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Venice Film Fest: Vanessa Kirby Shines, ‘Mainstream’ Polarizes in First Batch of Festival Premieres

The Venice Film Fest begins with mixed reviews.

The Venice International Film Festival kicked off on September 2nd as the first in-person film festival to take place since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is expected to run until September 12th and has a total of 66 films being screened in socially-distant theaters and frequent rapid testing. Some of these films have already been screened to journalists, and their first impressions have begun rolling in. 

One of the most anticipated movies of the Venice Film Fest is Gia Coppola’s social media satire Mainstream featuring an ensemble cast including Andrew Garfield, Maya Hawke, Nat Wolff, Alexa Demie, and Casey Frey. The movie, which centers around the rise of a down-on-her-luck YouTuber (Hawke) losing herself alongside a controversial prankster (Garfield), has received mixed reviews upon its premiere at the festival. Variety’s Jessica Kiang calls the film “an old film dressed in new clothes” due to the kitschiness and slightly outdated nature of the material.

However, it is arguably Garfield’s turn as the manic influencer Link that is turning heads. IndieWire’s Nicholas Barber gives the movie a D in his review, aptly describing his performance as “the grotesque lovechild of Val Kilmer’s Jim Morrison in The Doors and Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker in Joker.” Despite these somewhat damning critiques, Mainstream is also gaining praise for its overall style and especially Devonte Hynes’ soft synth score.

In contrast, another highly anticipated film that had its premiere at the Venice Film Fest is Kornél Mundruczó’s English language debut Pieces of a Woman is gaining more positive reviews. The film, which centers around the relationship between a husband and wife (played by Shia LaBeouf and Vanessa Kirby) after the stillbirth of their daughter.

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Starting off strong with a 23-minute one take of the horrifying home birth of the couple’s daughter, the film explores a number of themes that The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney says results in “a forcefully acted representation of the gutwrenching and long-range after-effects of sudden infant death.” The film is anchored by strong performances by both LaBeouf and the rest of the supporting cast, which includes veteran Ellen Burstyn and recent Emmy nominee Sarah Snook.

However, it is Kirby’s performance as Martha that Variety’s Peter Debruge ranges from “devastated yet resilient, angry but empathetic.” Despite these praises, criticisms over the unsubtle symbolism and the lack of material for up-and-comer Jimmie Fails keep many critics from fully falling in love with it.

Just from the contrast of these two films, this year’s unique iteration of the Venice Film Fest proves that there will be films for every taste. More roundups are expected as the festival continues.

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