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CULTURE

Venice film fest returns with another blockbuster line-up

The Venice Film Festival returns on Wednesday with an ultra-glitzy line-up, including the world premiere of sci-fi blockbuster "Dune" and Kristen Stewart's turn as Princess Diana, cementing its status as a serious rival to Cannes.

Venice film fest returns with another blockbuster line-up
Press photographers wait for guests to arrive for a screening at the festival's palace at the 77th Venice Film Festival in September 2020 at Venice Lido. Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

After a low-key event last year due to the pandemic, La Mostra is raising the stakes once again in the battle for film fest supremacy with the sort of line-up that has drool running down the chins of red carpet gawkers and pretentious film critics alike.

The world’s oldest film festival has embraced Hollywood in recent years and its 78th edition, running September 1st-11th, is no exception.

“Dune” brings hot young things Timothee Chalamet and Zendaya to the Venice festival, while Ridley Scott’s “The Last Duel” marks the bromantic return of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, writing and starring together for the first time since their Oscar-winning breakout “Good Will Hunting” in the 1990s.

But Venice still has serious arthouse chops, and the competition for the Golden Lion award features some of the era’s most revered filmmakers, including Spain’s Pedro Almodovar, Italy’s Paolo Sorrentino and New Zealand’s Jane Campion.

A Golden Lion award (C), the highest prize awarded at the Venice Film Festival, flanked by other awards. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)

Almodovar opens the festival with the Penelope Cruz-starring “Parallel Mothers” and true to his provocative style, the poster was immediately banned on Instagram for featuring a lactating nipple.

Even the Princess Di biopic, “Spencer”, promises to be more than the usual fawning royal mush, as it comes from Chilean director Pablo Larrain, whose 2016 film was an intelligent and lauded take on Jackie Kennedy, starring Natalie Portman.

Oscar buzz-maker
Since taking over in 2012, festival director Alberto Barbera is credited with rejuvenating La Mostra, partly by positioning it as the launchpad for Academy Award hopefuls.

Two of the last four Golden Lion winners, “The Shape of Water” and “Nomadland”, have gone on to win the best picture Oscar — something which had never previously happened.

Producer and director Guillermo del Toro (L) and producter J. Miles Dale pose in the press room with the Oscar for best picture and best director for their film “The Shape of Water” during the 90th Annual Academy Awards on March 4th, 2018, in Hollywood, California. (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP)

Many other recent critical and box-office hits have debuted in the floating city, including “La La Land”, “Joker” and “A Star Is Born”.

Part of the success is that publicists love having their stars snapped on gondolas, but it’s primarily a question of lucky timing.

“Venice’s position on the cusp of summer and fall gives it unmatchable clout as a launchpad” for the Hollywood awards season, explained The Hollywood Reporter.

Venice has also side-stepped the fracas between Netflix and Cannes, over the latter’s demand that entries hit the big screen.

That has left Venice with first dibs on recent Netflix hits such as “Roma” and “Marriage Story”, and two of this year’s hopefuls: Campion’s “The Power of the Dog” and Sorrentino’s “The Hand of God”.

Movies from 59 countries are being presented this year across its multiple sections, though Cannes director Thierry Fremaux has previously sniffed at his Venice counterpart’s “obsession with American movies”.

It’s true that the main competition has a fairly narrow geographic remit, with nothing from Africa and only one from Asia (the sequel to Filipino action-thriller “On the Job”) among the 21 selections.

But Cannes has hardly steered clear of Hollywood. Its blockbuster premiere this year was Fast & Furious 9.

For film fans happy to see the schedules flooded with exciting releases, all this industry jostling is background noise.

And for Italians, it could cap an exciting summer that has seen them win the Euro 2020 championship, put in a surprisingly strong Olympic performance and leave the dark days of the country’s brutal Covid-19 outbreak behind them.

READ ALSO: Olympic wins reignite Italy’s debate over citizenship for children of foreign parents

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CULTURE

Why Friday the 13th isn’t an unlucky date in Italy

Unlucky for some, but not for Italians. Here's why today's date isn't a cause for concern in Italy - but Friday the 17th is.

Why Friday the 13th isn't an unlucky date in Italy

When Friday the 13th rolls around, many of us from English-speaking countries might reconsider any risky plans. And it’s not exactly a popular date for weddings in much of the western world.

But if you’re in Italy, you don’t need to worry about it.

There’s no shortage of strongly-held superstitions in Italian culture, particularly in the south. But the idea of Friday the 13th being an inauspicious date is not among them.

Though the ‘unlucky 13’ concept is not unknown in Italy – likely thanks to the influence of American film and TV – here the number is in fact usually seen as good luck, if anything.

The number 17, however, is viewed with suspicion and Friday the 17th instead is seen as the unlucky date to beware of.

Just as some Western airlines avoid including the 13th row on planes, you might find number 17 omitted on Italian planes, street numbering, hotel floors, and so on – so even if you’re not the superstitious type, it’s handy to be aware of.

The reason for this is thought to be because in Roman numerals the number 17 (XVII) is an anagram of the Latin word VIXI, meaning ‘I have lived’: the use of the past tense apparently suggests death, and therefore bad luck. It’s less clear what’s so inauspicious about Friday.

So don’t be surprised if, next time Friday 17th rolls around, you notice some Italian shops and offices closed per scaramanzia’.

But why then does 13 often have a positive connotation in Italy instead?

You may not be too surprised to learn that it’s because of football.

Ever heard of Totocalcio? It’s a football pools betting system in which players long tried to predict the results of 13 different matches.

There were triumphant calls of ho fatto tredici! – ‘I’ve done thirteen’ – among those who got them all right. The popular expression soon became used in other contexts to mean ‘I hit the jackpot’ or ‘that was a stroke of luck!’

From 2004, the number of games included in Totocalcio rose to 14, but you may still hear winners shout ‘ho fatto tredici’ regardless.

Other common Italian superstitions include touching iron (not wood) for good luck, not toasting with water, and never pouring wine with your left hand.

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