Festival will open with Wright's 'Atonement'

ROME — A bevy of pics from both Hollywood and Blighty will disembark at the star-studded 64th Venice Film Festival, which will also see robust lineups from Europe and Asia and a balanced mix of established auteurs and younger filmmakers.

One of the strongest English-language contingents ever to land at the Lido fills almost half the fest’s 21-title competish roster. It offers world bows from Ang Lee, Wes Anderson, Todd Haynes, Paul Haggis, Brian De Palma, Kenneth Branagh, Peter Greenaway and Ken Loach, among others.

Woody Allen’s London-set crimer “Cassandra’s Dream” is unspooling out of competish, with Allen and key cast Colin Farrell and Ewan McGregor expected the first weekend. Also non-competing is the international bow of Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s “The Nanny Diaries,” toplining Scarlett Johansson as a nanny in a wealthy Manhattan household, from the Weinstein Co.

As previously announced, fest will open with 35-year-old U.K. helmer Joe Wright’s adaptation of the Ian McEwan novel “Atonement,” with stars Keira Knightley, James McAvoy and Vanessa Redgrave expected on the red carpet.

The “Atonement” launch will be followed by a gala party on the Excelsior beach thrown by the Biennale and Universal Pictures.

George Clooney is expected on the Lido with Yank first-time helmer Tony Gilroy’s legal thriller “Michael Clayton,” from Warner Bros. Clooney stars as an elite New York attorney specializing in solving his high-profile clients’ messy personal problems.

Brad Pitt is also likely to be Lido-bound to tubthump long-gestating Western drama “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” the sophomore work by New Zealander Andrew Dominik (“Chopper”), also from Warner Bros.

“American films and films from Great Britain are still spawned by diverse and dynamic production structures which allow them to take the most risks and be continuously innovative,” said Venice artistic topper Marco Mueller at a packed presser in Rome’s Excelsior Hotel on the Via Veneto.

“One of the most extraordinary aspects of the American movies we selected is that these are very innovative works featuring really big stars.”

In Haynes’ highly awaited “I’m Not There,” six such thesps – including Cate Blanchett, Richard Gere and Heath Ledger – play Bob Dylan at different stages in his life. Eclectic Dylan biopic is to be released Stateside by the Weinstein Co. and in Italy by BIM.

Anderson is coming to the Lido with Fox Searchlight’s “The Darjeeling Limited,” starring Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman as three brothers on a satirically portrayed spiritual quest in India.

Haggis’ “In the Valley of Elah,” from Warner Independent, stars Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron and Susan Sarandon in a tale about an Iraq War vet gone mysteriously missing Stateside, while “Redacted,” by De Palma, is a montage of stories about U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

Noting that war in its various aspects is very present as a theme in this year’s Lido edition, Mueller also cited U.S. helmer Richard Shepard’s “The Hunting Party,” which unspools in out-of-competish midnight section Venezia Notte. Richard Gere stars as a down-and-out journalist hunting down Bosnian war criminals.

Ang Lee is back at the Lido with Shanghai-set spy thriller “Lust, Caution,” his first Chinese-language film since “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” from Focus Features. Lee scooped the Golden Lion in 2005 with “Brokeback Mountain.”

The bulging Brit bunch sees Branagh back at the Lido, this year with “Sleuth,” an adaptation of the 1972 Joseph Mankiewicz thriller starring Michael Caine and Jude Law. Loach is coming with labor drama “It’s a Free World … ,” and Greenaway is vying for a Lion with Rembrandt biopic “Nightwatching.”

Arctic-set drama “Far North,” starring Michelle Yeoh as an Inuit struggling in the Norwegian tundra, by Londoner Asif Kapadia (“The Warrior”), is unspooling in Venezia Notte.

Continental Europe is copiously represented with new works from festival circuit regulars such as Eric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol and Manoel de Oliveira, but also lots of promising younger helmers, including Italy’s Paolo Franchi and Vincenzo Marra, whose respective works “Nessuna qualita agli eroi” and “L’ora di punta” are both in competish. Marra won kudos in Venice 2004 with naturalistic Naples-set drama “Vento di terra.”

Also competing under the home Italo flag is Andrea Porporati’s “Il dolce e l’amaro,” which Mueller described as “the most hard-hitting Mafia drama in recent memory.”

Promising Gallic offerings from up-and-comers include Abdel Kechiche’s “La Graine et le mulet,” the Tunisian-born helmer’s follow-up to the 2006 Cesar-award winning “L’Esquive.”

The grand old man of Egyptian cinema, Youssef Chahine, is in competish with “This Is Chaos,” a contemporary look at Cairo touching on the controversial subject of police brutality.

Mueller’s passion for Asian cinema is visible but more discerning this year, with a special eye for eclectic titles such as Chinese helmer Jiang Wen’s “The Sun Also Rises,” described by Muller as “China’s first Emir Kusturica-like satire,” and Japanese horror helmer Takashi Miike’s spaghetti Western tribute “Sukiyaki Western Django,” which features a Quentin Tarantino cameo. Both pics are competing.

Japanese cult helmer Takeshi Kitano is back on the Lido with his “Glory to the Filmmaker!”

Prolific Chinese helmer Jia Zhangke, winner of the Golden Lion last year with “Still Life,” is back with the docu “Useless,” in Horizons Doc.

The closer is Taiwanese actioner “Blood Brothers,” directed by first-timer Alexi Tan, produced by Terence Chang’s Lion Rock Prods. and John Woo and inspired by Woo’s “Bullet in the Head.”

Mueller said two surprise titles will be announced at a later date, one in Venezia Notte and one probably in competish.

