Damien Chazelle’s ‘First Man’ lands at the Venice film festival, and first reviews are over the moon

Oscar hopeful “First Man,” filmmaker Damien Chazelle‘s ’60s space-race saga that leads up to astronaut Neil Armstrong‘s historic walk on the moon, took its first steps at the 75th annual Venice International Film Festival on Wednesday. The early word from critics on the opening-night attraction? Sky-high praise.

“Variety’s” Owen Gleiberman admired Chazelle’s avoidance of typical clichés in telling a behind-the-scenes story: In “Chazelle orchestrates a dashingly original mood of adventure drenched in anxiety. He doesn’t waste time on standard biopic scenes — like, for instance, dramatizing the backroom politics of which astronaut gets chosen for which mission. The film’s attitude, which mirrors Armstrong’s vantage as a loyal U.S. space soldier, is that whatever happens happens.”

He also lauded Chazelle’s male lead, “La La Land’s” Ryan Gosling: “Gosling gives a tricky, compelling performance that grows on you. He plays Armstrong as a brainy go-getter who has learned to hold most of what he feels inside (he wrote musicals in college, and is now ashamed of it), but he lets out just enough of it, especially when someone crosses him, to exude a quiet command.”

“The Guardians’s” Robbie Collins described Chazelle’s take on the out-of-this-world event as less a blockbuster spectacle than it is ”John Cassavetes goes to outer space, with lived-in performances, handheld camerawork with period-perfect film grain and a colour palette full of the ochres and umbers of mid-century, middle-class American domestic life.”

As for Gosling, he calls his performance, “a thoughtful, tamped-down star turn.” His lone peeve is that the life-story events on the ground are perfunctory and less awe-inspiring than the scenes among the stars.

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Zhuo-Ning Su, writing a dispatch for Awards Daily, was equally complimentary, noting that “Chazelle demonstrates the rare skill of staging epic spectacles within a most intimate setting.” He added, I appreciated the depiction of I appreciate above all the depiction of camaraderie between and the cynical heroism of the astronauts.” The word “Oscar” came up when he raved about the sound design and cinematography.

“Screen Daily’s” Fionnuala Halligan lauded “The Crown” star Claire Foy as Armstrong’s wife, Janet: “Being an astronaut’s wife looks like a thankless role in real life and it’s no great gift to an actress, but Claire Foy approaches the part with a matter-of-fact intelligence which gives a great deal of weight to Janet, who only died in June of this year.”

Sounds like the Italian festival that runs through Sept. 8 has made at least one successful launch, and more premieres are yet to come, including Luca Guidagnino’s remake of the horror classic “Suspiria,” Bradley Cooper’s directing debut, “A Star Is Born,” in which he co-stars with Lady Gaga and the Coen brothers’ anthology Western “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.”

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