ROME — The Venice Film Festival has unveiled a potentially strong lineup with enough studio/specialty titles toplining A-list stars — including Jake Gyllenhaal (“Everest”), Johnny Depp (“Black Mass”) and Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne (“The Danish Girl”) — to boost its role as a classy awards-season platform, plus new works by Charlie Kaufman, Alexander Sokurov, Amos Gitai, Marco Bellocchio and many other high-caliber international auteurs.
As previously announced, Baltasar Kormakur’s mountain-climbing thriller “Everest” from Universal, starring Gyllenhaal, will open Venice out of competition on Sept. 2 — a nice coup for artistic director Alberto Barbera, segueing from “Birdman” as opener last year, and sci-fi thriller “Gravity” in 2013.
With Toronto less aggressive in its push to secure more world preems, Venice is bowing several hot titles — including Cary Fukunaga’s child-soldier drama “Beasts of No Nation,” Atom Egoyan’s “Remember” and Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight,” featuring Michael Keaton’s first post-“Birdman” screen appearance — that are subsequently Toronto-bound.
“Toronto’s attitude has radically changed; they are a lot less aggressive this year,” Barbera told Variety. “We got together and talked, in Berlin and at Cannes.”
“Meanwhile, the international perception of Venice has changed over the years, thanks in part to films like “Gravity” and “Birdman,” and I’ve found a lot more receptivity,” he added.
Luca Guadagnino’s “A Bigger Splash” (pictured), a psychological drama about a famous rock star and a filmmaker (Matthias Schoenaerts and Swinton) vacationing and recovering on the strange sun-drenched Italian island of Pantelleria, is among the promising titles in competition, as are Argentinian Pablo Trapero’s crimer “The Clan” and Gitai’s “Rabin, the Last Day,” a hot-button drama centering around the assassination of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Kaufman’s “Anomalisa” marks the groundbreaking U.S. director’s first foray into animation. The movie, directed by Kaufman and Duke Johnson, was initiated on Kickstarter, with the bulk of financing then coming from Snoot Entertainment and Starburns Industries. The film, about a man struggling with his inability to connect with other people, is Kaufman’s first feature since “Synecdoche, New York” (2008).
At a packed Rome presser, Barbera called the five-title American contingent in competition “the most varied and surprising.”
He cited its range, noting the presence of quintessential indie pics such as Laurie Anderson’s “extraordinary” full-length directorial debut “Heart of a Dog,” which is about loss; “Anomalisa,” the fest’s only animated title, which, he said, “is not for kids”; and “Equals,” the latest from “Like Crazy” helmer Drake Doremus, billed as a futuristic love story set in a world where emotions have been eradicated. But there also more mainstream, big-buzz titles like “The Danish Girl,” in which Redmayne plays Lili Ebe, one of the earliest known recipients of male-to-female gender reassignment surgery; and Fukunaga’s “Beasts,” which stars Idris Elba as commander of a child soldiers’ guerrilla force in West Africa. Netflix snapped it up after a bidding war earlier this year.
Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight,” screening out of competition, stars Keaton as Boston Globe reporter Walter Robinson, who headed the paper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the 2003 Catholic Church sex abuse scandal. Pic is developed and financed by Participant Media.
Interestingly, Venice will feature its first title flying the Vatican City flag in recent memory: the Swiss-guards docu “The Smallest Army in the World,” by Italy’s Gianfranco Pannone, also out of competition.
Martin Scorsese’s 16-minute short “The Audition,” starring Robert De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Scorsese himself, is also unspooling, hopefully with Scorsese in tow.
Warner Bros.’ previously announced “Black Mass,” also bowing out of competition, is a biopic of Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger (Depp), who became an FBI informant and used his status to eliminate criminal competition during the 1970s, ’80s and early ’90s. Pic also stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Joel Edgerton and Peter Sarsgaard.
The Lido has lured a hefty dose of star power this year, which will help keep global media outlets fed. Also bowing but not in the running for a Golden Lion is Daniel Alfredson’s thriller “Go With Me,” starring Anthony Hopkins, Ray Liotta and Julia Stiles, who plays a young woman who returns to her hometown, only to be harassed by an ex-cop turned crime lord.
Standout docus include Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow’s “De Palma,” marking the first time the somewhat-reclusive Brian De Palma has talked in-depth about his life and career; the Janis Joplin portrait “Janis,” by Amy Berg, who was Oscar-nominated for “Deliver Us From Evil”; Evgeny Afineevsky’s Ukraine conflict-themed “Winter on Fire”; and Frederick Wiseman’s “In Jackson Heights.”
In the competition, Russian master Sokurov will bow his hotly awaited “Francophonia” (aka “Louvre Under German Occupation”) billed as exploring “the question of relations between art and war.” The film was shot in the Louvre and produced by Pierre Olivier Bardet and former Locarno fest topper Olivier Pere, current chief of Arte France Cinema.
In addition to Guadagnino’s “A Bigger Splash,” which follows his “I Am Love,” the Italian contingent competing on the Lido will feature veteran Bellocchio’s “Blood of My Blood,” a period drama with a vampire twist toplining Alba Rohrwacher as a 17th-century noblewoman who, after becoming a nun, seduces a young army officer and his twin brother, who is a priest. Italo first-timer Piero Messina’s Sicily-set “L’attesa” (“The Wait”), starring Juliette Binoche, also made the competition cut. Messina served as Paolo Sorrentino’s a.d. on “This Must Be the Place” and “The Great Beauty.”
In a year when Asian entries in Venice are thin, after a strong presence in Cannes, the Lido closer is Guan Hu’s blockbuster comedy “Mr. Six,” starring Chinese hit-making director and sometime actor Feng Xiaogang as a former hooligan who must take back his son from young wannabe gangsters. China Lion Film Distribution has set its local release for December.
