Clooney. Damon. Bardem. Hawke. Seyfried. Huppert. McDormand. Mirren. Sutherland. Dench. Cruz. Wiig. The list of big names who will descend on the Lido di Venezia for the 74th Venice international film fest is endless. Director Alberto Barbera clearly wants to prove that the world’s oldest festival can still compete with Cannes and Berlin. In one regard, he is already ahead: the beautiful and famous prefer by far the dolce vita of the lagoon city over the mad hustle and bustle on the Cote d’Azur and the wintery conditions in Berlin.
When George Clooney first came to Venice in 1998 with Out of Sight, he truly, madly, deeply fell in love with this magical city. Since then he has brought six more films to the festival (Intolerable Cruelty, Burn After Reading, Good Night, And Good Luck – which won two prizes, Michael Clayton, The Ides of March and Gravity). His love affair with bella Venezia culminated in 2014 when he married Amal on the Grand Canal. This year he will introduce his sixth film as a director, Suburbicon, starring Julianne Moore and Matt Damon, with a script by the Coen Bros. Damon is doing double duty this year - he also stars in the opening night film, Alexander Payne’s Downsizing.
He is not the only with promotion stress: Javier Bardem will arrive on Sunday to walk the red carpet for Darren Aronofsky’s psychological horror thriller mother! the next night, and alongside his wife Penélope Cruz for Loving Pablo, the love story between Colombian drug king Pablo Escobar and journalist Virginia Vallejo. It is however highly unlikely is that mother! female lead Jennifer Lawrence will attend - she is filming the latest X-Men adventure.
Three Italian films will premiere here, too, and one is directed by Golden Lion-winner John Woo, who’s bringing Manhunt, the remake of a 1976 Japanese classic murder mystery to the Lido. The Order of Things by Andrea Segre deals with policing the migrant flow; The Enigma of Jean Rouch in Turin by Marco di Castri, Paolo Favaro and Daniele Pianciola focuses on the "laboratory of ideas" founded by Rouch from 1984 through 1986 as he was preparing the 1988 film Enigma. On top of that, and keeping with a new trend to premiere TV series as well (as was done last year with the Jude Law starrer The Young Pope), legendary Italian actor/director Michele Placido will show his new series Suburra.
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The buzz factor
Not for the first time – remember Tom Ford – fashion designers are getting into the filmmaking business. This year it is the sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte fame who will show their directorial debut, the Kirsten Dunst starrer Woodshock. Golden Globe winner Isabelle Huppert is back on the Lido with Anne Fontaine’s Marvin. And Brawl in Cellblock 99 leads Vince Vaughn back to Venice only one year after he promoted Hacksaw Ridge.
A photo-op every paparazzo will be pining for is a picture of the two most notorious British queens – Victoria and Elizabeth. Or to put it differently: Britain’s most famous dames, Judi Dench and Helen Mirren. The former is supporting Stephen Frears’ Victoria & Abdul while the latter is walking the red carpet with co-star Donald Sutherland for The Leisure Seeker.
Amanda Seyfried is coming to Venice for the Paul Schrader film First Reformed with Ethan Hawke, but the press may just be more interested in Mamma Mia! 2 which will start filming just one week later in Greece and Croatia.
There’s a lot of buzz around Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water with Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins and Octavia Spencer, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri by In Bruges director Martin McDonagh, starring Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell. Chinese artist and filmmaker Ai Weiwei is presenting his documentary Human Flow,about the refugee crisis, and the press is clamoring for interviews with him.
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The Golden Lions for lifetime achievement will go to a legendary couple of classic cinema, Jane Fonda and Robert Redford. These two will also showcase their romance/drama Our Souls at Night at the festival.
One thing is clear: president Annette Bening – the first woman to head the main section jury in eleven years – and her team including Rebecca Hall, Baby Driver helmer Edgar Wright, Hungarian filmmaker Ildiko Enyedi, Mexican director Michel Franco, who produced 2015 Venice Golden Lion winner Desde Alla, French actress Anna Mouglalis, film critic David Stratton, Italian actress Jasmine Trinca and Taiwan-born filmmaker Yonfan will have their hands full selecting the winners of the Lions and Coppa Volpis with a competition that is as strong as it gets.
For the first time, Venice added a virtual teality section with such names as Laurie Anderson competing. Their jury is headed by John Landis and includes Céline Sciamma and Ricky Tognazzi.
And then there are the parties. The festival kick-off will take place as always in a huge see-through tent on the beach, in front of the Excelsior Hotel on the Lido. The Downsizing filmmakers and cast will then head to Venice for their own late night dinner at the 18th Century Museum Ca’ Rezzonico. The rest of week, cocktail receptions galore will keep guests properly libated. Our own HFPA event will take place on Saturday September 2nd, with the biggest array of stars attending since we started this tradition many years ago.
La dolce vita is an understatement.