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Venice Film Festival Day 1: First Covid-Era Fest Underway With Sparsely Populated Theaters & An Allegorical Film For The Covid Era

After more than six month of struggle for the film industry, this morning saw the first major movie event return as Venice staged its first press screenings for opening film Lacci and Greek drama Apples.

What a difference a year makes. Last year’s screenings of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s The Truth were largely full. Today’s screenings were sparsely attended with plenty of empty seats, a strange sight on the first day of the usually packed festival. It wasn’t only the social distancing measures. Attendance looks to be significantly down. I would say my screening of Apples was a tenth full at best. The late morning screenings were busier than those at 8.30am, and it should be noted that the screening of Italian competition film Lacci was always going to be busier than the Horizons opener, but reports are that Lacci was also far from 50% capacity.

Our temperatures were checked as we went in to the venue and a couple of attendees needed to be reminded to wear their masks during the screening. The room was even colder than usual, I suppose due to the increased air flow.

Watching a film with a mask on was initially a distraction but I gradually got used to it. It was my first experience in a cinema in more than six months but after a while I relaxed into the film and it felt good – and slightly poignant – to be watching a movie on the big screen again.

The resounding international success of Tenet seems to indicate that many are ready to return to cinemas for the right film. This is a Venice Film Festival unlike any that has gone before, but the festival has achieved a great feat in merely putting on an international event in the circumstances. Venice wants to help kickstart filmgoing and is doing what it can to help. The protocols so far have not significantly detracted from the experience. It’s just a matter of getting used to them.

As for the film I saw, it was strong. The timely and off-beat Greek drama Apples charts the story of a man (played well by Aris Servetalis) suffering from amnesia in a society grappling with a spike in amnesiac cases. It is a moving, sensitive and droll debut about re-integration into society, memory and grief. Director Christos Nikou was recently signed up by CAA and it’s easy to see why. He could be the latest significant filmmaking voice to emerge from the country.

I canvassed opinions on the film and the experience as I left the venue. The five guests I spoke to at random were all Italian.

One told me: “It was a very satisfying film. It’s an unusual film and took time to get going but there was a lot to chew on. The lead actor was very good. This was my second time back in the cinema after seeing Tenet. This was a much nicer experience. At Tenet, people weren’t wearing masks and were moving around.”

Another added: “I wasn’t anxious. I didn’t think of the coronavirus context. The only frustration was that my glasses steamed up from wearing the mask. It was cold in there.”

My colleague Nancy Tartaglione will have more later from the official opening night screening of Lacci, the Italian drama from Daniele Luchetti.

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