Talent on the bill at Venice film fest

THE 71st Venice Film Festival opened this week, bringing 11 days of high art and Hollywood glamour to the Italian city. Twenty films are competing for the coveted Golden Lion prize and several dozen more will jostle for the attention of critics and audiences. Here are five films, trends and themes to watch for:


Al Pacino

The festival began yesterday with the world premiere of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s twisted comedy Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). The film mixes the bold, surrealism-tinged sensibility of Inarritu (Babel, 21 Grams) with inspired casting – former Batman star Michael Keaton plays a past-his-prime actor struggling to move beyond his role as an iconic action hero.


The revered veteran stars in two Venice films. In David Gordon Green’s Manglehorn, Pacino plays a small-town Texas locksmith pining over a long-lost love. In Barry Levinson’s The Humbling – adapted from a Philip Roth novel – he’s an ageing actor having an affair with a younger woman.

Also doing double duty are Ethan Hawke – starring in Andrew Niccol’s drone-warfare drama Good Kill and Michael Almereyda’s Shakespeare adaptation Cymbeline – and Charlotte Gainsbourg, who appears in Benoit Jacquot’s romantic drama Three Hearts and von Trier’s explicit Nymphomaniac.


Two competition entries look at issues troubling America’s soul: war and economics. In Niccol’s Good Kill, Hawke plays a drone operator who grows disillusioned with remote warfare.

Ramin Bahrani’s subprime mortgage drama 99 Homes stars Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man) as an evicted man battling to get his home back.


Like its rival Cannes, the Venice film fest embraces actors and directors who are adventurous or unpredictable. This year the festival is honouring James Franco, presenting the prolific American actor-director with the Glory to the Filmmaker Prize. Franco will also premiere The Sound and the Fury, his second adaptation of a William Faulkner novel (the first was As I Lay Dying), at an out-of-competition festival screening.

Other directors sure to provoke include Abel Ferrara, competing for the Golden Lion with Pasolini, a film about the life of Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini, starring Willem Dafoe.

And Danish bad-boy Lars von Trier is likely to bore and thrill in equal measure with the director’s cut of his sexual odyssey Nymphomaniac.


New features are on tap from international film-makers, including Russian director Andrei Konchalovksy’s The Postman’s White Nights; Turkish-German director Fatih Akin’s The Cut; Red Amnesia from China’s Wang Xiaoshuai; and Tales by female Iranian director Rakhshan Bani-Etemad.

But it’s not all art and existentialism. The schedule also includes Joe Dante’s Burying the Ex – a zombie rom-com and She’s Funny that Way, a Peter Bogdanovich-directed Broadway comedy. – Sapa-AP