After a 2012 edition of the Cannes Film Festival that was widely deemed underwhelming, film lovers and critics are looking to Venice to make things right.
Artistic director Alberto Barbera - who headed the festival from 1998 to 2001 and makes his return this year – set cinephile pulses racing Thursday as he announced a line-up featuring a handful of big-name filmmakers alongside several lesser-known talents who will all vie for the Golden Lion.
A trio of heavyweights
The main attraction in competition at this year’s Venice Film Festival (to unfold from August 29 to September 8) will undoubtedly be Terrence Malick’s “To the Wonder” (pictured right). Starring Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, and Javier Bardem, the Oklahoma-set romance is rumoured to be even more experimental than “The Tree of Life”, the American director’s grandly lyrical film that interwove the story of a 1950s Texas family with sequences showing the origins of the universe - and won the Cannes 2011 Palme d'Or. Malick usually takes several years to edit his movies, but with “To the Wonder” following hot on the heels of “The Tree of Life”, and several other projects in the works, the filmmaker seems to have entered a new, prolific phase in his career.
Rachel McAdams also headlines another competition film by an American heavyweight: Brian De Palma’s “Passion”. In the movie, McAdams and Noomi Rapace (of “Prometheus”) play businesswomen who become entangled in rivalry and sexual gamesmanship. The movie is based on late French director Alain Corneau’s “Love Crime”, in which Kristin Scott Thomas and Ludivine Sagnier had the lead roles.
One of the most hotly awaited competition entries will surely be French director Olivier Assayas’s “Something in the Air” (pictured right), about Parisian high school students during the politically turbulent early 1970s. The eclectic Assayas has made films both epic (“Carlos”, his five-and-a-half-hour biopic about international terrorist Carlos the Jackal) and intimate (“Summer Hours”, a drama revolving around adult siblings and their inheritance), but much of his work has dealt with themes of globalisation and its impact on personal decisions and relationships.
The only other French filmmaker in competition is Xavier Giannoli, whose “Superstar” features Kad Merad and Cécile de France in the story of an average Joe who becomes an overnight celebrity for no discernible reason.
American cinema is a bit more prominently represented. Harmony Korine, who exploded onto the US indie scene with his screenplay for Larry Clark’s 1995 “Kids”, will present “Spring Breakers”, a comedy about college girls who rob a restaurant in order to finance their vacation. The film stars Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, and James Franco. Meanwhile, Ramin Bahrani, whose previous film “Goodbye Solo” won the critics jury prize at Venice in 2008, returns to the festival with “At Any Price”, a father-son drama headlined by Dennis Quaid and Zac Efron. After his fine performance in Lee Daniels’s “The Paperboy”, screened at Cannes last spring, “At Any Price” could mark yet another step forward in teen heartthrob Zac Efron’s quest for more prestigious parts.
Several women directors - and one notable absence
Several internationally renowned filmmakers from various corners of the world will also have their new works shown this year at Venice, including Japan’s Takeshi Kitano, whose “Outrage: Beyond” is a sequel to his 2010 yakuza thriller “Outrage”; South Korean Kim Ki-duk, whose “Pieta” is about the bond between a loan shark’s assistant and a woman claiming to be his long-lost mother; Italian director Marco Bellochhio, who may cause controversy with “Dormant Beauty”, starring Isabelle Huppert in the true story of a woman who cared for a daughter in a vegetative state for 17 years; Filipino filmmaker Brillante Mendoza, whose “Thy Womb” turns on an infertile midwife living on the island of Tawi-Tawi; and Austrian Ulrich Seidl, who will aim for a prize for “Paradise: Faith”, the second installment in his trilogy about three women of the same family (the first film, “Paradise: Love”, premiered at Cannes in May).
Perhaps having taken note of the fierce debate sparked by the lack of women in competition at Cannes last May, Barbera selected four female-directed movies for the main slate at Venice this year. Among those are Israeli filmmaker Rama Burshtein’s “Fill the Void”, about a young Hasidic woman torn between desire and religion, and Valeria Sarmiento’s “The Lines of Wellington”, with a cast including John Malkovich, Marisa Paredes and Catherine Deneuve. Sarmiento took over at the helm of the film when her late husband, Chilean director Raul Ruiz, passed away in 2011.
This year’s selection is just intriguing enough to console movie lovers left disappointed by one conspicuous absence. Contrary to initial reports, Paul Thomas Anderson’s feverishly anticipated period piece “The Master”, reportedly about the origins of the Church of Scientology, will not be shown at the festival.