Venice Film Festival 2023: Luca Guadagnino’s ‘Challengers’ to open 80th edition of the Mostra

Mike Faist, Zendaya and Josh O'Connor in a scene from Challengers, the opening film of this year's Venice Film Festival
Mike Faist, Zendaya and Josh O'Connor in a scene from Challengers, the opening film of this year's Venice Film Festival Copyright Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures
By David Mouriquand
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Luca Guadagnino is back on the Lido this year, offering a star-studded opening film.


Two weeks after the trailer was released, it has been announced that Luca Guadagnino’s latest film, Challengers, will open this year’s 80th Venice Film Festival – the first major event of the Fall Festival season.

The film will world premiere out of competition on 30 August in the Sala Grande at the Palazzo del Cinema (Lido di Venezia), providing a star-studded start to the festival, which has proven track record as an awards launchpad and an important stop for Oscar hopefuls.

Last year the festival hosted the premiere of The Whale, which would go on to win Brendan Fraser the Oscar for Best Actor, as well as a handful of awards contenders including Tár, The Banshees of Inisherin, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed and Blonde.

The hotly anticipated Challengers, which marks Guadagnino’s first full-fledged US studio movie, will be distributed by Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures/Amazon Studios, and internationally through Warner Bros Pictures.

The story, based on a script by playwright Justin Kuritzkes, revolves around Zendaya (Dune, Euphoria), who stars as tennis prodigy Tashi Duncan. She is married to a champion on a losing streak named Art, played by Mike Faist (West Side Story). Tashi’s plan for her husband’s comeback is for Art to enter the Challengers tennis tournament. However, Tashi comes face to face with Patrick, played by Josh O’Connor (God’s Own Country, La Chimera, The Crown), her former lover and Art’s best friend.

The synopsis states: “As their pasts and presents collide, and tensions run high, Tashi must ask herself, what will it cost to win.”

Tennis, love triangles, Guadagnino’s stellar filmograhy (Call Me By Your Name, Suspiria)? Count us in.

“It’s a modern bold story of youthful energy, love and power,” said Guadagnino in a statement. “Zendaya, Josh and Mike are totally original and fresh, bringing a new energy like you’ve never seen before,” he added, further noting: “I can’t wait for the Lido audience to dance across the notes of the soundtrack of Trent and Atticus at the opening night of the 80th edition of the Mostra.”

Oh yes, and the soundtrack is by scoring duo extraordinaire Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (The Social Network, Soul) - in case you weren't excited already. 

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.
Zendaya in a scene from ChallengersMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.

Guadagnino is a Venice regular, as his previous films A Bigger Splash (2015), Suspiria (2018) and Salvatore: The Shoemaker of Dreams (2020) have all premiered on the Lido. Last year, his film Bones and All, starring Timothée Chalamet and Taylor Russell, played in Venice competition and won the Venice Silver Lion for Best Director.

The fact that Guadagnino won the prestigious award last year may explain why Challengers is launching out-of-competition from the Lido this year.

“Luca Guadagnino is one of the few Italian directors who has always been accustomed to working with both Italian and foreign actresses and actors, getting top results from all of them each time. Even when he is filming abroad, as is the case with ‘Challengers,'” said Venice artistic director Alberto Barbera in a statement.

“With a light hand and sporting self-confidence, Guadagnino sets no limits to his creative energy in this film as he deals with topics such as love, friendship, and male rivalry, and brings to life an enthralling and affecting movie, full of irony, sensuality, and good nature. Cinema in its purest form,” Barbera added.

Challengers has already secured a 15 September US theatrical release date.

The 80th edition of the Venice Film Festival will run 30 August to the 9 September. The full line-up for the festival will be announced in late July.

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