Friday, August 24, 2007

Venice, aSmallWorld

There's a website called aSmallWorld, which is like facebook but très exclusif; here's a preview of the Venice film festival I wrote for it.

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The 64th Venice Film Festival is shinier, more progressive and more Anglophone than ever this year. Nearly half of the films in competition for the Golden Lion are from England or America, and there is a new Queer Lion for the best film with gay themes or characters.

Every star in the cinematic firmament is on show by the Lido in the festival’s 75th anniversary year. From leading men Brad Pitt and George Clooney to gamine Keira Knightley (above) and grande dame Vanessa Redgrave, the festival’s cast list reads like the Hollywood phonebook.

No fewer than ten of the 22 films in competition come from the home of the brave or the land of hope and glory, and all are bravely hoping for glory. Wes Anderson – the auteur behind the surprisingly dark The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic – will show The Darjeeling Limited, featuring his favoured consorts Owen Wilson, Bill Murray and Anjelica Huston.

Opening the festival is Joe Wright’s Atonement, based on Ian McEwan’s novel about a summer day’s tragic events (much like Enduring Love) starring Knightley and Redgrave. Kenneth Branagh offers up a remake of Harold Pinter’s Sleuth, with Michael Caine in the Laurence Olivier role and Jude Law in the Michael Caine role. No word on who’s playing the Jude Law role in the next remake.

Beyond the English-speaking world, Ang Lee – who put the ‘ouch’ in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – brings Lust, Caution, a Shanghai thriller. Youssef Chaine flies the flag for Egypt, while Italy offers work from young directors Vincenzo Marra, Andrea Porporati and Paolo Franchi.

Heading this year’s jury is Zhang Yimou, who directed the balletic, athletic Hero and House of Flying Daggers. Around the table with him are Catherine Breillat and Jane Campion, who have both explored female sexuality in film, and Paul Verhoeven, who is famed for his graphic representations of violence and sexuality in film.

After four years of ‘sensitive negotiations,’ Venice is ready to introduce the Queer Lion. The Berlin Film Festival has recognised this field for some years, but now Venice has stepped up after Brokeback Mountain took 2005’s Golden Lion.

Dozens of films are showing out of competition. Woody Allen’s latest attempt to get his groove back, Cassandra’s Dream, features Colin Farrell climbing out of his post-Alexander pit, while yet another cut of Blade Runner premieres.

There is a Spaghetti Western selection, with sore saddles guaranteed for anyone who sits through them all. Happily, Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood’s For a Few Dollars More is among them. There are also Bernardo Bertolucci and Tim Burton events, as Burton receives the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement.

There will be plenty to dazzle visitors outside of the screenings. The Palazzo del Cinema will get the shine treatment courtesy of legendary production designer Dante Ferretti. After years of working with Pasolini, Fellini and Scorsese, Ferretti brings his vision to the palazzo’s external façade with a giant steel sphere, which could well steal the show altogether.

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