VENICE, Italy (Reuters) - Despite a paucity of female directors, women were the stars of the Venice Film Festival: from Lady Gaga stealing the red carpet spotlight, to movies about queens, witches and working women with important stories to tell.
Only one of the 21 movies selected to compete for the Golden Lion was directed by a woman - earning festival organizers a severe backlash. But critics were impressed by strong, unusual female roles and feminist themes, even in movies made by men.
An infantilized Queen Anne being courted by two manipulative confidants in “The Favourite”; the dignified working class women of Alfonso Cuaron’s autobiographical “Roma”; and a witches’ coven of supernatural power in “Suspiria”: some of the best movies were almost exclusively about women.
Greek writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos, who directed Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, said he made “The Favourite” because he “wasn’t seeing female characters represented in cinema in an interesting, complex way as human beings”.
“They’re usually the housewife or the girlfriend or the object of desire, and I just felt when I saw that there’s a real story about these three very complex women ... it was something that I wanted to do,” he told Reuters.
Marta Balaga, a critic at movie news agency Cineuropa, loved that Lanthimos did not treat his characters with undue respect:
“Those characters are just hilarious, they are funny, they are certainly not perfect in every way, they are quite horrible sometimes, but this is what I would love to see in the cinema.”
Even some of the films that focus on men had things to say about society’s treatment of women.
In “The Mountain”, Jeff Goldblum plays a lobotomist who has a surgical way of dealing with troublesome females, and in German epic “Never Look Away”, a free-thinking young woman’s fate is sealed by a Nazi doctor.
“There is this theme still going on that men can be threatened by a woman that maybe expresses her opinions ... women who are able to speak out. They still seem to be dangerous to so many people,” Balaga said about the themes of those films, and also witchy horror remake “Suspiria”.
“We tend to think about genre filmmaking as a little bit anti-women ... but (in) this film (director) Luca Guadagnino just loves his actresses and they are allowed to do really silly things, even, ... and it all makes sense,” she said.
One film directed by a woman, but shown outside the main competition, was “Charlie Says” the story of the women Charles Manson brainwashed into murder.
“That’s a perspective that no one has seen and no one has really focused entirely on: their story or their journey about how they ended up there and why they did the things they did,” director Mary Harron told Reuters.
As for “The Nightingale”, the Golden Lion contender directed by Jennifer Kent, critic Jonathan Romney said it “exudes enough impassioned feminist rage to fuel 10 festivals”.
A new take on the rape-revenge genre, the violent movie was heckled at a press screening where a man yelled out “Shame on you, whore, you’re disgusting!” when Kent’s name appeared on the closing credits.
Critic Balaga said some audiences would struggle with women making films “that maybe are not exactly pleasant, (that) are difficult hard experiences”.
“This is an interesting filmmaker - she is trying to say something else,” Balaga said.
“And a reaction like that just shows us that she, in a sense, succeeded. She showed something that was unexpected something that rubbed people the wrong way.”
The Venice Film Festival concludes on Saturday.
Reporting by Robin Pomeroy; Editing by Alison Williams