Helen Barlow gives us the lowdown on the big favourites at this year's Venice Film Festival.
5 Sep 2016 - 4:12 PM  UPDATED 5 Sep 2016 - 4:23 PM

This year’s Venice Festival has been a festival of women, from Emma Stone tap-dancing with and stealing the show from Ryan Gosling in La La Land, to Amy Adams getting cosy with aliens in Arrival and not so cosy with the men in her life in Nocturnal Animals.

Dakota Fanning was a last minute replacement for Mia Wasikowka in Brimstone. “Mia dropped out for personal reasons,” the film’s Dutch director Martin Koolhoven told me. It was difficult.” Still Fanning, now 22 and acting since the age of six, well and truly proves her acting chops as a mute wife and mother alongside our own Guy Pearce, as a vengeful preacher out to get her.

Brutality ruled in the women-oriented western as it did in Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge and to an extent in The Bleeder. Though the story in the latter was more a celebration of the endurance of New Jersey boxer Chuck Wepner (the real Rocky played by boxing enthusiast Liev Schreiber, who took some 800 blows in the film) and his relationships with his two wives, played by Elisabeth Moss and Naomi Watts, Schreiber’s real-life partner.

“Chuck’s second wife Linda had a sense of self-awareness, was fun and strong in spirit, so the role felt like something different for me,” explains Watts. “I also feel that being a real-life couple playing a couple on screen can be distracting and having less screen time was better for the story.”

Hacksaw Ridge first-look review
A good (just shy of great) ethical melodrama that doubles as an act of contrition.

Ray Donovan star and producer Schreiber, who also produced here, is undoubtedly at the top of his game – and not only because at 48 he’s playing a 35 year-old. He is astounding and funny in a role that runs the full gamut, the success and the failure, and is already being touted as an awards contender.

Whether Hacksaw Ridge and The Light Between Oceans pass muster for the Oscars remains to be seen, though the films seem to be more aimed at the commercial market. Both of course are to an extent Australian films, though the latter unofficially.

Oceans director Derek Cianfrance pointed out in Venice that when Australian financing fell through for the film because the latest Pirates of the Caribbean blockbuster raided all the Aussie loot, the Kiwis were quick to dangle a carrot in front of the production. The windswept coast of New Zealand’s South Island was probably the perfect replacement for the supposed West Australian island in the film, where again a female character, played by Sweden’s Alicia Vikander, is at the centre of the piece.

Jack Thompson, who portrays a ferry driver, thinks it’s essentially an Australian movie. "It’s about the loneliness, it’s about the isolation; it’s about love. It’s about love in the bush, only it's a rock in the ocean.”

Consensus has decreed that while La La Land has proved the overall festival favourite, and like previous openers Gravity and Birdman seems a likely Oscar contender, two productions have also emerged as festival standouts. While one might imagine the Italians going crazy over local hero Paolo Sorrentino’s first foray into television, The Young Pope, French director François Ozon has well and truly returned to form with his stunning black and white post-First World War romance, Frantz. Pierre Niney, who won the César Award for Best Actor for Yves Saint Laurent, plays a French soldier travelling to Germany to visit the grave of a man he killed. We can only wonder why he does this, as does the German man’s fiancée who ultimately connects with him.

Venice Film Festival: Ben Young and Emma Booth on serial killers and '80s music in 'Hounds of Love'
Aussie director Ben Young and actress Emma Booth talk to SBS Movies following the Venice premiere of his retro serial killer debut feature.
La La Land first-look review: It's a rave
Retro-themed romance is enchanting, exotic
The Light Between Oceans first-look review
A first-look review of the anticipated new Derek Cianfrance film.