Tim Burton will be feted with a Golden Lion for career achievement during a special Tim Burton Day that will feature the 3-D version of his pic “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

Venice, the world’s oldest film festival, is celebrating its 75th anni this year; fest held its first edition on the Excelsior terrace in 1932. However, this edition is the Lido’s 64th because WWII and 1968 student protests forced it to skip a few years.

As part of its 75th anni celebrations, Bernardo Bertolucci will receive a special Golden Lion.

U.S. producer Bill Mechanic will head the Lion of the Future jury for works by first-time filmmakers, while U.S. helmer Gregg Araki will be the Venice Horizons jury chief.

The main jury, headed by two-time Golden Lion winner Zhang Yimou, is helmers-only this year, with Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Jane Campion, Paul Verhoeven, Catherine Breillat, Emanuele Crialese and Ferzan Ozpetek empaneled.

Fest will run Aug. 29-Sept 8.

64TH ANNUAL VENICE FILM FESTIVAL COMPETITION

Opening Film: “Atonement,” Joe Wright, (U.K-U.S.)

“The Darjeeling Limited,” Wes Anderson (U.S.)
“Sleuth,” Kenneth Branagh (U.K.-U.S.)
“This Is Chaos, ” Youssef Chahine (Egypt)
“Redacted,” Brian De Palma (U.S.)
“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” Andrew Dominik (U.S.)
“Nessuna qualita agli eroi,” Paolo Franchi (Italy)
“Michael Clayton,” Tony Gilroy (U.S.)
“Nightwatching,” Peter Greenaway (Canada-France-Germany-Poland-Netherlands-U.K.)
“En la cuidad de Sylvia,” Pilae Lopez De Ayala, Xavier Lafitte (Spain)
“In the Valley of Elah,” Paul Haggis (U.S.)
“I’m Not There,” Todd Haynes (U.S)
“The Sun Also Rises,” Jiang Wen (China-Hong Kong)
“Help Me Eros,” Lee Kang Sheng (Taiwan)
“La Graine et le mullet,” Abdellatif Kechiche (France)
“Lust, Caution,” Ang Lee (Taiwan)
“It’s a Free World…” Ken Loach (U.K.-Italy-Germany-Spain )
“L’ora di punta,” Vincenzo Marra (Italy)
“Sukiyaki Western Django,” Takashi Miike (Japan)
“12,” Nikita Mikhalkov (Russia)
“Il dolce e l’amaro,” Andrea Porporati (Italy)
“Les Amours d’Astree et de Celadon,” Eric Rohmer (France-Italy-Spain)

OU
T OF COMPETITION — VENICE MASTERS

“Cassandra’s Dream,” Woody Allen (U.K.-U.S)
“Cleopatra,” Julio Bressane (Brazil)
“La Fille coupee en deux,” Claude Chabrol (France)
“Beyond the Years,” Im Kwon Taek (South Korea)
“Glory to the Filmmaker,” Takeshi Kitano (Japan)
“Cristovao Colombo-O enigma,” Manoel de Oliveira (Portugal-France)

VENETIAN NIGHTS — OPENING AND CLOSING FILMS
“For a Fistful of Dollars,” Sergio Leone (Italy-Spain-Germany) (as part of Spaghetti Westerns retro)
“Blood Brothers,” Alexi Tan (Taiwan-China-Hong Kong)
“REC,” Paco Blaza and Jaume Balaguero (Spain)

VENETIAN NIGHTS
“Far North,” Asif Kapadia (U.K.-France)
“The Hunting Party,” Richard Shepard (U.S.-Croatia-Bosnia)
“The Nanny Diaries,” Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini (U.S.)
“Nocturna,” Adria Garcia, Victor Maldonado (Spain-France)

HORIZONS
“Sad Vacation,” Shinji Aoyama (Japan)
“Mal nascida,” Joao Canijo (Portugal)
“Searchers 2.0,” Alex Cox (U.K.)
“Medee Miracle,” Tonino De Bernardi (Italy)
“Cochochi,” Laura Amelia Guzman, Israel Cardenas (Mexico-U.K.-Canada)
“With the Girl of Black Soil,” Jeon Soo-il (South Korea-France)
“L’Histoire de Richard O,” Damien Odoul (France)
“Autumn Ball,” Veiko Ounpuu (Estonia)
“The Silence Before Bach,” Pere Portabella (Spain)
“Exodus,” Penny Woolcock (U.K.)
“The Obscure,” Lu Yue (China)

HORIZONS DOC
“Dust,” Hartmut Bitomsky (Germany)
“Madri,” Barbara Cupisti (Italy)
“Death in the Land of Encantos,” Lav Diaz (Philippines)
“Man From Plains,” Jonathan Demme (U.S.)
“L’Aimee,” Arnaud Desplechin (France)
“Umbrella,” Du Haibin (China)
“Andarilho,” Cao Guimares (Brazil)
“Useless,” Jia Zhangke (China)
“Il Passaggio delle linea,” Pietro Marcello (Italy)
“Anabazys,” Joel Pizzini, Paloma Rocha (Brazil)
“Berlin,” Julian Schnabel (U.S.)

OUT-OF-COMPETITION SPECIAL EVENT
“Hotel Chevalier,” Wes Anderson (U.S.)

SPECIAL EVENTS — BERNARDO BERTOLUCCI: GOLDEN LION FOR THE 75TH
“La Via del petrolio,” Bernardo Bertolucci (Italy)
“Spider’s Stratagem,” Bernardo Bertolucci (Italy)

SPECIAL EVENTS — TIM BURTON: GOLDEN LION FOR CAREER ACHIEVEMENT 2007
“Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas 3-D,” Tim Burton and Henry Selick (U.S.)

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