been animated in a feature film. Anomalisa does not yet have an Australian release date.

Beasts of No Nation

The Marcello Mastroianni Award for best newcomer went to Abraham Attah for Beasts of No Nation.

This first Netflix feature film to be distributed in cinemas in the US will only be available here on Netflix (on October 29). Idris Elba, after embodying one of the noblest of men, Nelson Mandela, on the big screen, here is rather despicable. He in charge of child soldiers in central Africa and develops a close attachment with one of his recruits, Agu, played by Abraham Attah. Like all the kids Attah is a non-actor and is riveting to watch even if some of what he does is not for the faint-hearted.

Spotlight

The best film on the Lido for many critics was not in awards contention. Michael Keaton heads the Spotlight team of investigative reporters at the Boston Globe who uncover the astounding extent of sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic Church in their city. In 2003 the Boston Globe received a Pullitzer Prize for Public Service for this reportage, which also highlighted abuse that occured in Australia. Liev Schreiber has an important role as the new editor who makes it happen, and Mark Ruffalo is the reporter who does a lot of the running around. Spotlight is set to open in Australia on January 21, 2016.

Everest

In Everest, Australia’s Jason Clarke stars as Kiwi mountaineer Rob Hall who remains a legend on the other side of the Tasman. Sam Worthington plays another Kiwi climber Guy Cotter. The vertigo-inducing true-life story of the tragic 1996 climb works well in 3D, and is a bit of a nail-biter if you don’t know who made it out of the blizzard - and who did not. Everest will open on September 17.

Black Mass

Johnny Depp is already being touted for an Oscar for his portrayal asnotorious Boston gangster Whitey Bulger. Though Joel Edgerton, apparently sporting a perfect Boston accent as corrupt CIA agent John Connolly, gives him a run for his money. Black Mass is set for Australian release on October 8.

Related:
Black Mass review: Story of tough guy turncoat feels forced
Johnny Depp's Bulger has stillness and loathing but not much menace.

The Danish Girl

Eddie Redmayne, who won this year’s best actor Oscar for his portrayal as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, brings the same level of precision to his role as Lili Elbe, the first recipient of gender reassignment surgery. The big surprise here is that the film, by The King’s Speech director Tom Hooper, is as much about Gerda, the wife who stuck by him. Alicia Vikander is impressive in the role and is more likely to receive the Oscar nom next year. The Danish Girl  will open in Australia on Boxing Day. 

Related:
The Danish Girl review: Weak script betrays strong performances
Awards season favourite fails to live up to early promise

Tanna

Australian films made an impression as well. Tanna took out the audience and critics prizes in the Critics Week section. One of only two FEDEORA (Federation of Film Critics of Europe and the Mediterranean) awards went to the film’s director of photography, Bentley Dean.

The Hollywood Reporter’s Australian critic David Rooney calls this first narrative feature by documentary filmmakers Bentley Dean and Martin Butler “an enchanting real-life account of trouble in paradise”. Named after a tiny island at the bottom of the Vanuatu archipelago, with a population of 30,000, the film, which focuses on a sister’s loyalty and a forbidden love affair, features people from a Vanuatu tribe who had never seen a feature film before they appeared in one. Tanna does not yet have an Australian release date.

Looking for Grace

Sue Brooks’ drama boasts a welcome return to a leading role in an Australian film for long-time US resident Radha Mitchell. Though as with Beasts of No Nation, the limelight was well and truly stolen by Sydney teenager Odessa Young. She also stars in the festival closer Simon Stone’s The Daughter, releasing here March 3, 2016. Looking for Grace will open in Australia on January 26, 2016.

Early Winter

Mexico City-based Australian director Michael Rowe won the Cannes Festival’s Camera d’Or for best first feature for his Spanish-language Leap Year in 2010, and on the Lido took out the Venice Days award for his new Montreal set drama Early Winter about a man struggling to keep his marriage and family together. The predominantly English-language film stars Paul Doucet and Suzanne Clement, a Xavier Dolan regular. Early Winter does not yet have an Australian release date.

Equals

Australians Jacki Weaver and Guy Pearce make a surprise appearance as covert rebels in this third take on love by writer-director Drake Doremus who had previously made Sundance winner Like Crazy and Breathe In, which also stars Pearce. This time he has cast Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult as his leads and places them in a clinical world (it was filmed in Japan and Singapore) where cancer and the common cold are cured but where scientists have not completely worked out how to suppress human emotions-though they are trying. Stewart and Hoult fall in love and try to get the hell out of there. Equals does not yet have an Australian release date.

The Venice International Film Festival was held from 2-12 September 2015.

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