There are lots of starry directors at the festival which has been hit by the actors’ strike, controversial auteur selection choices; and there is variety with the South Asian elements too…
By Tatiana Rosenstein
AVID international film festivalgoers and film professionals are looking forward to the exhilarating and competitive showcase of films at the Venice International Film Festival which starts on Wednesday (August 30-September 9).
It will be the 80th anniversary of La Biennale Di Venezia Cinema as it is known in its homeland in Italy – and there are several points of particular interest for www.asianculturevulture.com.
This year’s edition is somewhat overshadowed by the ongoing actors’ and writers’ strike in the US.
Traditionally, Venice is seen as the starting pistol for the awards season, as outings here would look to feature in all major international awards ceremonies in the coming months and into 2024 with the Oscars in March, acting as an unofficial finishing line. The festival’s cinemas are based on the island of Lido.
There is a British (Asian) feature film debutant, an Indian thriller, a Nepali film and a star-studded cast behind the Netflix Wes Anderson directed Roald Dahl movie – ‘The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar’ – featuring both Sir Ben Kingsley and Dev Patel, among others.
Premiering at Venice and in competition is British independent feature, ‘Sky Peals’ by writer-director Moin Hussain.
One description of the film goes like this: “Adam Muhammed (Faraz Ayub) works nightshifts at a fast food restaurant in a motorway service station. A directionless and unassuming man, he lives a lonely life. Upon hearing that his father has died Adam finds himself in search of answers”. He explores his father’s life and not is all what it seems – indeed, Adam begins to think his father may not have been human even – and so what does that make him?
Hussain has several shorts behind him that have played at major international film festivals and this Film4, BFI and Screen Yorkshire supported film, will screen at the Lido on September 5.
Writer-director Anderson has adapted the original Dahl story which is about a man who can see through objects and predict the future. The 37-minute film stars Benedict Cumberbatch (Henry Sugar), and also includes Richard Ayoade.
The Indian entry is ‘Stolen’ – which will premiere in the section, Orizzonti Extra. The film is produced by Gaurav Dhingra (‘Angry Indian Goddesses’) and backed by Jungle Book Studio.
It is filmed, written and directed by Karan Tejpal, known for his previous work as an assistant director on Bollywood hit films, ‘3 Idiots’ and ‘Lage Raho Munna Bhai’. Abhishek Banerjee, who plays a leading role, is venturing into the realm of unconventional art-house cinema after spending several years in mainstream films.
The narrative unfolds on a chilly morning at a rural railway station in India, where a heart-wrenching incident occurs: a five-month-old baby is abducted from her mother’s care, witnessed by two brothers. As the brothers endeavour to assist the distraught mother in finding her child, their strained relationship is put to the test.
The Nepalese film at the festival is ‘The Red Suitcase’ by Nepalese director Fidel Devkota and will premiere in the Orizzonti section. The film has received financial support from producers in Nepal and Sri Lanka. This is the second film of Devkota after his full-length documentary ‘Wind of Change in Lo Mustang’ in 2016, which was about climate change and its socio-cultural impact in the Himalayan region of Nepal.
This time, the director explores the impact of foreign employment on Nepali society.
Among the other highlights is director Luc Besson’s long-awaited action film ‘Dogman’, which is supposed to mark the director’s return to non-commercial cinema.
David Fincher will be there also in with the crime thriller ‘Killer’ for Netflix, produced by Brad Pitt. The project is based on a French graphic novel of the same name, where Michael Fassbender portrays a hired assassin.
This year, the festival competition will feature three big biopics.
Sofia Coppola directs a film about Priscilla Presley, with Jacob Elordi portraying Elvis Presley and Cailee Spaeny as his wife, continuing the theme of last year’s, ‘Elvis’.
Michael Mann’s ‘Ferrari’ with Adam Driver and Penélope Cruz, will explore the life of the legendary racing driver and constructor.
Bradley Cooper’s second directorial work, titled ‘Maestro’, will tell the story of the famous American conductor Leonard Bernstein, portrayed by Cooper himself, while his spouse, the television actress Felicia Montealegre, is played by British actress Carey Mulligan. The film is produced by Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg and has been in the news much – because Bradley has been criticised for wearing a prosthetic nose with critics accusing him playing to anti-Semitic tropes – but Bradley has defended the decision and Bernstein’s family are fully supportive.
Among other highly anticipated films are Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos ‘Poor Things’, which is based on the postmodern novel of the same name by Scottish author Alasdair Gray, starring Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, and Willem Dafoe.
Italian director Saverio Costanzo explores the golden age of Rome’s historic Cinecittà of the 1950s in ‘Finally Dawn’, featuring newcomer Rebecca Antonaci alongside an international cast including Lily James and once again Willem Dafoe.
In the film of the Mexican director Michel Franco comes to Venice with ‘Memory’, a love-struck couple (Jessica Chastain and Peter Sarsgaard) attempt to build relationship while dealing with trauma and dementia.
Norwegian Nikolaj Arcel’s historical epic ‘The King’s Sword’ will have Mads Mikkelsen portraying the lead role.
French director Bertrand Bonello’s thriller ‘Premonition’ is based on Henry James’s novella ‘The Beast in the Jungle’ and stars Léa Seydoux and George MacKay.
Chilean director Pablo Larraín, known for chronicling the era of dictator Pinochet with films like ‘Tony Manero’ (2008), ‘Post Mortem’ (2010) and No (2012), now presents ‘The Count’, depicting former Chilean President Augusto Pinochet (1915-2006) as a 250-year-old vampire.
Also, on the Lido this year will be the films of Woody Allen and Roman Polanski whose new film are out of competition entries.
Polanski’s ‘The Palace’ unfolds in the luxurious confines of a Swiss hotel on New Year’s Eve in 1999. Polanski is wanted in the US in relation to the rape of a minor there in 1978 and faced further allegations of sexual impropriety between 2017-2019.
Allen’s ‘Coup de Chance’ will tell the story of two friends in Paris who decide to rekindle their romantic relationship, only to tragically end up in betrayal and even murder.This is the filmmaker’s 50th film aged 87.
Alberto Barbera, Venice Film Festival director, defended selecting the films of Polanski, Allen and Besson, who has also faced accusations of sexual impropriety in France. He said Polanski who is not travelling to Venice has admitted to the offence committed in the US and has been forgiven by his victim. Polanski strenuously denies any other wrongdoing; Allen, whose relationship with his one-time stepdaughter has caused controversy, is expected to travel to Venice; while Besson has denied wrongdoing, and was recently cleared in one trial in France.
There has been a last-minute change with the Opening Film because of the strike – originally, it was meant to be Luca Guadagnino’s ‘The Pretenders’, centred around competitive tennis players portrayed by Zendaya and Josh O’Connor; but the festival will now open with the Italian film ‘The Commander’ directed by Edoardo De Angelis.
Venice International Film Festival (La Biennale Di Venezia): https://www.labiennale.org/en