Venice premieres are young, American

Festival slate includes Sofia Coppola, Casey Affleck

The lineup for this year’s Venice Film Festival looks to be a meticulously calibrated mix of classic auteur and genre fare alongside more esoteric offerings — with a strong presence of filmmakers who are young and/or American.

Among the Americans are Julian Schnabel, Sofia Coppola, Monte Hellman, Vincent Gallo, Kelly Reichardt, and Ben and Casey Affleck. (This is in distinct contrast to the slim U.S. presence at Cannes this year.)

There are six Yank-directed pics in competish (more than from any other country), most with a distinctly indie feel, while 13 more are spread around the official selection. European and Asian filmmakers also strongly represented among the 79 world premieres unveiled Thursday.

Commenting on the competish, artistic topper Marco Mueller noted that Venice has never had a competition with so many young, albeit proven, directors, noting that the average age is 47.

Schnabel’s Israel-Palestine conflict-themed “Miral,” Coppola’s father-daughter pic “Somewhere,” Hellman’s noir “Road to Nowhere,”Gallo’s suicide drama “Promises Written in Water,” Reichardt’s Oregon Trail period pic “Meek’s Cutoff” and Darren Aronofsky’s opening-night entry “Black Swan” will vie for the Golden Lion, going up against Euro heavyweights Abdellatif Kechiche, Francois Ozon and Tom Tykwer, and Asian helmers Tsui Hark, Takashi Miike and Tran Anh Hung, among other entries. The lineup closely resembles the sked predicted by sources last week (Daily Variety, July 22).

As festgoers have been surmising for months, Venice benefits from some high-profile U.S. titles that weren’t completed in time to screen on the Croisette (such as “Somewhere” and “Black Swan”), while Schnabel opted for the Lido after Cannes officials offered “Miral” an out-of-competition berth.

Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life,” which was absent from Thursday’s announcement, remains the question mark of the festival season. While artistic director Marco Mueller said a surprise competition title would be announced at the fest on Sept. 6, rumblings suggest the film still won’t be ready in time for Venice.

As previously announced, psychological thriller “Black Swan,” from Fox Searchlight, starring Natalie Portman as a New York City ballet dancer contending with a new rival, will open Venice in competish Sept. 1. “Swan” looks set to make for a star-studded red carpet with Winona Ryder, Vincent Cassel and Mila Kunis also likely to come tubthump.

That said, Venice Biennale prexy Paolo Baratta said the operative word this year in Venice will be “austerity,” due to budget cuts, meaning no splashy opening-night party. Thus, the fest’s first day will see two other pics unspool besides “Swan”: Robert Rodriguez’s midnight-movie selection “Machete” (Daily Variety, July 29) and Andrew Lau’s martial-arts actioner “Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen,” a sequel of sorts to 1972 Bruce Lee starrer “Fist of Fury.”

As expected (Daily Variety, July 23), Warner Bros. will world preem Ben Affleck’s “The Town,” in which the helmer stars as a bank robber, in Venice’s vast out-of-competition section, where Martin Scorsese and Kent Jones’ Elia Kazan tribute docu “A Letter to Elia” will also unspool (sans Scorsese in tow).

Other U.S. out-of-competition titles include Casey Affleck’s directorial debut, “I’m Still Here: The Lost Year of Joaquin Phoenix”; John Turturro’s love letter to Neapolitan music, “Passione” (which is, however, flying the Italian flag); and Julie Taymor’s gender-bending “The Tempest,” the fest’s previously announced closer, from Touchstone, with Helen Mirren likely to attend.

Dustin Hoffman starrer “Barney’s Version,” helmed by Canada’s Richard J. Lewis and based on the Mordecai Richler novel, will world preem in competition before segueing to Toronto.

Mueller pointed out that there was a key exception to the young-director trend this year: Hellman, who is 78. He praised Hellman as “a director who has put his stamp on one of the most important strands of independent American cinema.”

“Hellman has waited way too long to make his big auteur movie,” Mueller said, “and we are proud to have it in competition.”

Hellman’s “Road to Nowhere” is a romantic thriller, starring Dominique Swain and Shannyn Sossamon, about a young filmmaker who becomes enmeshed in a criminal scheme while making a movie on location. Pic is penned by Variety executive editor Steven Gaydos, who co-wrote Hellman’s previous features “Iguana” (1988) and “Better Watch Out” (1989).

The competition’s other offering from an American cult helmer is Gallo’s “Promises Written in the Water,” his first feature since “The Brown Bunny,” which was disastrously received at Cannes in 2003.

Mueller also revealed why Anton Corbijn’s George Clooney starrer “The American,” which had once been tipped for Venice, is absent from the Lido: Since Focus Features is releasing “The American” on Sept. 1, the only available slot would have been opening night.

“But we opted for ‘Black Swan’ as the opener instead,” Mueller said.

Among the hotly anticipated titles from youngish established European helmers are Kechiche’s “Black Venus,” the true tale of 19th-century South African tribeswoman Sarah Baartman, who, due to her oversize physical features, was displayed as a naked circus freak; Ozon’s “Potiche,” a comedy starring Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu; and Tykwer’s Berlin-set love triangle “Three.”

Buzzed-about entries by lesser-known Euros include Gallic helmer Antony Cordier’s “Happy Few,” his erotically charged follow-up to “Cold Showers”; Italo auteur Saverio Costanzo’s “The Solitude of Prime Numbers,” based on a bestseller; and Spanish cult helmer Alex de la Iglesia’s “A Sad Trumpet Ballad,” a genre-blender that moves from early scenes in the Spanish Civil War to 1973, when two clowns fall in love with the same femme trapeze artist.

Quentin Tarantino is heading the main jury for the 67th edition of the fest, which runs Sept. 1-11.

Venice Competition Lineup

“Black Swan,” Darren Aronofsky (U.S.)

“La Pecora Nera,” Ascanio Celestini (Italy)

“Somewhere,” Sofia Coppola (U.S.)

“Happy Few,” Antony Cordier (France)

“The Solitude of Prime Numbers,” Saverio Costanzo (Italy, Germany, France)

“Silent Souls,” Aleksei Fedorchenko (Russia)

“Promises Written in Water,” Vincent Gallo (U.S.)

“Road to Nowhere,” Monte Hellman (U.S.)

“Balada Triste de Trompeta,” Alex de la Iglesia (Spain, France)

“Venus Noir,” Abdellatif Kechiche (France)

“Post Mortem,” Pablo Larrain (Chile, Mexico, Germany)

“Barney’s Version,” Richard J. Lewis (Canada, Italy)

“We Believed,” Mario Martone (Italy, France)

“La Passione,” Carlo Mazzacurati (Italy)

“13 Assassins,” Takashi Miike (Japan)

“Potiche,” Francois Ozon (France)

“Meek’s Cutoff,” Kelly Reichardt (U.S.)

“Miral,” Julian Schnabel (U.S., France, Italy, Israel)

“Norwegian Wood,” Tran Anh Hung (Japan)

“Attenberg,” Athina Rachel Tsangari (Greece)

“Detective Dee and the Mystery of Phantom Flame,” Tsui Hark (China)

“Three,” Tom Tykwer (Germany)

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