Nine world preems out of 11 U.S. pics to unspool

The article was updated at 5:47 p.m.

View complete lineup

ROME — Gondola loads of Chinese and Far East features and a slew of star-studded U.S. pics — albeit fewer from the Hollywood majors — fill a slimmed-down lineup at the upcoming 62nd Venice Film Festival.

Fest director Marco Muller’s slate also includes more European fare than last year.

Muller, an Asian specialist who speaks fluent Mandarin and Cantonese, has sandwiched the event between Hong Kong helmer Tsui Hark’s opener “Seven Swords” and Thai-born Peter Ho-sun Chan’s closer “Perhaps Love,” a romantic triangle set during the making of a Chinese musical. It’s the first time pics set in mainland China will open and close a major European fest.

At a packed press conference in Rome’s Excelsior Hotel ballroom, Muller downplayed the copious Chinese contingent and underscored what he called “the unprecedentedly strong presence of American cinema” this year: nine world preems out of a total 11 U.S. features unspooling.

“It has never happened before that nine U.S. features had their world premieres in Venice,” Muller boasted.

“The major Hollywood studios are betting on Venice as an event that can have an effect on the American marketing campaigns of their movies,” the Lido topper went on to say.

Pics from the Weinstein brothers play a prominent role in the competish, with Terry Gilliam’s long-in-the-works “The Brothers Grimm,” with Matt Damon and Heath Ledger, and John Madden’s “Proof,” based on David Auburn’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, and starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Anthony Hopkins, both in the running for the Golden Lion.

Focus Features is bringing Ang Lee’s gay oater “Brokeback Mountain,” co-starring Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal and counting as a Canadian production, and Fernando Meirelles’ John Le Carre adaptation “The Constant Gardener,” starring Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz. Latter is a U.K.-Germany-Kenya co-production. Both pics will unspool in competition.

From Warner Independent Pictures comes George Clooney’s sophomore helming outing, “Good Night. And, Good Luck,” a black-and-white, cinema verite depiction of the evils of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, also looking to be Lionized.

John Turturro’s contempo tuner “Romance and Cigarettes,” toplining James Gandolfini with an ensemble cast including Kate Winslet and Christopher Walken, also is in the main Venice 62 section. Bensonhurst, N.Y.-set pic is produced by New York indie GreeneStreet Films and distribbed by United Artists.

Counting the Weinsteins’ “Proof,” a U.S.-U.K. co-production, as well as Abel Ferrara’s “Mary,” a U.S.-Italy co-production, brings the number of U.S. films in competition to four and the number in the fest to 13.

Out-of-competition titles being tubthumped by the majors include Tim Burton’s stop-motion animated “Corpse Bride,” starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, skedded by Warner Bros. for an October U.S. release; Cameron Crowe’s Kentucky-set “Elizabethtown,” starring Orlando Bloom, Kirsten Dunst and Susan Sarandon, from Paramount; John Singleton’s crime actioner “Four Brothers,” also from Par; and the European launch of Ron Howard’s “Cinderella Man,” from Buena Vista Intl.

As previously announced, Touchstone and Buena Vista’s Venice-set “Casanova,” helmed by Lasse Hallstrom and starring Ledger and Sienna Miller, will unspool as a gala event. Fest will be celebrating other “Casanova” pics, most notably a freshly restored print of Federico Fellini’s 1976 “Il Casanova di Federico Fellini,” starring Donald Sutherland.

Steven Soderbergh’s digitally shot murder mystery “Bubble”; Stuart Gordon’s David Mamet-scripted “Edmond”; and Scott Derrickson’s horror thriller “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” toplining Laura Linney, comprise the other noncompetition U.S. fare.

All told, the U.S. presence is numerically inferior to last year, when there were 21 American titles, but no less substantial in terms of promising fresh work.

Pics sailing to Marco Polo’s hometown from the Orient include South Korean Park Chan-wook’s highly anticipated “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, in competition; out of competition, there’s street-racing actioner “Initial D,” currently a hit in Asia, from Hong Kong helmers Andrew Mak and Alan Lau; sci-fi toon and hit vidgame follow-up “Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children,” by Tetsuya Nomura; and “Yokai Daisenso,” the latest from Japanese cult helmer Takashi Miike.

This year’s beefed-up Euro presence mixes veteran auteurs and relative newcomers such as Russia’s Aleksei German Jr., who is bringing “Garpastum,” a follow-up to his well-received “The Last Train,” and Portuguese Lido regulars Manoel de Oliveira and Joao Botelho, all in Venice 62.

A rich Gallic group includes “Vers le sud,” from young Venice regular Laurent Cantet (“Time Out”), starring Charlotte Rampling; “Les Amants reguliers,” by Philippe Garrel; and Patrice Chereau’s Isabelle Huppert starrer “Gabrielle,” which was reportedly rejected by Cannes.

The theme of family plays prominently in the Italo pics competing on their home turf. They are Roberto Faenza’s infidelity drama “The Days of Abandonment,” starring Margherita Buy, from Medusa, and Cristina Comencini’s child-abuse pic “The Beast in the Heart” and Pupi Avati’s “La seconda notte di nozze” (The Second Wedding Night), both from Rai Cinema.

