by Helen Barlow

We already gleaned this from last week’s announcements, but in recent days, as the opening film was revealed to be Italian – Lacci, Daniele Luchetti’s out-of-competition anatomy of a marriage drama starring Alba Rohrwacher – and now with today’s announcement of competition films including little mainstream fare, the effect of COVID-19, and the delay in the US award season is clearly having an impact, with no Joker or A Star is Born in sight.

Still, Venice has to be commended for bravely going ahead and delivering a full, if slightly reduced, programme and in-person event when the usually gargantuan TIFF is going virtual and physical (mainly for locals) with a programme of only 50 feature films.

There will be some sharing, as is the case with Searchlight’s Nomadland directed by Chloe Zhao and starring Frances McDormand. The film will also screen at festivals in Toronto and New York and with a special Los Angeles drive-in event organised by the cancelled Telluride Festival, featuring an in-person appearance with the two women on September 11 (that ominous date). Zhao and McDormand will appear virtually in Venice and Toronto.

Nomadland is about a Nevada woman who takes to the road after her business collapses and meets other laid-off workers-turned nomads (played by real life nomads) along the way.

Since those able to travel to Venice are mainly Europeans, it makes sense that the competition jury will comprise of Europeans. Jury head UK-based Cate Blanchett is set to attend the event alongside her fellow jurors: Austrian director Veronika Franz (The Lodge), British director Joanna Hogg (The Souvenir), Italian writer and novelist Nicola Lagioia, German director Christian Petzold (Barbara), Romanian director Cristi Puiu (The Death of Mr. Lazarescu) and French actress Ludivine Sagnier (The Young Pope).

There are no Australian films in the competition and only one French entry, Nicole Garcia’s Lovers starring Pierre Niney and Stacy Martin. Many of the prominent French films previously in contention are unfinished thanks to COVID, even if Mandibules directed by Quentin Dupieux (Deerskin) is screening out of competition.

There are five Italian competition entries and eight of the 18 films are directed by women, while last year there were only two and only one in the previous two years. Festival director Alberto Barbera has always maintained he would choose the best films available, though concedes “this is an unprecedented percentile which we hope augurs well for a future cinema that is free of any sort of prejudice and discrimination.” There is also a chance for new talent, since 13 of the 18 contenders have never competed before.

Rising Aussie star Sarah Snook (just Emmy-nominated for Succession) features in Kornel Mundruczo’s Pieces of A Woman, a US drama about a woman experiencing the loss of a child, which stars Vanessa Kirby (Princess Margaret in The Crown) and Shia Labeouf. Kirby stars in a second competition film, Sony’s The World To Come about two couples struggling to live along the 19th century American East Coast frontier while the women fall in love. Katherine Waterston, Casey Affleck and Christopher Abbott co-star. Given Portrait of a Lady on Fire and the upcoming Ammonite with Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan, historical lesbian dramas are de rigeur.

Venice regular, Israeli director Amos Gitai has Laila in Haifa, shot in a night bar in the city where Israelis and Palestinians regularly mix in harmony. The film shows how “people who are so divided can co-exist,” says Barbera.

Susanna Nicchiarelli, who in 2017 made a mark in Venice with Nico, 1988, competes with Miss Marx, a biopic about Eleanor Marx, the younger daughter of Karl Marx who was both a socialist and feminist. Ramola Garai plays her.

Out of competition, Frederick Wiseman, 90, delivers his 272-minute documentary City Hall, while Alex Gibney has Crazy, Not Insane, a true crime documentary about forensic psychiatrist Dorothy Otnow Lewis, a specialist in investigating the psychology of murderers.

Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino should come with Salvatore – Shoemaker of Dreams about Salvatore Ferragamo. Hopefully Greta Thunberg will be there to talk up Greta directed by Nathan Grossman.

Roger Michell has The Duke, a comedy starring Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren, and it sounds rather wonderful, especially given the fun/funny people involved. It follows a 60-year-old taxi driver who in 1961 stole Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery in London. It was the first (and remains the only) theft in the Gallery’s history. Kempton sent ransom notes saying that he would return the painting on condition that the government invested more in care for the elderly. He had long campaigned for pensioners to receive free television.

