ROME – Venice topper Alberto Barbera has unveiled a promising lineup of fresh fare from around the world set to unspool at the 71st Venice Film Festival, with a rigorous focus on quality, discovery and diversity, likely to reveal some under-the-radar awards-season contenders and also bolster the Lido’s status as a global launching pad for prime auteur pics.
The robust U.S. contingent, largely from the indies, comprises new works from David Gordon Green, Andrew Niccol, Peter Bogdanovich, Lisa Cholodenko, Joe Dante, James Franco, Barry Levinson, Michael Almereyda and Ami Canaan Mann.
As is customary at Venice, new works from name global auteurs, including Fatih Akin, Xavier Beauvois, Abel Ferrara, Andrei Konchalovsky, Shinya Tsukamoto, Amos Gitai and Moshen Makhmalbaf, will play alongside pics by lesser-known helmers.
At a packed presser at Rome’s Hotel St.Regis Venice topper Alberto Barbera noted that “our job is more complex, more painful, because we are forced to leave out some very good films,” as he compared the Venice selection process to that of other “less-selective” festivals, in a thinly veiled reference to Toronto.
Barbera and his team, who saw more than 1,500 movies, stuck to their lean 55-pic limit, 20 of which in competition, 54 of which are world preems.
As previously announced, the fest opener is Alejandro G. Inarritu’s “Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance,” toplining Michael Keaton, in competition. The black comedy, about a washed-up actor (Keaton) who once played an iconic superhero and must overcome his ego and family trouble as he struggles to mount a Broadway play, will have a Lido world preem on Aug. 27. Besides Keaton, “Birdman” also stars Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone and Naomi Watts, most of whom are expected on the red carpet.
The other U.S. titles competing for the Golden Lion are Green’s “Manglehorn,” in which Al Pacino plays a small-town locksmith who is trying to get over the love of his life; Niccol-directed “Good Kill,” starring Ethan Hawke playing a drone operator (pictured), and also featuring January Jones and Zoe Kravitz; and Ramin Bahrani’s housing bubble drama “99 Homes.” Ferrara is in competition with “Pasolini,” the U.S. director’s chronicle of the last day in the life of Italian filmmaker, poet and novelist Pier Paolo Pasolini, played by Willem Dafoe. Pasolini, whose murder remains a mystery, is still one of the towering figures of latter-day European cinema. Shot in Rome, “Pasolini” is co-produced by Gaul’s Capricci, Italy’s Urania Pics, and Belgium’s Tarantula.
Screening out-of-competition is Levinson’s Philip Roth adaptation “The Humbling,” which centers on an aging actor, played by Pacino, who has an affair with a lesbian half his age, played by Greta Gerwig. Their relationship causes chaos. The cast also includes Dianne Wiest, Charles Grodin, Kyra Sedgwick, Dan Hedaya, Nina Arianda and Billy Porter. “The Humbling” and “Manglehorn” will screen the same day in a dedicated Al Pacino Day on the Lido.
Also in an out-of-competition slot is Bogdanovich’s “She’s Funny That Way” (aka “Squirrels to the Nuts”) a Lubitsch-like ensemble comedy with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson, who plays a Broadway director who falls for a hooker-turned-thespian, played by Imogen Poots. Noah Baumbach and Wes Anderson are among producers. Also non-competing is Dante’s indie horror-comedy “Burying the Ex” in which Anton Yelchin, Alexandra Daddario and Oliver Cooper (“Project X”) star. Dante is a Venice veteran. Marking the first TV skein making its Venice bow, high-profile HBO miniseries “Olive Kitteridge,” directed by Cholodenko and based on Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name, and starring Frances McDormand in the title role, will screen at the fest as a special event.
Almereyda’s modern-day adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline,” starring Hawke and portraying a battle between dirty cops and a drug-dealing biker gang set against the backdrop of a corruption-riddled 21st century America, is world-preeming in the fest’s more cutting edge Horizons section. Also in Horizons is Josh and Ben Safdie’s “Heaven Knows What,” about young drug addicts in New York. The sibling helmers scored an indie hit with their basketball docu “Lenny Cooke.” Mann is returning to Venice with “Your Right Mind,” about a contempo train-hopping folk singer who puts his dreams of becoming a successful musician on hold when he meets a former country singer fighting for custody of her daughter.
The out-of-competition closer is Hong Kong helmer Ann Hui’s “The Golden Era,” a biopic of radical and controversial Chinese female writer Xiao Hong. Hui heads the jury of the fest’s Horizons section, dedicated to innovation and originality in global filmmaking.
Unlike last year, there will be a strong Gallic contingent competing, spearheaded by prolific helmer Benoit Jacquot’s “Three Hearts” with Charlotte Gainsbourg, Catherine Deneuve and her daughter Chiara Mastroianni; also from France is 1970s-set heist comedy “La Rancon de la gloire” by Xavier Beauvois (“Of Gods and Men”). It turns on the true tale of two broke men who hatched a scheme to kidnap Charles Chaplin’s coffin in Switzerland and extort money from his widow, Oona.
Unspooling from Italy is Saverio Costanzo’s “Hungry Hearts,” a dark Brooklyn-set drama about an extreme eating disorder, starring “Girls” actor Adam Driver (whom Barbera said he would try to bring to the Lido from the London set of “Star Wars: Episode VII”) and hot Italian actress Alba Rohrwacher (“The Wonders”); also Mario Martone’s biopic of romantic poet Giacomo Leopardi, “Il Giovane Favoloso,” with Elio Germano (“Our Life”) in the title role; and Calabria-set dark mob drama “Anime Nere” by Francesco Munzi (“Saimir”).
