Wednesday, 29 August 2012

PREVIEW: Venice Film Festival 2012

69th Venice Film Festival 2012: Aug 29 - Sept 8

I missed the preview of this last year as it so quickly sneaks upon you - "oh it's sometime in September" - and then it hits September, and realise it's already been on for three days. So, I'm on the ball with it this year and ready to dip into the three most interesting sections:

Venezia 69 - the official in competition films for the Golden Lion award at the 69th Venice Film Festival

Out of Competition - as on the tin, a selection of big name films but not in the running for the main prize

Orizonetti - the new trends in world cinema

Here are my picks below - some really exciting flavour this year.

OPENING FILM: The Reluctant Fundamentalist
The new film from Indian filmmaker Mira Nair (who directed Natalie in New York I Love You) will open the Venice Film Festival on Aug 29, screening as an out of competition film. It stars Riz Ahmed (Four Lions) as a young Pakistani man working on Wall Street but caught between ambition, loyalty and a hostage crisis. Kate Hudson, Kiefer Sutherland and Liev Schreiber make up the rest of the cast of the film, which is adapted from the best selling novel by Mohsin Hamid.


The Master
Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film is one of the most talked about of the year, with one of the hottest topics being where it would premiere. Here or Toronto seemed the most likely, and Europe it is - though thanks to the rather unconventional pop up screenings that have been taking place in the USA, the Venice audiences won't be the very first to see it. Whilst the director is still adamant the film is not about Scientology, the idea of a controversial group with a charismatic leader (here played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) is what draws in war veteran Joaquin Phoenix, his first film since his faux retirement from acting and 'rap career'. By all accounts excellent, this has to be in with a good shot at winning the Lion.

Apres-Mai (Something in the Air)
Someone else who is coming back to film after a short break is French auteur Olivier Assayas, with his first film since 2008's Summer Hours. His new film centres on a young Parisian student, Gilles, and is set in the late 60s/early 70s - a heady time when young people wanted a say in politics, art, love and most importantly, change. Journeying through Europe, Gilles (Clement Metayer) and his schoolmates are faced with many of life's choices, and discover who they really are. I'm not au fait with any of Assayas' previous work, but this film made me think of The Dreamers which I loved, so I'd watch it for that.

At Any Price
Zac Efron's pursuit to become the next Leonardo Di Caprio continues with the former High School Musical-er making yet another interesting choice for his CV - alongside upcoming The Paperboy, he stars here alongside Dennis Quaid as a defiant son rebelling against joining the family agriculture business and wanting to become a professional racing car driver (hello!), but problems arise when the business becomes subject to an internal investigation. At Any Price is directed by well regarded American director Ramin Bahrani.

I am just ridiculously excited about this film since the trailer was released last week (see below). It stars Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace as two business women locked in a deadly - and passionate! - power struggle. Could go either way, but its look and tone of vividly stylish yet hedonistic melodrama has totally won me in - the mask totally put me in mind of Nip/Tuck. If this is obscenely brilliant then we can forget The Black Dahlia ever happened, Brian De Palma.

To The Wonder
All of a sudden, Terrence Malick has a whole stream of films coming out since The Tree of Life burst the dams last year. His next, defying a usual 6 or 7 year break, premieres at Venice and is To The Wonder, a film about love starring Rachel McAdams (two films in competition!) and Ben Affleck, with support from Javier Bardem and Olga Kuryleko. You're not going to get much more from it than that as Malick films are traditionally drip fed at the best of times, and as Natalie has two upcoming films with him out in 2013 I'm trying hard to get on board with this director, who has a lot to say but can't always do it coherently IMO.

Spring Breakers
Also really excited about this - Harmony Korine's new film about a group of young girls who have criminal intentions for their Spring Break weekend... until things go awry and they are arrested on drugs charges, but then unexpectedly helped out by local thug (James Franco) who has his own plans for them. I'm mostly pepped up due to the cast containing Ashley Benson (Hanna in Pretty Little Liars) and it has that wild, exploitative vibe to it which reminds me of something trashy and watchable like Wild Things. Korine is a marmite filmmaker though: I remember several walk-outs when Trash Humpers played at Leeds a couple of years ago.

Honourable mentions: Pieta (Ki-Duk Kim), Betrayal (Kirill Serebrennikov)


This is the first feature film from documentary maker Henry Alex Rubin (Murderball) and features an all star cast in a film which sees many different characters and stories about people looking for connection in today's highly dependent technological world. Jason Bateman, Alexander Skarsgard, Hope Davis, Michael Nvqvist and Andrea Riseborough are just some of the names appearing and it promises to be something much more independent and appealing ensemble piece than a Valentine's Day or What To Expect When You're Expecting.

Forgotten (Du Hast Es Versprochen)
This German thriller from first time director Alex Schmidt looks very juicy indeed. It tells the story of three young girls - two of them best friends - who lost contact suddenly after their ninth birthdays. Several years on and now adults, the two meet again and begin to reconnect, deciding to take a trip to their special childhood place - a summer house on a small island (warning bells!). There they discover an old playmate of theirs who lived on the island went missing as a child and was never seen again, and as they dig into the past horrible secrets emerge that centre on the two women. Looks creepy and... is that snow in the promo picture? I am so sold on this, as long as it's atmospheric and menacing, and not ridic hokum.

