Venice competition comes into focus

Polanski, Cronenberg, Soderbergh pics set for film festival

The Venice Film Festival, which will announce its lineup Thursday, has locked in what looks to be a standout edition, with plenty of high-profile English-language titles plus a strong Asian presence and the cream of the European crop.

As anticipated by Variety in May, new works from Roman Polanski, David Cronenberg, Steven Soderbergh, Todd Solondz, Alexander Sokurov, Mary Harron and Madonna are coming to the Lido.

As the Toronto Film Fest begins its announcements today, several Venice premieres are also likely to head to Canada, possibly with a pitstop at Telluride along the way.

According to sources, the ample U.S. contingent in Venice now also includes William Friedkin’s “Killer Joe,” starring Matthew McConaughey as a cop who is also a hitman; Abel Ferrara’s apocalyptic “Last Day on Earth,” with Willem Dafoe; and Ami Canaan Mann’s serial-killer thriller “Texas Killing Fields,” toplining Sam Worthington. All are in competition.

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This year’s Venice competition will be packed with noirs and genre pics.

The Lido will also see an unusually strong U.K. presence consisting of Swedish helmer Tomas Alfredson’s John Le Carre adaptation “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” from Blighty’s Working Title; Andrea Arnold’s “Wuthering Heights”; and Steve McQueen’s “Shame,” all previously tipped.

But sources say the Venice competish also has a strong Asian flavor. It will include epic “Seediq Bale,” by Taiwanese box office champ Wei Te-sheng, whose “Cape No. 7” was pivotal for the local industry in 2008, and manga adaptation “Himizu” from cult Japanese helmer Sion Sono (“Love Exposure,” “Cold Fish”).

Flying the French flag, besides Polanski’s “Carnage,” will be “Poulet aux prunes” (Chicken With Plums), Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s first pic after “Persepolis,” along with Philippe Garrel’s previously tipped “A Burning Hot Summer,” a remake of sorts of Jean-Luc Godard’s “Contempt” that stars Monica Bellucci.

Chantal Akerman’s Cambodia-shot “La folie Almayer,” an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s “Almayer’s Folly,” is expected to unspool out of competition.

Greek helmer Yorgos Lanthimos (“Dogtooth”) is in competish with “Alps,” about a hospital nurse who provides unusual services to bereaved families, as is Israeli helmer Eran Kolirin’s “The Exchange,” his follow-up to “The Band’s Visit,” according to sources.

From Italy, Cristina Comencini’s “Quando la notte” and Emanuele Crialese’s “Terraferma,” both produced by Cattleya, and sci-fi parody “L’ultimo terrestre,” the helming debut of the Italo graphic novelist known as Gipi, are in the competition.

Pics that had been tipped for Lido launches but aren’t ready include new works by Walter Salles, Wong Kar Wai, Luc Besson, Brillante Mendoza and Fatih Akin.

Jonathan Demme’s Hurricane Katrina documentary “I’m Carolyn Parker: The Good, the Mad and the Beautiful” and James Franco’s Sal Mineo biopic “Sal,” starring Val Lauren, are both believed to be in the cutting-edge Venice Horizons section.

As previously announced, George Clooney’s political thriller “The Ides of March,” from Sony, opens the fest in competish.

Cronenberg is vying for a Golden Lion with “A Dangerous Method,” starring Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud; Solondz is in the running with “Dark Horse,” starring Mia Farrow and Christopher Walken; Soderbergh is in contention with outbreak thriller “Contagion,” with Matt Damon, Kate Winslet and Jude Law; and Sokurov is competing with his highly anticipated “Faust,” the fourth and final installment in his “Men of Power” series.

Harron’s “The Moth Diaries,” about a disturbed 16-year-old in an exclusive boarding school during the late 1960s, and Madonna’s dual romancer “W.E.” are both expected to unspool out of competition.

Fest runs Aug. 31-Sept. 10.

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