As the 76th edition of the Venice film festival is about to kick off tomorrow, there is a lot to contemplate for guests, reviewers and organizers alike. The competition choices as a whole look promising and are sure to generate interest, even though there is no single film that sticks out quite yet, as it had been the case when lineups were announced in previous years featuring such titles as Gravity, A Star Is Born, or Roma.
Here is the problem, as one publication pointed out - there are as many competition films directed by women as there are films directed by men accused of rape: Roman Polanski may or may not show up on the Lido but his new work J’Accuse surely will. On the other hand, Nate Parker, whose American Skin is being screened, plans to be there with heavy support by his side: Spike Lee will present the film and participate in a discussion alongside the director.
There are world premieres from the likes of Steven Soderbergh, James Gray, Roy Andersson, Noah Baumbach, Todd Phillips, Olivier Assayas, and Kore-eda Hirokazu - who claimed the opening night with The Truth starring Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche and Ethan Hawke - and dozens of other famous men. Men.
The Venice organizers have been raked over the coals by numerous media outlets for remaining the most tone-deaf festival when it comes to gender parity.
So, let’s talk about the only two competition films by female directors. Haifaa Al Mansour is returning to the Lido with The Perfect Candidate about a determined young Saudi doctor’s surprise run for office in the local city elections that sweeps up her family and community as they struggle to accept their town’s first female candidate. This film is so timely even for those of us living in the west, that it will certainly gain attention. Australian director Shannon Murphy will present the coming of age story Babyteeth.
courtesy Biennale di Venezia
They will compete against the “anti-superhero” movie Joker, directed by Todd Phillips and starring Joaquin Phoenix and Robert De Niro, and, among others, Soderbergh’s Panama Papers film The Laundromat with Meryl Streep and Gary Oldman and Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, starring Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, and Laura Dern.
There are also James Gray’s outer space film, Ad Astra, starring Brad Pitt, and Olivier Assayas' Wasp Network, based on the true story about a Cuban airline pilot who stole a plane to start a new life in Miami with other dissidents, starring Penélope Cruz, Edgar Ramírez, Gael García Bernal and Wagner Moura of Narcos fame.
Out of competition but no less interesting is Seberg with Kristen Stewart playing the Iowa actress who became an icon of French cinema in the 60s and a civil rights activist targeted by the FBI for her relationship with Malcolm X’s cousin. There is David Michôd's medieval epic, The King, with Timothée Chalamet, Lily-Rose Depp and Robert Pattinson, and a few episodes of Paolo Sorrentino’s TV series The New Pope, with Jude Law and John Malkovich. And the closing night film, The Burnt Orange Heresy, stars none other than Mick Jagger, alongside Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Debicki and Claes Bang.
Being the first big festival of the fall, Venice has always served more as the first kickoff to the upcoming awards season than a sure predictor of possible future nominees, and any speculation over who and what may make the cut come December is premature and no more than a guessing game for reporters who are paid to do so.
There will be – as always – enough star power in Venice, the biggest star to hit the Lido being Brad Pitt. It is safe to say that the paparazzi will have a field day chasing him up and down the Canal Grande. But for some, the most exciting stars are the two will be honored with the Golden Lion, the festival’s lifetime achievement award: Pedro Almodóvar and Julie Andrews.