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“Judge the artwork, not the artist.” That is the mantra we hear every and each time somebody within the leisure world is accused of heinous conduct, and it’s one which was repeated by inventive director Alberto Barbera previous to this yr’s Venice Film Festival.

In an interview with The Guardian, Barbera mentioned his resolution to incorporate movies by Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, and Luc Besson within the 2023 pageant program — Polanski’s The Palace, a category comedy a few ritzy ceremonial dinner at a luxurious Swiss resort on the eve of the millennium that goes sideways; Allen’s Coup de Chance, a Paris-set French-language thriller a few thorny ménage à trois; and Besson’s Dogman, a portrait of an abused younger man who finds which means in life by way of canine, partaking them in a string of crimes.

Polanski fled the U.S. in 1978 after he pled responsible to sodomizing a 13-year-old lady, and has been accused of sexual assault by five other women, together with one who claims Polanksi molested her when she was simply 10 years previous. (He has denied the opposite allegations.) Allen stands accused of sexually abusing his daughter, Dylan Farrow, when she was seven years previous; of partaking in a sexual relationship along with his then-partner’s daughter, Soon-Yi Previn, when she was in highschool; of getting a fling with mannequin Babi Christina Engelhardt starting when she was 16; and of attempting to whisk his Manhattan star Mariel Hemingway off to Paris when she was 17. (Allen has denied all allegations of impropriety.) Besson, who has protested his innocence, was accused of rape by his Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets actress Sand Van Roy, however was cleared by France’s highest courtroom. Nine different ladies — together with a former assistant, two of his movie college students, and a former worker at his firm EuropaCorp — have come forward to accuse him of a spread of sexual misconduct. Furthermore, Besson started courting his ex Maïwenn when she was 15 and he was 31, although the age of consent in France is 15. The relationship is claimed to have impressed Besson’s movie Léon: The Professional.

“I’m not a decide who’s requested to make judgment in regards to the dangerous conduct of somebody,” Barbera instructed The Guardian.

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Valerie Lermercier, Woody Allen, Lou de Laâge and Alberto Barbera stroll the pink carpet for the premiere of “Coup De Chance” on the eightieth Venice Film Festival on September 4, 2023, in Venice, Italy.

Franco Origlia/Getty Images

The inclusion of works by these three infamous males has not gone unnoticed on the fest. Signs have been noticed alongside the Lido that learn, “Will the Golden Lion go to a rapist?” (The Golden Lion is the fest’s largest prize.) Another learn, “Coup de Chance: la justice ne fait pas son travail,” translating to “Coup de Chance: justice has not been served.” And one directed at Besson got here with the message, “Dogman on the display screen: Woman within the Dark.” A group of young protesters, in the meantime, assembled exterior the premiere of Allen’s Coup de Chance on Monday evening, chanting slogans like, “No rape tradition!” and “No highlight for rapist administrators!”

Herein lies the issue with “decide the artwork, not the artist” because it pertains to movie festivals: these occasions aren’t all in regards to the artwork. They’re simply as a lot about feting the artist. The Venice Film Festival, specifically, has develop into synonymous with images and movies of manicured stars and filmmakers in designer duds driving boats to the Lido or striding down its prolonged pink carpet. And in immediately’s social media-driven world, these picture ops arguably generate extra press than the movies themselves. Who can neglect all of the hullabaloo surrounding Don’t Worry Darling finally yr’s fest? How a lot of it was in regards to the precise film?

Barbera, who assumed the position of Venice Film Festival inventive director in 2012, deserves a lot of the credit score for growing the profile of the fest, leaning into these splashy superstar moments whereas additionally choosing some actually stellar photos.

