Venice: Building tension

Pic trio to open fest as construction continues

The Venice Film Festival kicks off today amid major construction on the Lido aimed at modernizing its infrastructure. But the creative structure of the fest’s 67th edition — built by artistic director Marco Mueller — has already leaped firmly into the future.

Biennale prexy Paolo Baratta has confirmed that work on the new Palazzo del Cinema has been delayed after builders found a layer of toxic asbestos panels improperly buried under the site.

The removal and disposal of the asbestos will now add to the new palazzo’s construction expense.

The palazzo’s target completion date, which had been set for 2011, has now shifted to 2012.

And Mueller will not be inaugurating the fest’s new digs.

Mueller, now in his seventh year at the fest’s helm — making him the longest-serving Venice topper in the sprocket opera’s history — will not reup once his term expires at the end of the 2011 edition, which does not come as a huge surprise.

“I want to go back to producing films,” he told Variety.

Besides radically reconfigurating the Horizons section into a multi-format visual arts laboratory, Mueller has assembled what he is touting as the youngest — in terms of average director’s age — lineup in the fest’s history, and really done away with boundaries between cinematic genres.

“This is the edition that most reflects (the tastes of) my selection committee and myself,” he said. “The confines of what we insist to still call cinema — we should invent a new word for it — must remain open and in some cases quite uncertain.”

That this is Mueller’s boldest edition is clear from tonight’s triple-whammy opening day slate encompassing Darren Aronofsky’s buzzed-about psychological thriller “Black Swan,” a classic top-tier fest opener, Hong Kong helmer Andrew Lau’s Bruce Lee tribute “Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zen” and Robert Rodriguez’s pulpy “Machete,” based on his fake trailer for “Grindhouse,” which is screening in the Sala Grande at midnight.

“It (the lineup) can only work if you read it as a statement,” said Mueller. “And the statement is: we love the filmmakers who still respect a contract with an audience; who will entertain them with spectacle, but when you walk out of that film you will be changed.”

In a year in which the global film industry is feeling the impact of the economic crisis, Venice, which has suffered some small budget cuts, is also in a more somber mode.

The fest’s customary lavish opening-night bash on the Excelsior beach is being replaced by a smaller party in the hotel’s Sala degli Stucchi and Terrazza dei Fiori.

“It’s not going to be a pompous opening — it’s going to be no-frills and back to basics. It’s going to be about what we love: cinematic riches,” said Mueller.

That said, the red carpet will be rich with talent, with Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Jessica Alba and Danny Trejo among confirmed stars ready to walk the Lido.

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