The sole Australian entry in Venice is The Furnace screening in the Horizons section. Directed and written by first timer Roderick Mackay and set in 1897 Western Australia, it stars Egyptian actor Ahmed Malek as a young Afghan Muslim cameleer who partners with a mysterious bushman, David Wenham, and together they go on the run with stolen Crown gold. They must outwit zealous troopers in a race to reset the gold bars at a secret furnace. Jay Ryan and Erik Thomson co-star.

Also in Horizons, Gia Coppola’s US feature Mainstream starring Andrew Garfield, Maya Hawke and Jason Schwartzman. It’s a contemporary drama about three people struggling to preserve their identities as they form a love triangle in the internet age. Full Monty producer Uberto Pasolini’s UK entry Nowhere Special stars James Norton as a terminally ill sole parent who must find a perfect family for his three-year-old son.

Opening Night
Lacci, Daniele Luchetti (Out of Competition)

Competition/Venezia 77
In Between Dying, Hilal Baydarov
Le Sorelle Macaluso, Emma Dante
The World to Come, Mona Fastvold
Nuevo Orden, Michel Franco
Lovers, Nicole Garcia
Laila In Haifa, Amos Gitai
Dear Comrades, Andrei Konchalovsky
Wife of a Spy, Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Sun Children, Majid Majidi
Pieces of a Woman, Kornel Mundruczo
Miss Marx, Susanna Nicchiarelli
Padrenostro, Claudio Noce
Notturno, Gianfranco Rosi
Never Gonna Snow Again, Malgorzata Szumowska
The Disciple, Chaitanya Tamhane
And Tomorrow the Entire World, Julia Von Heinz
Quo Vadis, Aida?, Jasmila Zbanic
Nomadland, Chloe Zhao

Out of Competition (Fiction)
Lasciami Andare, Stefano Mordini
Mandibules, Quentin Dupieux
Love After Love, Ann Hui
Assandira, Salvatore Mereu
The Duke, Roger Michell
Night in Paradise, Park Hoon-Jung
Mosquito State, Filip Jan Rymsza

Out of Competition (Non Fiction)
Sportin’ Life, Abel Ferrara
Crazy, Not Insane, Alex Gibney
Greta, Nathan Grossman
Salvatore – Shoemaker of Dreams, Luca Guadagnino
Final Account, Luke Holland
La Verite Su La Dolce Vita, Giussepe Pedersoli
Molecole, Andrea Segre
Narciso Em Ferias, Renato Terra and Ricardo Calil
Paolo Conte, Via Con Me, Giorgio Verdelli
Hopper/Welles, Orson Welles
City Hall, Frederick Wiseman

Out of Competition (Special Screenings)
Princess Europe, Camille Lotteau
30 Monedas (Episode One), Alex De La Iglesia
Omelia Contadina, Alice Rohrwacher and JR

Horizons
Apples, Christos Nikou
La Troisieme Guerre, Giovanni Aloi
Milestone, Ivan Ayr
The Wasteland, Ahmad Bahrami
The Man Who Sold His Skin, Kaouther Ben Hania
I Predatori, Pietro Castellitto
Mainstream, Gia Coppola
Genus Pan, Lav Diaz
Zanka Contact, Ismael El Iraki
Guerre E Pace, Martina Parenti and Massimo D’Anolfi
La Nuit Des Rois, Philippe Lacote
The Furnace, Roderick Mackay
Careless Crime, Shahram Mokri
Gaza Mon Amour, Tarzan Nasser and Arab Nasser
Selva Tragica, Yulene Olaizola
Nowhere Special, Uberto Pasolini
Listen, Ana Rocha De Sousa
The Best Is Yet to Come, Wang Jing
Yellow Cat, Adilkhan Yerzhanov

The 2020 Venice Film Festival is on September 2 – 12, 2020

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