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Billie Piper’s Directorial Debut, ‘Rare Beasts,’ to Bow in Venice Critics’ Week

“Rare Beasts,” the directorial debut of British stage and screen actress Billie Piper (“Doctor Who,” “Penny Dreadful,” “Collateral”) is set to premiere at the Venice Film Festival’s Critics’ Week, which has unveiled its lineup of nine first works, four of them from female filmmakers.

Produced by Vaughan Sivell of Western Edge Pictures in association with Moffen Media Limited, “Rare Beasts” is “a completely unhinged comedy,” section chief Giona Nazzaro said.

Piper plays Mandy, a struggling young writer and mother who comes from a dysfunctional family and falls upon a troubled man played by Leo Bill (“Peterloo”). The high-caliber cast of Brits also includes Lily James (“Downton Abbey”) and David Thewlis, best known as Remus Lupin in the Harry Potter film series.

The out-of-competition opener for Critics’ Week will be Indian animation film “Bombay Rose” by Gitanjali Rao, which Nazzaro described as a love story between a Hindu girl and a Muslim boy and also “a strong and interesting critique of the sexist male stereotypes of the Bollywood industry.” He noted that “Bombay Rose’s” animation is 100% handmade, not computer-generated.

Saudi Arabia will be represented by Shahad Ameen’s “Scales,” a magical-realist mermaid movie set during a mythical Arabian past, in which a young girl finds a path to empowerment in a patriarchal society. Also from the Middle East is “All This Victory,” a drama set in 2006 in Lebanon during the war between Hezbollah and Israel, directed by Lebanon’s Ahmad Ghossein.

Lithuania is in competition with “Parthenon,” the feature film debut of Lithuanian documentary director Mantas Kvedaravicius. Set in Istanbul, Athens, Odessa and Sudan, it’s a “haunting work,” Nazzaro said, involving a Ukranian prostitute, a small-time hood, and a Sudanese refugee whose paths intersect.

From Chile comes “The Prince,” a prison-set gay melodrama set against the backdrop of 1970s Chilean politics starring Alfredo Castro, who broke out internationally in Pablo Larrain’s films and then Lorenzo Vigas’ Venice Golden Lion winner “From Afar” (“Desde Alla”).

Danish first-timer Marie Grahto will premiere “Psychosia,” a dark pic that harks back to the director’s personal experiences in psychiatric institutions, which Nazzaro describes as ”an extremely erotic psychological thriller.”

Italy is present with Ascanio Petrini’s “Tony Driver,” which is “something in between a documentary, a mockumentary, and a fiction film,” said Nazzaro, based on the true story of an Italian who after living in the U.S. for 40 years is deported by the U.S. back to Italy, from where he plots his return.

The out-of-competition closer is Mexican director Joshua Gil’s “Sanctorum” which Nazzaro described as “a kind of metaphysical ‘Narcos’ episode.” It takes place in the mountains of Mexico, where farmers are forced to work in illegal marijuana fields. They are exploited by the Narcos and harassed by the police until an apocalyptic payback occurs.

Nazzaro called his selection very straightforward and narrative-driven. “They are challenging but enjoyable, story-driven films,” he said.

All Venice Critics’ Week entries will compete alongside titles in the official selection for the fest’s Lion of the Future prize, worth $100,000. As usual, Critics’ Week films will be voted on by festival-goers rather than by a jury.

The full official-selection lineup of the 76th Venice Film Festival will be announced Thursday. The fest runs from Aug. 28 to Sept. 7.

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