The outgoing director Marco Mueller had brought his own distinctive style to the Venice Film Festival, inviting heavy-hitting American movies, indulging his love of Asian cinema and ensuring that most of the movies were world premieres. Now that he has moved on to the Rome Film Festival, newly located to November, Alberto Barbera, who had been the artistic director from 1998 to 2002, has been reinstated.
Barbera has put his own stamp on the 69th edition of the event by making it smaller, more multi-national, more auteur-driven, and by no deliberate intention there are more women directors than usual. This comes as a relief after the absence of women in Cannes. In Venice there will also be an unusually high number of women in the actual movies, and many of them young, a rare occurrence at this rather traditional event.
While under Mueller there had been as many as 24 films in competition and well over 100 screened in all the side events, this year there will be 60 films in all, 50 will be world premieres with 18 in the competition. (One generally minor entry will be added as a surprise during the festival as is the tradition.) This more manageable program ensures everyone can see most of the films. This means an even greater boon if you are selected to the program, whereas at the overlapping Toronto International Film Festival, which includes some 350 films, only the strong contenders tend to rise to the top.
As has been the way with the Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals this year, Barbera has included movies that otherwise might be overlooked for international distribution. He says there is a recurring theme, of the world’s current economic crisis, which is of course rather profound in Italy. “It’s having devastating social effects, but we’re also focusing on the crisis of values, the political crisis.”
That Australian films don’t quite fit into that agenda, is perhaps one of many reasons there are no Australians in the competition this year. (They rarely are chosen in Venice anyway.) Sharks are, however, hugely popular with Europeans so that Kimble Rendall’s Bait 3D has been included in the Horizons sidebar, where Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s Hail screened last year. Bait 3D, an action horror thriller set in a coastal supermarket where shoppers are thrown together with a pack of tiger sharks after a freak tsunami, stars young and nubile Sharni Vinson and Phoebe Tonkin, while another up and comer, Xavier Samuel also appears with Julian McMahon. A co-production with Singapore, Bait 3D is Rendall’s second feature after his 2000 dud Cut starring Molly Ringwald and Kylie Minogue, and it’s probably an improvement given that its releasing via Paramount Pictures on September 20.
Two South Australia-funded shorts will screen in the Horizons section: Nick King’s Marla, a strange dark love story featuring Eddie Ritchard, Dale March and Lani Tupu, will soon be turned into the feature film Donors, by Storehouse Films; and Paola Morabito’s I’m The One, executive-produced by Jane Campion and featuring James Fraser, Maya Stange and Alan Dukes, is billed as a provocative film about adolescent desire and follows a teenage boy in love with his father’s girlfriend.
Boutique in its tone, this year’s Venice competition includes some of the biggest arthouse names, even if two of the Americans, Terrence Malick (To the Wonder, left) and Harmony Korine (Spring Breakers) might be seen as chalk and cheese. Yet both men have evolved: Korine has married and settled down while Malick has been buoyed by his Cannes win for The Tree of Life, even if To the Wonder was well in the works by then. The romantic drama stars Ben Affleck and Rachel McAdams, who would both be doing double duty at the festival had Affleck’s third directing effort, Argo, made it into the program. But it didn’t. That supposedly Oscar-bound film will world premiere in Toronto instead. The Town had premiered at the Festival two years earlier and all credit to Barbera for not sticking to regular Venice talent, even if he has elsewhere.
McAdams’ second competition film is Brian De Palma’s sexual thriller Passion, where she co-stars with Noomi Rapace. A French-German co-production, it marks 71-year-old De Palma’s first film in 6 years. He had won the Silver Lion for best director for his hyper-realistic Iraq drama Redacted, which squeamish distributors failed to release here. His previous romantic thrillers Femme Fatale and Black Dahlia (also at Venice), though, had been disappointing so we will have to wait and see.
Fellow veteran Robert Redford, who is 76 in August, will also be on the Lido, where his political action thriller, The Company You Keep, about left-wing militants on the run from the FBI, screens out of competition. He will also star in the film, which is based on a novel by Neil Gordon and co-stars Shia LaBeouf.
Out of competition is generally where we find the more commercial offerings and where it was a pleasure to discover Love is All You Need (left), the second English-language feature by one of my favourite filmmakers, Denmark’s Susanne Bier. The Danish-Swedish production was shot in the south of Italy.
Two high profile documentaries will screen out of competition as well. Jonathan Demme’s Enzo Avitabile Music Life about the Italian singer-songwriter and saxophonist; and Spike Lee’s treatise on Michael Jackson, Bad 25, which focuses on the singer's Bad album and includes over 40 interviews with the likes of Kanye West, Mariah Carey and Sheryl Crow.
Mira Nair’s opener The Reluctant Fundamentalist (pictured, top) also screens out of competition. Based on the best-selling novel of the same title, the political thriller very much fits in with Barbera’s agenda and concerns a conflicted young Pakistani man working on Wall Street who begins to questions his identity. It also stars Kate Hudson, Kiefer Sutherland and the great Indian actor Om Puri.
Italian director Marco Bellocchio, who was awarded the Career Golden Lion in Venice last year, returns with the competition entry Dormant Beauty, which focuses on the theme of euthanasia and the final 6 days of a woman’s life who has been in a vegetative state for 17 years following a car accident.
Another festival regular Japanese director Takeshi Kitano returns with yet another gangster pic, Outrage Beyond, a sequel to 2010’s Outrage; while South Korean director Kom Ki-duk’s Pieta likewise focuses on crime with its story of a loan shark whose world is turned upside down when he meets a woman claiming to be his mother. Korine’s Spring Breakers incredibly stars Selena Gomez (Justin Bieber’s girlfriend) and Vanessa Hudgens as young revelers who decide to rob a fast food restaurant. So who knows who might turn up on the Lido? Some oldies and some young’ens it seems.
At Any Price, Ramin Bahrani (USA, UK)
Betrayal, Kirill Serebrennikov (Russia)
Dormant Beauty, Marco Bellocchio (Italy)
E' stato il figlio, Daniele Cipri (Italy)
Fill The Void, Rama Bursztyn and Yigal Bursztyn (Israel)
La Cinquieme Saison, Peter Brosens, Jessica Woodworth (Belgium, Netherlands, France)
Linhas de Wellington, Valeria Sarmiento (Portugal, France)
Outrage Beyond, Takeshi Kitano (Japan)
Paradise: Faith, Ulrich Seidl (Austria, France, Germany)
Passion, Brian De Palma (France, Germany)
Pieta, Kim Ki-duk (South Korea)
Something in the Air, Olivier Assayas (France)
Superstar, Xavier Giannoli (France, Belgium)
Spring Breakers, Harmony Korine (USA)
Thy Womb, Brillante Mendoza (Philippines)
To the Wonder, Terrence Malick (USA)
Un Giorno Speciale, Francesca Comencini (Italy)