Also flying the Italo flag is Abel Ferrara’s “Mary,” starring Juliet Binoche as an actress obsessed with Mary Magdalene. Pic, being sold by France’s Wild Bunch, co-stars Heather Graham, Forest Whitaker and Matthew Modine.

Focus Features’ English-language oil-rig drama “The Secret Life of Words,” by Spain’s Isabel Coixet (“My Life Without Me”) and toplining Sarah Polley and Tim Robbins, is among highlights of the Venice Horizons sidebar, which it will open as a special event. “Drawing Restraint 9,” from visual artist Matthew Barney and starring Bjork, is another Horizons standout. Also in the sidebar are U.S. thesp Liev Schreiber’s Jonathan Safran Foer adaptation “Everything Is Illuminated,” starring Elijah Wood, from Warner Independent Pictures, and Werner Herzog’s “The Wild Blue Yonder,” one of seven docus in the section.

Muller said the reduced lineup — down to 54 from some 80 titles last year — will help smooth out logistical snags that turned overbooked screenings into mob scenes.

Having fewer pics also will aid enforcement of security measures; Italy is currently considered at high risk of terrorist assault.

“American producers have asked to know what our security measures are, so we are making it a top priority,” Muller said. “Everything is thought out for the fest to unfold in an orderly manner.”

The jury, headed by Oscar-winning Italo set designer Dante Ferretti, comprises U.S. producer Christine Vachon, Icelandic musician Emiliana Torrini, the Chinese author known as Acheng, French helmer Claire Denis and German director Edgar Reitz.

A complete list of festure films unspooling in the official selection follows:

Venice 62 Competition

“La Seconda Notte Di Nozze,” Pupi Avati (Italy)
“O Fatalista,” Joao Botelho, (Portugal-France)
“Vers le Sud,” Laurent Cantet (France-Canada) “Gabrielle,” Patrice Chereau (France-Italy) “Good Night, And. Good Luck,” George Clooney (US)
“The Beast in the Heart,” Cristina Comencini (Italy)
“The Days of Abandonment,” Roberto Faenza (Italy) “Mary,” Abel Ferrara (Italy-US)
“Les Amants Reguliers,” Philippe Garrel (France-Italy)
“Garpastum,” Aleksey German Jr. (Russia)
“The Brothers Grimm,” Terry Gilliam (UK)
“The Bondsmaid,” Stanley Kwan (China-Hong Kong)
“Brokeback Mountain,” Ang Lee (Canada)
“Proof,” John Madden (UK-US)
“The Constant Gardener,” Fernando Meirelles (UK-Kenya-Germany)
“Magic Mirror,” Manoel de Oliveira (Portugal)
“Sympathy For Lady Vengeance,” Park Chan-wook (South Korea)
“Romance and Cigarettes,” John Turturro (US)
“Persona Non Grata,” Krzysztof Zanussi (Poland-Russia-Italy)

Out Of Competition

“Fragile,” Jaume Balaguero (Sp
ain)

“Backstage,” Emmanuelle Bercot (France)

“Corpse Bride,” Tim Burton, Mike Johnson (UK)
“Perhaps Love,” Peter Ho-sun Chan (Hong Kong)
“All The Invisible Children,” Mehdi Charef, Emir Kusturica, Spike Lee, Katia Lund, Jordan Scott Ridley Scott, Stefano Veneroso, John Woo (Italy)
“Elizabethtown,” Cameron Crowe (US)
“The Exorcism of Emily Rose” Scott Derrickson (US)
“Edmond,” Stuart Gordon (US)
“Casanova,” Lasse Hallstrom (US)
“Cinderella Man,” Ron Howard (US)
“The Fine Art of Love-Mine Haha,” John Irving (Italy-Czech Rep-UK)
“Initial D,” Andrew Lau, Alan Mak (Hong Kong)
“Yokai Daisenso,” Miike Takashi (Japan)
“Final Fantasy VII:Advent Children,” Nomura Tetsuya (Japan)
“Le Parfum de le Dame en Noir,” Bruno Podalydes (France)
“Four Brothers,” John Singleton (US)
“Bubble,” Steven Soderbergh (US)
“Seven Swords,” Tsui Hark (China-Hong Kong)

Horizons

“Drawing Restraint 9,” Matthew Barney (US)
“Musikanten,” Franco Battiato (Italy)
“Pervye na Lune,” Aleksey Fedortchenko (Russia)
“Arrido Movie,” Lirio Ferreira (Brazil)
“Workingman’s Death,” Michael Glawogger (Austria-Germany)
“Die Grosse Stille,” Philip Groning (Germany)
“The Wild Blue Yonder,” Werner Herzog (Germany-UK-France)
“Vokaldy Paralelder,” Rustam Khadamov (Kazakhistan)
“Yolda,” Erden Kiral (Turkey-Bulgaria)
“East of Paradise,” Lech Kowalski (France)
“Hongyan,” Li Yu (China-France)
“Carmen,” Jean-Pierre Limosin (France)
“Wuqiong Dong,” Ning Ying (China)
“Texas,” Fausto Paravidino (Italy)
“Everything is Illuminated,” Liev Schreiber (US)
“La Dignidad de los Nadies Armado,” Fernando E. Solanas (Argentina)

Out of Competition

“The Secret Life of Words,” Isabel Coixet (Spain)

Special Event

“Kill Gil,” Gil Rossellini, Isabella Rossellini (Italy)

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more