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A Downbeat Opening for Venice as Dual Strike Casts Pall Over Fest

The Venice Film Festival kicked off its 80th edition Wednesday night on a somewhat muted note, with the dual Hollywood strike casting a pall over the glitz and glamour that typically exemplify the world’s oldest cinema fest. Instead of Luca Guadagnino’s Zendaya starrer Challengers — which was scheduled to open Venice pre-strike, getting pulled amid the walkout — Venice was forced to go with a more locally focused feature, Edoardo De Angelis’ Italian World War II submarine drama, Comandante.

Italian actress Caterina Murino hosted the festival’s grand opening ceremony with a retrospective spanning eight decades of Venice cinema, featuring clips highlighting past Golden Lion winners. The audience burst into applause at the sight of the late William Friedkin, whose last film, The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, will premiere on the Lido this year.

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Comandante tells the true story of Salvatore Todaro, a submarine captain under Italy’s fascist government who chose to rescue 26 Belgian merchant seamen instead of abandoning them after he sank their ship, the Cappellini, in the Atlantic in 1940.

Pierfrancesco Favino plays Todaro, and the Italian star was in attendance. Other bold-faced names in the audience included Charlotte Rampling, who took the stage to honor legendary Italian filmmaker Liliana Cavani with a lifetime Golden Lion award. Rampling reflected on her collaboration with Dirk Bogarde in Cavani’s haunting The Night Porter.

Rampling noted that Cavani is the first woman to win a lifetime Golden Lion, prompting the director to note, “That’s not fair. There are many talented women in the industry, screenwriters and directors that deserve to be recognized. I hope I’m just the first of a long list.”

A highlight of the ceremony was a montage tribute to this year’s festival jury president, Damien Chazelle, including Venice debuts La La Land and First Man.

Other guests on the carpet included Biennale president Carlo Cracco and Italian politicians Matteo Salvini, Gennaro Sangiuliano and Vittorio Sgarbi, governor of Veneto region Luca Zaia.

The film was received warmly, with a polite, though short, standing ovation. All in all, a respectable, but downbeat, start to Venice 2023.

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