When Barbera was employed over a decade in the past, Venice had fallen to 3rd place within the fall movie pageant pecking order, behind Toronto and Telluride. American movies and media shunned it. So, Barbera courted Hollywood and the U.S. press. And in 2013, Gravity premiered in Venice earlier than accumulating $700 million on the world field workplace and seven Oscar wins. The following yr, Birdman bowed there, successful Best Picture. Next yr got here Spotlight, additionally successful Best Picture. It’s now emerged because the premier awards launching pad, with movies like La La Land, The Shape of Water, A Star Is Born, Joker, Nomadland, and The Power of the Dog debuting on the Lido. It’s additionally benefitted tremendously from Cannes’ continued refusal to showcase Netflix movies. Their loss has develop into Venice’s achieve. This yr alone, Netflix introduced Bradley Cooper’s Maestro, David Fincher’s The Killer, Wes Anderson’s The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, Pablo Larraín’s El Conde, and J.A. Bayona’s Society of the Snow to Venice.

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An occasion banner exterior the Excelsior resort forward of the eightieth Venice Film Festival on August 25, 2023, in Venice, Italy.

Stefano Mazzola/Getty Images

There have been controversies, as properly. Representation behind the digital camera is an ongoing space of concern for Venice, and this yr, solely 5 of the 23 movies in competitors had been directed by ladies, whereas Ava DuVernay grew to become the primary African American lady with a movie competing within the 80 years of the fest. Sexist insults have been hurled at feminine administrators throughout press and trade screenings. At the 2023 version’s opening ceremony, Italian filmmaker Liliana Cavani addressed the fest’s lack of gender parity whereas receiving an honorary Golden Lion award.

“I’m the primary feminine individual to obtain this award,” Cavani stated. “There are ladies writers and administrators who’re working in addition to males. It’s not fairly proper if we don’t give them an opportunity to be seen.”

Venice has additionally constructed a popularity lately as a fest the place accused males kick off their comebacks. In 2016, Mel Gibson unveiled his warfare drama Hacksaw Ridge in Venice en route to 6 Oscar nominations, together with Best Picture. Two years later, an Italian casting director walked the red carpet carrying a “WEINSTEIN INNOCENT” T-shirt. A yr after that, Roman Polanski debuted An Officer and a Spy (J’Accuse in French) in Venice, a movie in regards to the Dreyfus affair (and an prolonged metaphor for his personal circumstances). The movie gained the Grand Jury and FIPRESCI Prizes.

In that very same Guardian interview, Barbera defended the inclusion of movies by the likes of Polanski, Allen, and Besson thusly: “I’m a movie critic, my job is judging the standard of [the] movies. But in fact, it’s a really tough state of affairs.”

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Luc Besson walks the pink carpet for the premiere of his film “Dogman” on the eightieth Venice Film Festival on August 31, 2023, in Venice, Italy.

Stefania D’Alessandro/WireImage/Getty

So, let’s decide the standard of the movies, since I believe we will all agree that being granted a slot on the Venice Film Festival is a privilege that ought to solely be bestowed upon worthy photos. You could make a powerful argument that Hacksaw Ridge and An Officer and a Spy had been stable entrants based mostly on the power of the filmmaking. Allen’s Coup de Chance is a enjoyable (if forgettable) little thriller, so positive. But the identical can’t be stated for Polanski and Besson’s movies. Polanski’s The Palace is probably the most poorly acquired movie at this yr’s pageant by a large margin. Variety called it “a laughless debacle.” Deadline said it made the director “a laughing inventory.” Besson’s Dogman hasn’t fared a lot better. It was branded “probably the most ludicrous movie you’ll see all yr” by The Guardian whereas The Telegraph ran a headline saying it was “so dangerous it had me howling in disbelief.”

So, if the movies aren’t adequate to bow at a prestigious pageant like Venice, why are they right here aside from to rehab these administrators’ photographs and/or stoke curiosity within the fest by courting controversy?

The (largely European) media has been complicit, too. Allen received a standing ovation during his Venice Film Festival press conference, as did Besson. (Polanski couldn’t make it since doing so may get him extradited again to the U.S.) Allen and Besson have additionally managed to sidestep scrutiny from the press, with each agreeing to solely a single interview across the fest — with the identical journalist from Variety — that touched on their allegations within the gentlest, most accommodating method potential.


On Sept. 5, the Venice Film Festival launched a sequence of statistics about this yr’s attendance. According to the fest, whole admissions are up 18% over final yr.

So, I suppose… mission achieved?  

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