Sidebar opens with sci-fi animation 'Metropia'

The Venice Film Festival’s Critics Week kicks off September 2 with Orwellian Swedish sci-fi toon “Metropia,” voiced by Vincent Gallo, Juliette Lewis, Udo Kier, and Stellan Skarsgard.

“Metropia,” by tyro helmer Tarik Saleh, who is a former graffiti artist and founder of Stockholm’s ultra-indie Atmo Media Network shingle, unspools in the Sala Perla 2 for press and industry, though the 24th edition of the independantly run Lido section, which is dedicated to first works, officially bows Thursday .

In “Metropia,” which is set in 2024, European cities are connected by a mega-subway system and menacing pan-European media publicize “a dangerous shampoo that seeps into people’s throughts,” as crix week topper Francesco Di Pace put it.

Di Pace said there is an obvious parallel between the media-manipulated, not-so-distant future in “Metropia” and “Videocracy,” another Atmo production by Italian-born but Sweden-based Erik Gandini.

“Videocracy” is a chronicle of Silvio Berlusconi’s launch of trashy TV in Italy coupled with his rise to political power in Gandini’s attempt to reveal the root causes of what he sees as Berlusconi’s deeply degrading effect on the country’s moral and political fabric.

“Gandini is talking about the present, about how Italy, which has a pretty particular history when in comes to the power of TV, has gotten to where it is today,” said Di Pace.

“Videocracy” unspools Thursday as a special event in tandem with Venice Days.

The seven first works in the crix week competish are: Gogol-inspired “Kakraki” from Russia’s Ilya Demichev; “Domaine” by Gaul’s Patric Chiha about a teenage boy who becomes entangled with his aunt, played by Beatrice Dalle; “Good Morning Aman,” which portrays a multi-ethnic Rome, by Italy’s Claudio Noce; “A Rational Solution” by Sweden’s Jorgen Bergmark, who collaborated with Bent Hamer on “Kitchen Stories”; “Tehran,” a docu by Nader T. Homayoun about that city’s underbelly depicting such scourges as a trade in newborn babies and prostitutes in parks; Ireland-set sibling drama “Foxes” from Czech helmer Mira Fornay; and Seoul-set “Cafe Noir” by South Korean critic-turned-helmer Chung Sung-il.

The closer, out of competition, will be “Chaleh” by Ali Karim, a drama also hailing from Iran, about an old man scamming for a living on the outskirts of an earthquake-stricken city. Di Pace praised “Chaleh” as transcending the conventions of most recent Iranian cinema to “talk about deep changes in their society.”

Di Pace ascribed the absence of U.S. pics in part to what he calls “a cookie-cutter tendency in young indie American cinema,” but also to the fact that Toronto, whose dates dovetail with Venice, is demanding world preem exclusivity.

The Venice crix week topper said this year he noticed an overall increase in the number of quality first works from most countries and a tendency of more debut directors working with name talent.

“Perhaps the economic crisis is forcing producers not to shy away from the risk of working with a first-time directors, and at the same time stars are stepping in to support these types of films,” Di Pace said.

That is certainly the case in Italy with Claudio Noce’s “Good Morning Amman,” a drama about the uneasy friendship that develops in Rome’s Esquilino neighborhood between a young Somalian immigrant and a former boxer, played by Italo A-lister Valerio Mastandrea, who is also the pic’s executive producer.

Venice Critics Week films will not be judged by a jury, just by votes cast by festgoers. The top prize is worth E5,000, provided by Venice’s Veneto region.

All Critics Week entries will compete alongside titles in the Official Selection for the fest’s Golden Lion of the Future, worth $100,000.

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