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Venice Film Festival Officially Kicks Off With Charlotte Rampling, Liliana Cavani, Damien Chazelle And ‘Comandante’

UPDATED with more details: The 80th Venice Film Festival officially kicked off Wednesday evening with the world premiere screening of Edoardo De Angelis’ Italian World War II submarine drama Comandante. Running in competition, the film took over the slot vacated by Luca Guadagnino’s tennis drama Challengers, which backed out of the spot amid the actors strike.

Before the Pierfrancesco Favino-starring movie unspooled to a warm welcome and a brief post-credit standing ovation, Italian actress Caterina Murino launched the festival’s opening ceremony featuring a retrospective covering the 80 years of the event. That included glimpses of previous Golden Lion and awards winners, with the audience erupting when the late William Friedkin appeared in the montage.

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Friedkin, who died August 7, has his final work, the Showtime film The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, screening later this week out of competition.

Biennalle president Roberto Cicutto then came on the stage to introduce Charlotte Rampling, who presented Italian filmmaking legend Liliana Cavani with a Golden Lion award for lifetime achievement. Rampling spoke about her collaboration with Dirk Bogarde in Cavani’s The Night Porter before the 90-year-old director ascended the stage.

RELATED: Venice Film Festival @ 80: Memorable Moments & Stars 1932-2023 – Photo Gallery

Cavani spoke of the importance of female filmmakers; she has a film in this year’s lineup out of competition, L’Ordine del Tempo, which screened today.

Venice jury president Damien Chazelle was introduced after a reel of his career work (his La La Land and First Man both premiered at Venice). Onstage, he spoke of his affinity for the festival and called it “instrumental to the entire history of cinema” before declaring the 80th edition open.

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In Comandante, Favino, who was in the Sala Darsena this evening, plays real-life submarine commander Salvatore Todaro, who earned himself a place in history for his decision to save 26 Belgian merchant seamen rather than leave them to perish after his vessel, the Cappellini, sunk their ship in the Atlantic in October 1940.

RELATED: Venice Film Festival 2023 Opener ‘Comandante’

The film recounts the nerve-wracking operation as Todaro took the Belgian seamen on board and sailed on the surface for three days, before disembarking them on the neutral island of Santa Maria in the Azores. Todaro was reprimanded for this act of humanity by notorious German Navy chief Karl Dönitz, but has posthumously been held up as a beacon of humanity.

As Deadline reported earlier today, De Angelis came across Todaro’s story through a 2018 speech by Italian Admiral Giovanni Pettorino in which he cited Todaro as example of how Italy’s contemporary coast guard should act when dealing with migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean, at a time of fierce debate in Italy of how to deal with illegal immigration, which has only intensified since.

RELATED: ‘Comandante’ Director Edoardo De Angelis On Finding Humanist Role Model In Italian Fascist Era Submarine Commander – Q&A

Favino is joined in the cast by Johan Heldenbergh (Quo Vadis Aida, Broken Circle Breakdown) and Massimiliano Rossi (Indivisible, Gomorrah).

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