Australia is figuring strongly at the Venice Festival this year, most prominently with Mel Gibson’s Australia-US production Hacksaw Ridge and The Light Between Oceans, based on Australian writer M.L. Stedman’s novel and financed out of the US, Australia and New Zealand. There are also two Australian films, Boys in the Trees and Hounds of Love, selected for the sidebars.
After his stellar turn in French director Jean-François Richet’s action flick, Blood Father, Gibson remained behind the camera for his new dramatic film, which he shot on Sydney’s outskirts in Richmond and transformed into an early 1940s town. According to his co-star Rachel Griffiths, Andrew Garfield gives a career-best performance as Desmond T. Doss, a World War 2 army medic who refused to take up weapons and kill during the Battle of Okinawa. Doss was the first conscientious objector in U.S. history to win the Congressional Medal of Honor. The film also features a who’s who of Australian talent including Teresa Palmer, Sam Worthington, Richard Roxburgh, Ryan Corr and Hugo Weaving as Griffiths’ husband.
Watch Hacksaw Ridge trailer:
Boys in the Trees, a Mushroom Pictures production, screens in the Orizzonti sidebar and marks the first feature by writer/director Nicholas Verso, whose short film The Last Time I Saw Richard was the winner of the 2014 AACTA Award for Best Short Film. Boys in the Trees tells of two estranged childhood friends who reunite on Halloween 1997 and embark on a surreal journey through their memories, dreams and fears.
“It’s so exciting that this film which celebrates the nostalgia and fun of growing up in Australian suburbia in the 90’s is immediately finding an audience today on the other side of the world,” Verso says.
Hounds of Love likewise marks the feature film debut for another Aussie filmmaker, Ben Young. It’s one of 11 titles selected to compete for the Venice Days Award, which has a cash prize of €20,000. A suspense thriller set in the mid '80s, it follows a 17-year-old (Ashleigh Cummings) who is abducted by a disturbed couple and realises she must enter into a game of strategy if she hopes to survive. The film also stars Emma Booth, Stephen Curry and Susie Porter.
Of course the big news for romantics is The Light Between Oceans, where real life couple – the Australia-loving Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander – hooked up. The story follows a couple who discover a baby girl in a boat and raise her as their own – until the real mum, played by Rachel Weisz, shows up. A gut-wrenching drama – a colleague who’s seen it says it’s “magnificent, a total tearjerker” – the film was adapted and directed by Derek Cianfrance, who knows a thing or two about romance, having directed Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond the Pines (where Ryan Gosling and Eva Mendes got together).
Set off the coast of Western Australia, the US-Aus-NZ co-production was filmed in Tasmania and New Zealand, a country Fassbender also came to love after filming Slow West there.
Despite the dark thriller tone of Dutch director Martin Koolhoven’s English-language debut, Brimstone, romance was in the air there too for star Guy Pearce as he met his currently pregnant partner, Carice van Houten (Melisandre, the Red Priestess in Game of Thrones) on the film, which also stars Dakota Fanning. Pearce plays a vengeful preacher and the film also features another Game of Thrones star, Kit Harrington.
On a rare occasion real life couple Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber team up for the boxing drama The Bleeder directed by Philippe Falardeau (The Good Lie, Monsieur Lazhar). In the film, which screens out of competition, Schreiber plays heavyweight boxer Chuck Wepner, who famously once fought Muhammed Ali in a title fight. Schreiber’s Ray Donovan co-star Pooch Hall plays Ali in the film.
Last year, because of his commitments to his hit series, Schreiber didn’t make it to the Lido for Spotlight, which went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture. Of course Venice openers Gravity and Birdman (which featured Watts, and she didn’t show up either) went on to win in previous years. So who knows what to expect from this year’s opener, La La Land, starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. Lots of singing and dancing, I hear.
Nick Cave will make his presence felt in two Venice films. He briefly makes an appearance as himself in Wim Wenders’ 3-D French-language drama, The Beautiful Days of Aranjuez, based on a play by Peter Handke, Wenders’ co-writer on Wings of Desire.
Then Australia’s Andrew Dominik has directed a Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ UK concert film, One More Time with Feeling, to coincide with the band’s new album 'Skeleton Tree'. The film will be shown in more than 650 cinemas worldwide on 8th September, immediately prior to the release of 'Skeleton Tree' the following day.