Netflix shows off its power in Venice

Venice (AFP) –


Netflix demonstrated its creative mettle once again in Venice on Thursday with two powerful movies from elite filmmakers, cementing its credentials at a time when the industry is torn over streaming.

British star Benedict Cumberbatch said he was "thrilled" to have the streaming giant backing his new film, "The Power of the Dog", by legendary New Zealand director Jane Campion.

"We live in a very uncertain time," he told AFP ahead of its Venice premiere. "We're a variant-hair's breadth away from all this -- being in a cinema -- not being possible again.

"I'm kind of thrilled that we have somebody who's going to get the work seen."

"The Power of the Dog", a tale of sibling rivalry on a Montana ranch, is the sort of emotionally complex film that Netflix has looked to support while traditional studios pour their money into superheroes and car chases.

Its red carpet premiere in Venice was followed by another Netflix-backed movie that looked destined for critical success.

"The Hand of God" by Italian Oscar winner Paolo Sorrentino, a heart-breaking tale of his youth in Naples, was immediately tipped as a favourite for the festival's top award, the Golden Lion.

- To stream or not to stream -

"The message of the movie is that there is a future for everyone, regardless of the suffering and the pain you have experienced in life," Sorrentino told reporters.

The future certainly looks bright for Netflix, which has found great success launching films at Venice in recent years.

US actress Kirsten Dunst arrives at the Excelsior Hotel for the film  festival
US actress Kirsten Dunst arrives at the Excelsior Hotel for the film festival MIGUEL MEDINA AFP

"Roma" and "Marriage Story" both picked up a lot of buzz at the festival before scoring awards in Hollywood.

Venice benefits from the fact that its main rival, Cannes, is not allowed to show Netflix movies due to strict French rules about entries getting a full theatrical release.

Hollywood is also deeply torn over whether to keep releasing films on streaming services as cinemas re-emerge from the pandemic.

Cumberbatch's Marvel co-star Scarlett Johansson is suing Disney over its decision to release superhero movie "Black Widow" on its streaming service this summer, saying it cost her millions of dollars in cinema revenue.

Another huge blockbuster, "Dune", which premieres in Venice on Friday, will also get a simultaneous release on HBO Max.

Having spent $165 million on awe-inspiring visual effects, "Dune" director Denis Villeneuve recently described that decision as "ridiculous".

- Benedict's World Cup trauma -

"The best way I can compare it is to drive a speedboat in your bathtub," he told Total Film.

Cumberbatch agreed that streamers need to keep the cinema experience alive, and said he was confident that Netflix was striking the right balance.

"Culturally, it's really important for streaming services to help nourish that, he said.

"As long as it really is happening... as long as it's not just good talk, then great."

The "Doctor Strange" star added that, while he was excited to be back at a film festival, he had a bit of trouble seeing the Italian flag after England's traumatic World Cup final loss earlier this summer.

"I saw the Italian flag and I suddenly had this weird depth-charge of sadness go off in me from the last time I saw that flag, which was when I also saw the St George flag wrapped around people drowned in rain, going home looking at their shoe laces."