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Transgender Immigrant Pic ‘Lingua Franca,’ Thriller ‘Only Beasts’ to Bow at Venice Days

New York-based Filipina filmmaker Isabel Sandoval’s “Lingua Franca,” about a transgender immigrant, is among 11 competition entries, all world premieres, that will launch from the Venice Film Festival’s independently run Venice Days section.

The only U.S. entry set to compete in the section modeled on Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight, “Lingua Franca” is Sandoval’s third work. It follows “Apparition” (2012), a period drama about cloistered Filipina nuns praised by Variety’s Richard Kuipers as an “outstanding sophomore feature.” 

Produced by Tony- and Grammy-winning Filipino producer Jhett Tolentino, and by Darlene Malimas and Carlo Velayo, “Lingua Franca” is set in Brighton Beach, New York, where a transgender Filipina immigrant named Olivia – played by Sandoval, who is herself transgender – scrambles to avoid deportation. She becomes involved with a Russian slaughterhouse worker who is unaware that she’s trans. 

Venice Days artistic director Giorgio Gosetti said that this year’s selection is characterized by “a clash of cultures” and also by a search for a “pop [culture] aesthetic that can draw different types of audiences.”

The section’s opener is thriller “Only Beasts,” the sixth film by German-born French director Dominik Moll, which centers on a woman presumed missing or dead when her car is discovered on a mountain road after a snowstorm. The cast includes Denis Menochet, Damien Bonnard, Laure Calamy and Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi. 

There are four first works in competition this year, starting with Sudanese director Amjad Abu Alala’s “You Will Die at 20,” set in a village where a young man named Muzamil lives in fear of a sorcerer’s prophecy. Alala’s feature debut, following several documentaries and shorts, marks Sudan’s first film ever to screen in Venice.

The other three debut films are Neapolitan noir “5 Is the Perfect Number,” directed by the Italian graphic artist known as Igort and toplining Toni Servillo (“The Great Beauty”) as a hit man; “Arab Blues,” by French-Tunisian helmer Manele Labidi Labbe, starring Golshifteh Farahani (“Paterson”); and Japanese star Jo Odagiri’s “They Say Nothing Stays the Same,” lensed by ace cinematographer Christopher Doyle.

Bowing from Norway is Dag Johan Haugeruds’ politically and socially charged sophomore feature, “Beware of Children,” about the dramatic aftermath of a tragic incident in a middle-class suburb in Oslo.

French multi-hyphenate Fabienne Berthaud (“Sky”) is launching “A Bigger World,” which toplines Cecile de France as a widow who embarks on a journey in Mongolia as a sound recordist for a documentary. Jayro Bustamante, who put Guatemalan cinema the map with his debut, “Ixcanul,” is in Venice Days with his third feature, the revenge drama “The Weeping Woman,” set during the 1960s civil war in his country.

All told, 12 nationalities are represented, with six works by women in the official selection.

British director Lynne Ramsay (“You Were Never Really Here”) will bow a short film titled “Brigitte,” about influential French fashion photographer Brigitte Lacombe, the latest in the Prada-commissioned Miu Miu Women’s Tales, a series of shorts directed by women. As previously announced, the other Women’s Tales in Venice Days is “Shako Mako” by U.S. model and “States of Undress” host Hailey Gates, set in a fake Iraqi village built on a U.S. military base to train soldiers.

The out-of-competition closer is “Time of the Untamed,” a montage made from 15 equestrian shows by Bartabas, founder and director of the Paris-based Zingaro Equestrian Theater.

Also screening out of competition is young U.S. director  Phillip Youmans’ Tribeca prizewinner “Burning Cane,” set in the Louisiana swamp lands. The film will have its overseas premiere on the Lido.

The Venice Days award comes with a cash prize of €20,000 ($22,000), which is split equally between the director and the film’s international distributor.

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

VENICE DAYS LINEUP

IN COMPETITION

“Only Beasts,” Dominik Moll (France, Germany)

“You Will Die at 20,” Amjad Abu Alala (Sudan, France, Egypt, Germany, Norway)

“A Bigger World,” Fabienne Berthaud (France, Belgium)

“The Weeping Woman,” Jayro Bustamante (Guatemala, France)

“Beware of Children,” Dag Johan Haugerud (Norway, Sweden)

“5 Is the Perfect Number,” Igort (Italy, Belgium, France)

“Corpus Christi,” Jan Komasa (Poland, France)

“Arab Blues,” Manele Labidi Labbe (Tunisia, France)

“They Say Nothing Stays the Same”, Jo Odagiri (Japan)

“Lingua Franca,” Isabel Sandoval (U.S./Philippines)

“The Long Walk,” Mattie Do (Laos)

OUT OF COMPETITION CLOSER

“Time of the Untamed,” Bartabas (France)

SPECIAL EVENTS

“My Brother Chases Dinosaurs,” Stefano Cipani (Italy, Spain)

“House of Cardin,” P. David Ebersole, Todd Hughes (U.S.)

“Scherza con i fanti,” Gianfranco Pannone (Italy)

“Mondo Sexy,” Mario Sesti (Italy)

“Il prigioniero,” Federico Olivetti (Italy)

“Burning Cane,” Philip Youmans (U.S.)

WOMEN’S TALES PROJECT (shorts), in collaboration with Prada’s Miu Miu Label

“#17 Shako Mako,” Hailey Gates (Italy, U.S.)

“#18 Brigitte,” Lynne Ramsay (Italy, U.K.)

VENETIAN NIGHTS 

“La legge degli spazi bianchi,” Mauro Caputo (Italia)

“Emilio Vedova. Dalla parte del naufragio,” Tomaso Pessina (Italia)

“The Great Green Wall,” Jared P. Scott (U.K.)

“Cercando Valentina,” Giancarlo Soldi (Italy)

“Sufficiente,” Maddalena Stornaiuolo, Antonio Ruocco (Italy)

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