Akin’s hotly anticipated “The Cut” toplines Tahar Rahim (“A Prophet”) who plays a man who becomes mute. The epic film, believed to be about the evil inherent in mankind, is shot in six countries including Canada, Cuba, Jordan and Germany. “The Cut” was reportedly pulled from Cannes in the final days before its lineup announcement, though that may have been a pre-emptive move. Making a strong showing, Turkey is also repped by “Sivas,” a drama by first-timer Kaan Mujdeci which has the distinction of being the only first work in competition.
Sweden is repped by “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on its Existence,” the third installment in absurdist master Roy Andersson’s trilogy, after “Songs From the Second Floor” and “You, the Living.”
Out of three feature films from China, cultural revolution-themed “Red Amnesia” by known auteur Wang Xiaoshuai (“11 Flowers”), is in competition.
French film composer Alexandre Desplat will preside over the main jury, marking the first time a musician will head the panel of jurors that gives out the fest’s Golden Lion and other top prizes.
The other main jury members are: Chinese actress and director Joan Chen; German director Philip Groning; Austrian director Jessica Hausner; Indian novelist Jhumpa Lahiri; English costume designer Sandy Powell; British actor Tim Roth; Palestinian director Elia Suleiman; and Italian actor-director Carlo Verdone.
Besides jury president Ann Hui, the Horizons jury comprises: Israeli actress Moran Atias; Swedish actress and director Pernilla August; American writer-director David Chase; Chadian director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun; Italian director Roberto Minervini; and Turkish critic Alin Tasciyan.
In terms of infrastructure, the Lido this year will have a completely refurbished venue, the Sala Darsena, which now has more than 1400 seats and state-of-the-art equipment.
Fest will run Aug. 27-Sept. 6
VENICE FILM FESTIVAL — IN COMPETITION
“The Cut,” Fatih Akin (Germany, France, Italy, Russia, Canada, Poland, Turkey)
“A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence,” Roy Andersson (Sweden, Germany, Norway, France)
“99 Homes,” Ramin Bahrani (U.S.)
“Tales,” Rakhshan Bani E’temad (Iran)
“La rancon de la gloire,” Xavier Beauvois (France)
“Hungry Hearts,” Saverio Costanzo (Italy)
“Le fernier coup de marteau,” Alix Delaporte (France)
“Pasolini,” Abel Ferrara (France, Belgium, Italy)
“Manglehorn,” David Gordon Green (U.S.)
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu (U.S.) OPENER
“Three Hearts,” Benoit Jacquot (France)
“The Postman’s White Nights,” Andrei Konchalovsky (Russia)
“Il Giovane Favoloso,” Mario Martone (Italy)
“Sivas,” Kaan Mujdeci (Turkey)
“Anime Nere,” Francesco Munzi (Italy, France)
“Good Kill,” Andrew Niccol (U.S.)
“Loin des hommes,” David Oelhoffen (France)
“The Look of Silence,” Joshua Oppenheimer (Denmark, Finland, Indonesia, Norway, U.K.)
“Nobi,” Shinya Tsukamoto (Japan)
“Red Amnesia,” Wang Xiaoshuai (China)
OUT OF COMPETITION
“Words With Gods,” Guillermo Arriaga, Emir Kusturica, Amos Gitai. Mira Nair, Warwick Thornton, Hector Babenco, Bahman Ghobadi, Hideo Nakata, Alex de la Iglesia (Mexico. U.S.)
“She’s Funny That Way,” Peter Bogdanovich (U.S.)
“Dearest,” Peter Ho-sun Chan (Hong Kong, China)
“Olive Kitteridge,” Lisa Cholodenko (U.S.)
“Burying the Ex,” Joe Dante (U.S.)
”Perez,” Edoardo De Angelis (Italy)
“La zuppa del demonio,” Davide Ferrario (Italy)
“Tsili,” Amos Gitai (Israel, Russia, Italy, France)
“La trattativa,” Sabina Guzzanti (Italy)
“The Golden Era,” Ann Hui (China, Hong Kong) CLOSER
“Make Up,” Im Kwontaek (South Korea)
“The Humbling,” Barry Levinson (U.S.)
“The Old Man of Belem,” Manoel de Oliveira (Portugal, France)
“Italy in a Day,” Gabriele Salvatores (Italy, U.K.)
“In the Basement,” Ulrich Seidl (Austria)
“The Boxtrolls,” Anthony Stacchi, Annable Graham (U.K)
“Nyphomanic Volume II (long version) Director’s Cut,” Lars Von Trier (Denmark, Germany, France, Belgium)
“Theeb,” Naji Abu Nowar (Jordan, UAE Qatar, U.K.)
“Line of Credit,” Salome Alexi (Georgia, Germany, France)
“Cymbeline,” Michael Almereyda (U.S.)
“Senza nessuna pieta,” Michele Alhaique (Italy)
“Near Death Experience,” Benoit Delepine, Gustave Kervern (France)
“Le Vita Oscena,” Renato De Maria (Italy)
“Realite,” Quentin Dupieux (France, Belgium)
“I Spy/I Spy,” Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala (Austria)
“Hill of Freedom,” Hong Sangsoo (South Korea)
“Bypass,” Duane Hopkins (U.K.)
“The President,” Moshen Makhmalbaf (Georgia, France, U.K. Germany)
“Your Right Mind,” Ami Canaan Mann (U.S.)
“Belluscone, una storia siciliana,” Franco Maresco (Italy)
“Nabat,” Elchin Musaoglu (Azerbaijan)
“Heaven Knows What,” Josh Safdie, Ben Safdie (U.S., France)
“These Are the Rules,” Ognjen Svilicic,” (Croatia, France, Serbia, Macedonia)
“Court,” Chaitanya Tamhane (India)
The complete Venice festival lineup can be found on the fest’s website.