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Venice Critics’ Week: New Film from Iranian Director Who Was Sentenced to Jail and 223 Lashes

U.S. director Xander Robin’s dark romancer 'Are We Not Cats' is the closer

ROME — The Venice Film Festival’s Critics’ Week on Monday unveiled its lineup comprising nine international first works, eight of which will have their world premieres.

Among these is “Drum,” the feature-film debut of Iranian director Keywan Karimi, whose sentence to jail and 223 lashes for his documentary “Writing on the City,” about political graffiti in Tehran, recently sparked outrage and appeals for clemency in the international film community

The new film by Karimi, who remains free pending appeal, was described as “abstract, political, and visionary” by Giona Nazzaro, artistic director of the section which is run separately from the official selection. Shot in black-and-white, “Drum” (pictured) centers on a Tehran lawyer who receives a package that will turn his life upside-down, according to the press notes. It will screen in the section’s competition.

“Writing on the City,” a reflection on political graffiti spanning from the 1979 Islamic Revolution through Iran’s contested 2009 election, rubbed Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards the wrong way. In 2013, Karimi spent 15 days in solitary confinement, accused of making “propaganda against the regime” and “insulting religious values.” He was subsequently tried and convicted but continued his filmmaking. His conviction was a cause célèbre during the Cannes festival in May.

Opening the Venice Critics’ Week out of competition will be British actress-turned-director Alice Lowe’s slasher “Prevenge.” Lowe was a co-writer and co-star in U.K. horror helmer Ben Wheatley’s standout serial killer pic “Sightseers.”

Brooklyn-based U.S. director Xander Robin’s dark romancer “Are We Not Cats,” about a man whose girlfriend likes to eat his hair, will close the section, out of competition.

Besides “Drum,” the six other works competing in Critics’ Week are:

“The Last of Us,” Tunisian video artist Ala Eddine Slim’s tale of an immigrant’s voyage towards Europe, which “becomes a philosophical fable on being lost,” said Nazzaro.

“Jours De France,” by French director Jerome Reybaud. A wordplay on “Tour De France,” about a man who embarks on a voyage through France guided solely by the gay networking app Grinder.

“The Nobodies,” shot in seven days on a declared $2,000 budget by Colombian director Juan Sebastian Mesa. A black-and-white tale of fraternal love – and hate and broken promises – between five friends who are street artists in Medellin. International premiere.

“Prank,” by Canada’s Vincent Biron. An edgy coming-of-age comedy “in the Harmony Korine vein,” said Nazzaro.

“Singing in Graveyards,” by Filipino newcomer Bradley Liew. Toplining Filipino rock star Pepe Smith and produced by Bianca Balbuena, the regular producer of  prominent Filipino auteur Lav Diaz. Diaz also stars.

“Le Ultime Cose,” by Italy’s Irene Dionisio. A drama interweaving three tales centering on a Turin pawn shop against the backdrop of Italy’s economic crisis.

As is customary, Venice Critics’ Week films will be voted on by festival-goers rather than a jury.

All entries will compete alongside titles in the official selection for the fest’s Golden Lion of the Future, worth $100,000.

The 73nd edition of the Venice fest runs from Aug. 31 to Sept. 10. The official selection lineup will be announced Thursday.

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