'First Man', 'A Star Is Born', and more to premiere at 75th year of Venice Film Festival

By Helen Barlow

The Venice Festival, celebrating its 75th edition, is the oldest of all film festivals.

Yet it has rejuvenated itself in recent years by premiering a spate of Oscar winners, including Birdman, Spotlight and last year’s The Shape of Water directed by Guillermo del Toro, who presides over this year’s competition jury.

Last year Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was also a huge success, taking out the festival’s screenwriting prize, while Frances McDormand went on to score Oscar gold for best actress and Sam Rockwell won for best supporting actor for the film.

On Wednesday this year’s Festival opens with First Man, which reteams Ryan Gosling and director Damien Chazelle whose musical hit, La La Land, opened the 2016 event. First Man follows Neil Armstrong’s mission to the moon and Claire Foy, star of the first two seasons of The Crown, plays Janet Shearon, Armstrong’s first wife.

Buzz is already building for Bradley Cooper’s directing debut, a remake of A Star Is Born where he co-stars with Lady Gaga. According to a colleague who has seen the film, Oscar voters are going to go gaga for her performance.

Meanwhile Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite, an Irish co-production with the UK and the US, is indeed a favourite that critics are betting on going into the festival. An historical epic, the story pits Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone against each other as they court favour with crazy Queen Anne, played by Olivia Colman.

Colman is currently having quite a regal moment, as she will soon be seen as Queen Elizabeth II in the third season of The Crown, stepping into Foy’s younger shoes. Weisz, who is heavily pregnant, will not attend the Festival. One imagines the wife of Daniel Craig is happy to dodge the bullet over answering questions regarding the upcoming, and now delayed 007 movie.

Irish actress Aisling Franciosi (The Fall, Game Of Thrones) stars in the Australian feature, The Nightingale, by writer-director Jennifer Kent, whose previous film The Babadook became an international horror sensation.

Incredibly it’s the only film directed a woman in the Venice competition. Shot in Tasmania in autumn-winter of 2017, the film is set in the 1820s wilderness as Franciosi’s 21 year-old Irish convict pursues the men who murdered her family. Sam Clafin also stars.

The Coen Brothers new movie, The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs, which started out as a six-part Netflix anthology series, will also compete in Venice. Tim Blake Nelson stars and Liam Neeson and Brendon Gleeson have supporting roles.

Interestingly the three Netflix films once bound for Cannes are all set to screen in Venice. Two are in the competition. Alfonso Cuarón returns to the Lido after opening the 2013 festival with Gravity to present his autobiographical black-and-white 70 mm Mexican film, Roma; while Paul Greengrass will present Norway, about the Norwegian terrorist who in 2011 murdered 77 people.

The third Netflix film is Orson Welles’ The Other Side of the Wind, which was shot between 1970 and 1976 and has finally been completed. It stars John Huston, Oja Kodar, Peter Bogdanovich, Susan Strasberg and Norman Foster.

In his follow-up to Call Me By Your Name Italian director Luca Guadagnino has created his own version of Dario Argento’s 1977 horror classic, Suspiria. He has cast his regular actors, Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton, as well as Mia Goth and Chloë Grace Moretz.

Other competition entries include Mike Leigh’s Peterloo about the 1819 massacre where British forces attacked a peaceful pro-democracy rally in Manchester; Brady Corbet’s Vox Lux starring Natalie Portman as a singer who rises from the ashes to become a major pop star (maybe Lady Gaga has competition); Julian Schnabel’s At Eternity’s Gate starring Willem Dafoe as Vincent Van Gogh; and in The Mountain the master of weird Jeff Goldblum plays a character based on Dr. Walter Freeman who pioneered the lobotomy.

Frenchman Olivier Assayas’s Doubles Vies, set in the publishing world and focusing on the struggles in a digital age, stars Guillaume Canet and Juliette Binoche; while another French director Jacques Audiard (The Prophet) makes his English-language debut with The Sisters Brothers, a western starring Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly.

One of the best films at the festival just might be Charlie Says, about three young women serving life sentences in the infamous Manson murder case and their transformations as they face the reality of their horrific crimes.

And yes, it’s directed by a very talented woman, Mary Harron, known for the topical films American Psycho, I Shot Andy Warhol and the Netflix series Alias Grace.

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