The Iceman
IT'S MICHAEL SHANNON PLAYING A REAL LIFE PSYCHOPATH! I don't know much more I can say to make everyone totally excited about this. Shannon is bringing the terrifying Richard Kuklinski to the screen, who despite being a devoted family man was rumoured to have murdered more than 250 people between 1954 and 1985 in America. The film also stars Winona Ryder (as Kuklinski's unsuspecting wife), Chris Evans, Ray Liotta and James Franco, and at the helm Israeli director Ariel Vromen. I love a true crime film and with it being Michael Shannon involved, this is one of those films where I'm really excited about just seeing new promo stills. Can't wait to get reaction on this - it's probably the film I'm most looking forward to from Venice this year.

Penance (Shokuzai)
I'm also really excited about this film as the premise sounds excellent: "Fifteen years ago, tragedy struck a small town when young school girl Emili was abducted and killed by a stranger. Four girls who had been playing with Emili at the time are the first to discover her body. The abductor is never found and the crime goes unsolved. Crazed with grief, Emili’s mother Asako condemns the four girls, none of which can remember the abductor’s face. She tells them, “Do whatever you have to to find the killer. Otherwise, you can pay a penance that I approve.” Deeply affected by Asako’s condemnation, the four girls become adults burdened with the curse of “penance” which eventually triggers a chain of tragic events." This 270 minute film was actually a Japanese TV mini-series, which is being shown uncut as a film here in Venice, written and directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Pulse) and based on the novel by Kanae Minato, who also wrote the excellent Confessions. It sounds extraordinary and I hope we get to see some form of it over here.

If the last film sounds extraordinary, then Bait is off the wall. Not only are the residents of a small Australian town being targeted in the local supermarket by a crazed masked assailant, then a tsunami hits bringing chaos to the town.. and a Great White Shark. Yes, you may wonder, why on earth is something like this playing at Venice? It sounds like the next pulpy B movie, but could this be a surprising horror hit? In the vein of Piranha, obviously: it's directed by Kimble Rendall, who has worked on The Matrix trilogy and a couple of Nicolas Cage films - make of that what you will. It sounds spectacular, and if I'm going to a multiplex to spend £10 on popcorn and a drink alone then I'd want to be watching something like this! Stars Phoebe Tonkin (The Secret Circle), Xavier Samuel (The Loved Ones) and Julian McMahon (Nip/Tuck)! I love a bit of Julian McMahon... THE TRAILER IS AWESOME.

"Why does it keep circling?"
"It's curious... it's not sure who we are."

I think I'm in love with this film.


Me Too (Ja Tozhe Hochu)
I'm still quite new to Russian cinema, having only seen a couple of films to my name (though that includes the excellent Rusalka), but this one caught my eye because of the intriguing synopsis: a group of friends are travelling to the Bell Tower of Happiness, said to lie hidden somewhere between St Petersburg and Uglic with the power to make people disappear. Each of the young people believes they will be the one chosen by the Tower. It has that mysterious, folky feel about it which always makes me a happy film-goer! Directed by Alexey Balabanov.

Leones (Lions)
A group of young people roam and play in the depths of a forest, unable to leave this wall less labyrinth they find themselves in, and struggling to work out why they are here. This Argentinian film from first time director Jazmin Lopez has echoes of Innocence and A Thousand Oceans where the line between fantasy and reality is blurred. It sounds dreamy and playful and though I can immediately guess what the metaphor is here, it's still something I would jump to go and see.

Bellas Mariposas (Beautiful Butterflies)
This is a strange sounding little film from Italian director Salvatore Mereu, about two best friends who go on an incredible adventure together, yet one of them desperately needs to get home to help her neighbour who is in great danger at the hands of her older brother. Mereu read the novel written by Sergio Atzemi, whose style and plotting impressed him so much he was moved to turn it into a film, which is now premiering at Venice - and is my token Italian pick of the festival!

Araf/Somewhere in Between
This is the new film from Yesim Ustaoglu, who sat on the Venice jury herself in 2002. It centres on two best friends, who live in a small town, work dead end jobs, and watch trashy television living a drab life of non-existent fantasies - until Mahur comes on the scene, and both girls fall for him creating a complex and tragic love triangle which will finally see both the girls forced to grow up. I'll keep an eye on this one, as I've yet to watch any Turkish cinema and this sounds like a great place to start.

CLOSING FILM: Kiss of the Damned
And so I, and the festival, end with a horror movie and Xan Cassavetes' Kiss of the Damned being shown at International Critics Week. This is the debut feature film from the daughter of actor and director John Cassavetes, who also writes, and is the tale of two vampiric sisters (Roxane Mesquida and Josephine de la Baume) who target a small Connecticut town. I loved Mesquida as the creepy obsessive lesbian in Kaboom and she's the perfect fit for this. Baume was recently in One Day and ITV1's Titanic mini-series. Though the market is awash with vampire films at the moment, hopefully this one will give a strong focus on the horror, and we'll have another Thirst on our hands and not an effing Twilight.

You can find all the films screening at the Venice film festival here, including the independent strands Venice Days and International Critics Week. The Golden Lion will be announced on the last day of the festival, September 8th.

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