VENICE (AP) – Australian actress Cate Blanchett said on Wednesday that she is baffled that other countries have not learned from Italy’s pain to be better prepared to fight the coronavirus outbreak as it spread.
Blanchett, who leads the jury at the virus-restricted Venice Film Festival, arrived at the Lido wearing a surgical mask and skipped the typical water taxi photo that stars have long used.
Both were testament to the standards of safety and social distance that added a degree of sobriety to the usually glamorous festival, the first international personal film showcase after COVID-19 shut down the film industry in March.
At an opening day press conference, Blanchett was asked if she was afraid of coming to Italy, the first country in the West to be knocked down by COVID-19. Hospitals, cemeteries and morgues overcrowded in nearby Lombardy, which became the epicenter of the outbreak in Europe.
Blanchett said she had many fears, but also said, “we have to be brave.”
“Anytime someone starts a project, whether in a pandemic or not, it always feels like the first day of school,” she said.
But Blanchett, a UN goodwill ambassador who had previously criticized the US decision to withdraw from the World Health Organization, also said she could not understand why the UN agency should not be allowed to play a greater leadership role in the ongoing crisis.
“I think we are a very strange species that we do not learn from the painful examples, such as the terrible stress that Italy was experiencing,” because we were better prepared when the virus spread elsewhere, she said. “We often behave in rather blunt, fragmented and destructive ways, which is not very helpful.”
Italy has largely tamed the virus with a strict 10-week lockout, gradual reopening, and persistent social distance norms and masking mandates. Although infections have risen again after Italians return from vacation, Italy has been able to keep the number of cases low compared to Spain and France, both of which were badly hit during the first wave of COVID and saw cases again.
Blanchett’s native Australia saw its biggest daily jump in fatalities in recent days, and on Wednesday, Australia’s main hotspot, the state of Victoria, extended the state of emergency for another six months.
Blanchett said she was honored to be part of a festival that is helping the industry recover from an economically and artistically devastating lockdown that is closing cinemas and production sets, forcing the cancellation of the Cannes Film Festival and putting other festivals online.
“Actually it seems wonderful,” she said.
Blanchett will lead the jury with American actor Matt Dillon, Austrian director Veronika Franz, British director Joanna Hogg, Italian writer Nicola Lagioia, German director Christian Petzold and French actress Ludivine Sagnier.
They will present the coveted Golden Lion and other awards to winners of the 18 films in competition when the festival ends on September 12.