Barbera noted that it was “very unusual” for Chinese distributors to show a picture so far ahead of its release, underscoring Venice’s growing allure as a launchpad for mainstream Asian fare.
Venice’s cutting-edge Horizons section, which Barbera called “the other competition,” mixes esoteric entries with known names such as American actor Brady Corbet’s “The Childhood of a Leader,” toplining Robert Pattinson; Dito Montiel’s post-apocalyptic war thriller “Man Down,” starring Shia LaBeouf as former U.S. Marine Gabriel Drummer; French film journo Nicolas Saada’s “Taj Mahal,” a thriller set against the backdrop 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack starring Stacy Martin; and Algerian auteur Merzak Allouache’s “Madame Courage,” about a North African immigrant in Paris, who is addicted to a psychotropic drug, after which the film is named. Allouache was named Variety‘s Arab Filmmaker of the Year in 2013, when his previous feature, “The Rooftops,” screened in Venice.
The fest’s main jury, headed by Alfonso Cuaron, includes Elizabeth Banks and Diane Kruger alongside Turkish auteur and 2014 Palme d’Or winner Nuri Bilge Ceylan; Poland’s Pawel Pawlikowski, the director of Oscar foreign-language film winner “Ida”; French author, screenwriter and director Emmanuel Carrere; Taiwanese helmer Hou Hsiao-hsien, who won director at Cannes this year for “The Assassin”; Italian director Francesco Munzi (“Black Souls”); and British director and screenwriter Lynne Ramsay (“We Need to Talk About Kevin”).
Fest will run Sept. 2-12.
VENICE FILM FESTIVAL — IN COMPETITION
“Frenzy,” Emin Alper (Turkey, France, Qatar)
“Heart of a Dog,” Laurie Anderson (U.S.)
“Blood of My Blood,” Marco Bellocchio (Italy)
“Looking for Grace,” Sue Brooks (Australia)
“Equals,” Drake Doremus (U.S.)
“Remember,” Atom Egoyan (Canada, Germany)
“Beasts of No Nation,” Cary Fukunaga (U.S.)
“Per amor vostro,” Giuseppe M. Gaudino (Italy, France)
“Marguerite,” Xavier Giannoli (France, Czech Republic, Belgium)
“Rabin, the Last Day,” Amos Gitai (Isreal, France)
“A Bigger Splash,” Luca Guadagnino (Italy, France)
“The Endless River,” Oliver Hermanus (South Africa, France)
“The Danish Girl,” Tom Hooper (U.K., U.S.)
“Anomalisa,” Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson (U.S.)
“L’attesa,” Piero Messina (Italy)
“11 minutes,” Jerzy Skolimowski (Poland)
“Francofonia,” Aleksander Sokurov (France, Germany, Netherlands)
“The Clan,” Pablo Trapero (Argentina, Spain)
“Desde alla,” Lorenzo Vigas (Venezuela, Mexico)
“L’hermine,” Christian Vincent (France)
“Behemoth,” Zhao Liang (China, France)
OUT OF COMPETITION
“Everest,” Baltasar Kormakur (U.S., U.K.) – Opening Film
“Mr. Six,” Hu Guan (China) – Closing Film
“Go With Me,” Daniel Alfredson (U.S., Canada, Sweden)
“Non essere cattivo,” Claudio Caligari (Italy)
“Black Mass,” Scott Cooper (U.S.)
“Spotlight,” Thomas McCarthy (U.S.)
“La calle de la Amargura,” Arturo Ripstein (Mexico-Spain)
“The Audition,” Martin Scorsese (U.S.)
“Winter on Fire,” Evgeny Afineevsky (Ukraine)
“De Palma,” Noah Baumbach, Jake Paltrow (U.S.)
“Janis,” Amy Berg (U.S.)
“The Event,” Sergei Loznitsa (Netherlands, Belgium)
“Gli uomini di questa città io non li conosco,” Franco Maresco (Italy)
“L’esercito piu piccolo del mondo,” Gianfranco Pannone (Vatican City State)
“Afternoon,” Tsai Ming-liang (Chinese Taipei)
“In Jackson Heights,” Frederick Wiseman (U.S.)
“Human,” Yann Arthus-Bertrand (France)
GOLDEN LION FOR CAREER ACHIEVEMENT
“La vie et rien d’autre,” Bertrand Tavernier
“Madame Courage,” Merzak Allouache (Algeria, France, U.A.E.)
“A Copy of My Mind,” Joko Anwar (Indonesia, South Korea)
“Pecore in erba,” Alberto Caviglia (Italy)
“Tempete,” Samuel Collardey (France)
The Childhood of a Leader,” Brady Corbet (U.K., Hungary, Belgium, France)
“Italian Gangster,” Renato De Maria (Italy)
“Wednesday, May 9,” Vahid Jalilvand, Iran
“Mountain,” Yaelle Kayam (Israel)
“A War,” Tobias Lindholm (Denmark)
“Interrogation,” Vetri Maaran (India)
“Free in Deed,” Jake Mahaffy (U.S., New Zealand)
“Boi Neon,” Gabriel Mascaro (Brazil, Uruguay, Netherlands)
“Man Down,” Dito Montiel (U.S.)
“Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?,” Hadar Morag (Israel, France)
“Un monstruo de mil cabezas,” Rodrigo Pla (Mexico)
“Mate-me por favor,” Anita Rocha Da Silveira (Brazil, Argentina)
“Taj Mahal,” Nicolas Saada (France, Belgium)
“Interruption,” Yorgos Zois (Greece, France, Croatia)