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Venice Blasts Off as ‘First Man’ Dazzles, Redgrave Charms

The Venice Film Festival had a successful blastoff Wednesday with Damien Chazelle’s space epic “First Man,” starring Ryan Gosling as astronaut Neil Armstrong, which dazzled its first viewers and scored rave reviews.

The glowing critical response went out around the world just as Gosling and co-star Claire Foy were sending fans and paparazzi into a frenzy on the red carpet.

To counter potential digital-era drawbacks, Venice this year placed an embargo on posting reviews until a film’s public screening takes place. But given the all-around response to “First Man,” earlier verdicts would not have posed a problem. Variety critic Owen Gleiberman called it a “turbulently spectacular and enthralling drama,” confirming awards buzz generated by the pic in April when Universal showed footage at CinemaCon.

During the opening ceremony, before the “First Man” gala screening, Venice Biennale President Paolo Baratta greeted Chazelle with a warm “Welcome back!” “First Man,” which is in competition, marks the second opening-night Venice bow for the 33-year-old director after “La La Land,” which kicked off the festival in 2016 and earned him an Oscar for best director.

The highlight of the fest’s customary bare-bones opening ceremony was Vanessa Redgrave, who was given a standing ovation when she received a lifetime achievement Golden Lion. Speaking in Italian, Redgrave praised the festival as “really being about the art of cinema” and said that one of the things she loves about Venice are American author Donna Leon’s Venice-set murder mysteries.

Redgrave was accompanied by Italian actor Franco Nero, her second husband, whom she met when they played Lancelot and Guinevere in the film musical “Camelot,” a clip of which appeared in her moving career summary showreel.

As part of the Redgrave tribute, Venice is also hosting a special screening of her latest film, Venice-set “The Aspern Papers,” a first feature by French director Julien Landais adapted from the novella by Henry James.

“First Man” will be followed by a rapid succession of hotly anticipated titles in the next few days, including Alfonso Cuaron’s semi-autobiographical “Roma,” shot in black and white; Yorgos Lanthimos’ offbeat costumer, “The Favourite”; Bradley Cooper’s remake of “A Star Is Born,” starring himself and Lady Gaga making her big-screen debut; and Jacques Audiard’s Oregon-set Western, “The Sisters Brothers,” in which Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly play two notorious assassins.

Jury president Guillermo del Toro, at the end of the closing ceremony, praised this year’s selection as “incredibly rich and powerful,” noting that the nine-member jury has a difficult task. But he gave directors of the 21 pics competing for the Golden Lion his “personal guarantee” about “the seriousness with which we will conduct the business of analyzing, discussing and fighting for these movies.”

The fest runs through Sept. 8.

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