ROME — The official competition of the 55th Venice Intl. Film Festival has added Alessandro D’Alatri’s drama about the unchronicled youth of Jesus Christ, “The Garden of Eden,” meaning there are now four Italian features in the running for the Golden Lion.
The film will fill the Sept. 6 slot that was left vacant by the withdrawal, after a battle between producers and the Venice fest, of Mike Figgis’ “The Loss of Sexual Innocence” from the noncompetitive Perspectives section.
Budgeted at just under $4 million, “Garden of Eden” was shot in the Moroccan desert and produced by Marco Valsania for Medusa Film. It covers an 18-year period — not documented in the Gospels — spanning the childhood, adolescence and early adulthood of the young Messiah, played by teen heartthrob Kim Rossi Stuart.
It is D’Alatri’s first feature since his acclaimed 1994 drama “No Skin,” which premiered in the Directors Fortnight at Cannes. “Garden of Eden” is being sold internationally by Studio Canal Plus and will be released in Italy in October through Medusa.
The film, which depicts Christ as a man and not the son of God, is expected to cause controversy in Italy with its revisionist take on an obscure period in biblical history.
Perhaps due to the sensitive nature of the subject, D’Alatri was widely understood to have opted not to premiere the film in Venice but to open quietly in Italy without fest fanfare. Venice chief Felice Laudadio said the offer of a midday slot, away from the glitz of the evening competition presentations, helped change the helmer’s mind.
Other Italian titles in competition are Gianni Amelio’s “The Way We Laughed,” Francesca Archibugi’s “The Pear Tree” and Daniele Luchetti’s “Little Teachers.” With the recent addition to the Perspectives lineup of Giancarlo Planta’s drama “Honorable Prisoners,” the number of homegrown productions screening in Venice has climbed to 16.
The Venice fest kicks off Thursday and runs through Sept. 13.