A preview of the glitz and grit in store at the 72nd Venice Film Festival
The Venice Film Festival is the world’s oldest major celebration of cinema.
Yet, despite stiff competition from younger festivals such as Toronto – which overlaps the final few days of the Italian event and which has often stolen its thunder in regards to world premieres (although not this year) – Venice remains a respected and enduring showcase for art-house and commercial movies from around the world.
Beginning on September 2, the 72nd edition offers an Official Selection of 55 new feature films divided into three sections (In Competition, Out of Competition and Horizons), 16 new short films and 20 classics.
Two autonomous strands – Critics’ Week and Venice Days – run alongside the main selection.
On paper, this year’s line-up looks set to deliver a mix of grit and glitz, with some hard-hitting subject matter and plenty of big stars, including Eddie Redmayne, Johnny Depp, Kristen Stewart, Ralph Fiennes, Idris Elba, Tilda Swinton, Anthony Hopkins, Michael Keaton and Benedict Cumberbatch.
Judging by its heart-stopping trailer, opening-night film Everest – a based-on-a-true-story survival tale shot in vertiginous 3-D – should deliver thrills and chills. It co-stars Jake Gyllenhaal, whose boxing drama Southpaw is due out in the UAE on Thursday.
Everest is screening out of competition at Venice, so is not eligible for the festival’s prestigious top prize, the Golden Lion. However, like the popular curtain raisers of the past two years – Gravity (2013) and Birdman (2014) – Everest could well go on to enjoy Oscar recognition.
Another eagerly anticipated film receiving its world premiere out of competition is Black Mass, Scott Cooper’s biopic of Boston gangster-turned-FBI informant James “Whitey” Bulger (played by an almost unrecognisable Johnny Depp). Jeff Bridges won an Oscar for his portrayal of a faded C & W musician in Cooper’s Crazy Heart – could Depp follow suit?
This year’s winner of the Oscar for Best Actor, Eddie Redmayne, will be on the Lido with new film The Danish Girl. After his remarkable transformation into the disabled Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, his performance as Lili Elbe, one of the first recipients of gender-reassignment surgery, is likely to be one of the festival’s biggest talking points. It should also ensure the young Briton is a strong contender for the festival’s Volpi Cup for acting.
Possible competition could come from 85-year-old Canadian star Christopher Plummer (winner of the best supporting actor Oscar in 2012 for his role in Beginners). He stars in festival-circuit regular Atom Egoyan’s Remember as a man who sets out to avenge the murder of his family when he discovers that the Nazi guard who killed them 70 years ago is living in America. This is Egoyan’s second film explicitly dealing with the ripples of genocide, having explored the legacy of the Armenian tragedy in 2002’s Ararat.
Another kind of horror, the use of children as soldiers, is the focus of Cary Fukunaga’s (Jane Eyre, True Detective) Beasts of No Nation. Snapped up by Netflix in a bidding war this year – and subsequently boycotted by some major cinema chains in the US because of plans to release it simultaneously online. This adaptation of Uzodinma Iweala’s 2005 novel of the same name casts the powerful and charismatic Idris Elba (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, The Wire, BBC TV crime drama Luther) as a mercenary who forces a young boy to join his group of soldiers during a civil war in Africa.
Kristen Stewart has escaped the shadow of the Twilight movies and has impressed critics in the past few years, recently winning a César, the French equivalent of an Oscar, for her performance in Clouds of Sils Maria.
In Drake Doremus’s competition entry, the sci-fi romance Equals, she and Nicholas Hoult (X-Men, Mad Max: Fury Road) become infected with a virus that makes them outcasts in a utopian society in which emotions have been eradicated.
Doremus proved his skill with affairs of the heart in the small-scale gem Like Crazy, so the combination of him, Stewart and rising star Hoult should ensure keen interest.
Also bound to create a stir is Charlie Kaufman’s first animated feature, the Kickstarter-funded Anomalisa, which he co-directed with Duke Johnson and promises to be anything but child-friendly.
The subject matter of The Clan – a thriller about a real-life family who kidnapped and killed people in the Buenos Aires area in the 1980s – has already earned Pablo Trapero’s screening-in-competition title notoriety in its native Argentina.
The auteur Amos Gitai is also in competition with a thriller based on real events, Rabin, the Last Day.
The out-of-competition Spotlight, starring Michael Keaton in his first post-Birdman role, tells the true story of how the Boston Globe exposed child-sex abuse within the city’s Catholic Archdiocese.
One of the competition entries most eagerly awaited by hardcore cineastes is Russian auteur Aleksandr Sokurov’s Francofonia: Le Louvre Under German Occupation, which was shot in the famous Paris museum and is said to explore “the question of relations between art and war”. It may, some suggest, or may not, be a companion to his 2002 Hermitage-set epic, Russian Ark.
Closer to the festival’s home, the Italian director of the acclaimed I Am Love, Luca Guadagnino, has reunited with that film’s star, Tilda Swinton, for A Bigger Splash. A reimagining of the 1969 film La Piscine, the movie also stars Ralph Fiennes, in a story about a rock star and a filmmaker who find their holiday disrupted by an unexpected arrival.
Musician and experimental-performance artist Laurie Anderson’s feature Heart of a Dog, which is said to touch upon the recent loss of her husband, legendary musician Lou Reed, could turn out to be one of the saddest or the most life-affirming films of the festival.
On the other hand, judging by her previous efforts as director-writer-actor, there seems little doubt that Julie Delpy’s latest project as a multi-hyphenate, the romantic comedy Lolo, in which a single mother and her boyfriend (Danny Boon) try to make their relationship work despite the interference of her son, will certainly offer plenty of laughs and sharp observations about love and life.
Among the non-fiction highlights are profiles of Janis Joplin and Brian De Palma, directed by Amy Berg and Noah Baumbach/Jake Paltrow respectively, plus veteran documentarian Frederick Wiseman’s exploration of the racially-mixed neighbourhood of Jackson Heights in Queens, New York.
•The Venice Film Festival runs from September 2-12
Updated: August 22, 2015 04:00 AM