Darren Aronofsky, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu, and Martin McDonagh among others, will compete for The Golden Lion at the 79th Venice Film Festival.
by Tatiana Rosenstein
EXCITING AND competitive might be two adjectives you would use to describe this year’s selection for the 79th Venice Film Festival.
There are a significant number of major premieres and some star directors will be on the famous Lido island, where most of the films are screened.
The festival will open with a film directed for Netflix by Noah Baumbach based on the adaptation of the critically acclaimed novel ‘White Noise’ by Don DeLillo.
Yet for watchers of Indian cinema there is little to chew on in terms of contemporary fare this time.
The current Venice Film Festival, always so beloved by Indian filmmakers, will this time not show films from that continent either in the main competition or in the additional programs. Last year Aditya Vikram Sengupta’s ‘Once Upon a time in Calcutta’ enjoyed its world premiere there and Asianculturevulture.com caught up with him to discuss (see here – https://youtu.be/t7NVLThdDKo). It also recently played at the London Indian Film Festival with many remarking that Sengupta is making films in the style of the great Bengali forebearer, Satyajit Ray.
It’s likely that all Indian films of the year went to the Cannes Film Festival, which at its Marche du Film (Cannes Film Market), had declared India, the Country of Honour.
As it was, one documentary ‘All that Breathes’, about a family of bird rescuers in Delhi, got a screening and there was a restoration of Malayalam cinema’s ‘Thamp’ and a screening of Satyajit Ray’s ‘Pratidwand’ (‘The Adversary’), a restored version of a 1970 film that explored changes in Calcutta (as it was called then) society through the eyes of a young graduate whose father dies unexpectedly, forcing Siddhartha (Dhritiman Chatterjee) to seek employment. Set against the political turmoil of the late 1960s and early 1970s, it shows Ray in reflective mode. The Pakistani Cannes smash, ‘Joyland’ is heading to Toronto International Film Festival (our preview will be out later this week).
As part of its Venice classics section – a 4K restoration of ‘Shatranj Ke Khilari’ (‘The Chess Players’) by Ray gets a screening. This film, so to speak, made it to Venice after its creator attended the festival 40 years ago, in 1982. It is based on a story by Munshi Premchand about two townsfolk so obsessed with playing chess that they do not see or hear anything around them. Indirectly, however, viewers learn too about principal events taking place – about British colonialists blackmailing the ruler of a small principality to hand over to them huge amounts of money needed for their conquest campaigns. The roles were played by Amjad Khan, Sanjeev Kumar, Saeed Jaffrey and Richard Attenborough. The restoration of the 1977 Ray film was supervised by the cinematographer Sudeep Chatterjee, who is currently working on a new film of Sanjay Leela Bhansali ‘Heeramandi’.
The BFI are currently hosting a summer season of Ray films showing the most comprehensive selection it has ever assembled for the auteur. In all some 36 films will have screened over July and August.
Back to the main programme and Baumbach’s ‘White Noise’ – directors’ favorites, Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig, will star in the lead roles. Equally anticipated is the Golden Lion-Award winner Darren Aronofsky’s – of ‘Wrestler‘ fame – ‘The Whale’, about an obese man and his relationship with his daughter, starring the almost unrecognizable Brendan Fraser and Sadie Sink, the young star of ‘Stranger Things’.
Alejandro González Iñárritu, who once opened the Venice Film Festival with ‘Birdman’, will be back on Lido with his new comedy ‘Bardo’ (or ‘False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths’), a genre that the director is especially successful in, but for which he is perhaps not as well recognised. The film will be his first project made in his native Mexico after 20 years.
The Italian Luca Guadagnino, has made another American project ‘Bones and All’ about young cannibals in love – starring cinema pin-up Timothée Chalamet.
Martin McDonagh (‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’), on the other hand, returns to his historical homeland, Ireland, with a sarcastic drama, ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’, in which lead roles are played by Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell. Both actors were seen in his full-length successful debut ‘In Bruges’.
French playwright and recent Oscar-winning director Florian Zeller, after his acclaimed ‘The Father’, will also be showing his next film in the competition. Once again, his project is based on his own play. This time it’s called ‘The Son’. Among its cast are: Hugh Jackman, Laura Dern and, of course, Anthony Hopkins.
New Zealander Andrew Dominik will present ‘Blonde’ – a freestyle biopic about Marilyn Monroe played by Ana de Armas – based on the biographical fictional novel by Joyce Carol Oates. According to rumors, this will be an unprecedentedly candid film.
In addition to the star directors, there will be lesser known names – but no less interesting – in the Venice-79 competition.
For example, British Joanna Hogg – of ‘Souvenir’ – who directed the film ‘The Eternal Daughter’, starring Tilda Swinton; and renowned American documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras who has dedicated her new project ‘All the Beauty and the Bloodshed’ to the New York cultural legend and activist photographer, Nan Goldin.
The 92-year-old American documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman and the winner of the honorary Golden Lion who is famous for his monumental observational documentaries that usually last several hours, has, this time, unexpectedly shot a 65-minute film which he had made in Paris, where he was caught by a lockdown. His film ‘Un Couple’ is based on the correspondence between Leo Tolstoy and his wife Sofia Andreevna.
The most famous political prisoner of cinema, Iranian Jafar Panahi has recently been sent to prison for six years. He, however, just a few days before his arrest, managed to complete ‘No Bears’. According to the festival’s director Alberto Barbera, it’s the strongest film ever, made by him under the ban of creativity. It is clear that this film will have everyone’s attention, despite the uniquely stellar line-up of contestants applying for this year’s prestigious Golden Lion.
There are also many celebrities among the participants of the out-of-competition program.
For example – Oliver Stone with the documentary ‘Nuclear’, Kim Ki-duk, whose posthumous film ‘Call of God’ completed by his Estonian producers, Golden Lion winner Gianfranco Rosi with a film based on the travels of Pope Francis
‘In Viaggio’, the legendary Paul Schrader with ‘Master Gardener’ (starring Joel Edgerton and Sigourney Weaver), as well as genre film master Walter Hill with the thriller ‘Dead for a Dollar’ (with Christoph Waltz and Willem Dafoe).
Cannes regular Filipino Lav Diaz will bring his latest work ‘When the Waves Are Gone’. It will run for three hours, which can be considered to be one of the shortest productions of this director.
The festival organizers promised to show two entire out of competition series – one containing five episodes, the other six – which are the works of famous filmmakers from Denmark Nicolas Winding Refn (his project is called ‘Copenhagen Cowboy’) and his antipode colleague Lars von Trier. The long-awaited epic ‘Riget Exodus’, about a hospital inhabited by masons and ghosts, which was interrupted 25 years ago, is finally completed by Trier.
The Venice Festival will open on August 31 and the Golden Lion winners are all set to be announced at the end of the festival on September 10. The jury this year will be headed by American actor Julianne Moore.