The 74th edition of the Venice Film Festival gets underway this week, boasting an impressive line-up collated by artistic director Alberto Barbera. These past years, the festival has been on a roll, fighting off competition from the ever-growing Toronto International Film Festival to premiere such Oscar-winners as Gravity, Birdman, Spotlight and La La Land.
This latest gathering begins with Alexander Payne’s Downsizing, the director’s first film since 2013’s Nebraska. A social satire, it stars Matt Damon as a man who decides to shrink himself to help save the planet. Reuniting with regular screenwriter Jim Taylor, this is Payne’s first film to use visual effects (audiences were reportedly stunned when he recently screened 20 minutes of footage to exhibitors in Barcelona).
Other films to watch out for include First Reformed, the latest from Paul Schrader (the writer of Taxi Driver) which stars Ethan Hawke as a former military chaplain wrecked by grief after the death of his son. Raised by strict Calvinist parents, Schrader has frequently touched on religion in his career, notably in his script for Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), making this an intriguing prospect for the veteran filmmaker.
One of the key British entries to watch out for is surely Lean on Pete, the new film from the talented Andrew Haigh. After his British-set Weekend and 45 Years, this is an American story based on the novel by Willy Vlautin. Charlie Plummer plays the 15 year-old Charley, who lives out an unstable existence with his father (Travis Fimmel) in Portland, Oregon, until he finds solace in a summer job looking after an ageing racehorse.
Arguably one of the most anticipated competition entries comes from Abdellatif Kechiche, the Tunisian-French director whose last film was Cannes’ Palme d’Or-winning sensation Blue Is The Warmest Colour. Little is known about his new film, Mektoub, My Love other than it follows a young screenwriter who travels to the Mediterranean and become embroiled in a love triangle. Subtitled Canto Uno, this three-hour tale is said to be the first part of what will surely be an epic story.
Away from the main competition, Italian director Susanna Nicchiarelli’s biopic Nico, 1988 will open the more cutting-edge Horizons strand. Starring Danish actress Trine Dyrholm, the story is said to deal with the last two years in the life of the German singer, who famously worked with the Velvet Underground and became associated with Andy Warhol. Scottish actor John Gordon Sinclair co-stars.
The festival closes on 9 September with Outrage Coda, the third film in the series of yakuza films by Japanese auteur Takeshi Kitano. A Venice regular, Kitano won the Golden Lion for his film Hana-Bi (1997), although his previous two Outrage films have yet to be release in the UK. Expect this latest outing to be as wittily violent as its predecessors. Whatever its qualities, it’s a bloodthirsty way to conclude this year’s festival.
The Venice Film Festival runs from 30 August to 9 September. For more information: www.labiennale.org
1. Still from Mektoub, My Love.