Venice Film Festival unveils an impressive line-up - with some controversy brewing

The Lido will not suffer too badly from the Hollywood strikes and has unveiled an impressive line-up - with some controversial picks threatening the celebration
The Lido will not suffer too badly from the Hollywood strikes and has unveiled an impressive line-up - with some controversial picks threatening the celebration Copyright Venice Film Festival
By David Mouriquand
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Venice Film Festival scores an impressive line-up despite the Hollywood strikes - but will the inclusion of Woody Allen, Roman Polanski and Luc Besson spoil the party?

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New films from David Fincher, Bradley Cooper, Sofia Coppola, Yorgos Lanthimos, Michael Mann, Ava DuVernay, Woody Allen, and Roman Polanski are all heading to the Lido for the 80th Venice Film Festival.

The festival chief Alberto Barbera announced the line-up for the 80th edition of the world’s oldest film festival, which has managed to weather Covid and never once cancelled festivities during the pandemic. However, this year, the festival faced a new challenge given the ongoing WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes

Indeed, the festival is known as a glamorous launchpad for awards season and a smaller US presence on the Lido was expected, as studios are reluctant to launch projects without celebrity footfall on the red carpet.

However, fears of a distinctively unstarry and scaled back “Plan B” festival have been assuaged. According to Barbera, the original line-up of films remains largely unscathed by the strikes, with only MGM’s Zendaya-starrer Challengers, from fest regular Luca Guadagnino, which had been set to open the proceedings on 30 August, pulling out.

MGM
Challengers has pulled out of the Venice Film Festival due to the Hollywood strikesMGM

“The other American movies we had invited and have been confirmed and will be present,” he said. He noted that the SAG-AFTRA strikes will mean some “actors and actresses” will not attend but that talent from independent films will be able to come, meaning that the red carpet “will not be empty.”

Barbera went on to note that he has high hopes that “actors who are in independent (US) productions – and there are many in Venice – will be coming.”

Challengers has been replaced by Italian WWII movie Comandante by Edoardo de Angelis, starring Pierfrancesco Favino. Society of the Snow, J.A. Bayona’s survival thriller, produced for Netflix, will close the 2023 Venice Film Festival on 9 September.

Another Netflix feature, David Fincher’s hotly-anticipated The Killer, has secured a competition slot. The thriller stars Michael Fassbender and Tilda Swindon.

Netflix
Michael Fassbender in David Fincher's The KillerNetflix

It joins a very impressive competition line-up this year, which includes Maestro, Bradley Cooper’s second directorial effort after the blockbuster success of A Star is Born — which premiered in Venice in 2018. Cooper directs and stars as legendary conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein, alongside Carey Mulligan as Bernstein’s wife Felicia Montealegre.

Yorgos Lanthimos, whose 2018 film The Favourite became an Oscar-winning hit, also returns to the Lido with Poor Things, a surreal and gothic period drama starring Emma Stone as a woman brought back to life by a 19th-century scientist. The film, inspired by 'Frankenstein', features an ensemble cast including Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe and Margaret Qualley.

Searchlight Pictures
Emma Stone and Mark Ruffalo in Yorgos Lanthimos' Poor ThingsSearchlight Pictures

Also competing for the Golden Lion this year will be Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla, a look at Priscilla Presley’s relationship with the King of Rock and Roll, based on Presley’s 1985 memoir 'Elvis and Me'; Ferrari, Michael Mann’s biopic based on Brock Yates’ biography of Italian race car driver legend Enzo Ferrari, starring Adam Driver; and The Promised Land, a Danish period drama starring Mads Mikkelsen from A Royal Affair director Nikolaj Arcel.

There's also the sci-fi drama La Bête from Bertrand Bonello, featuring Léa Seydoux and George MacKay, revolving around AI in a world where emotions are a threat; the immigrant drama The Green Border from Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland; Ava Duvernay’s Origin, inspired by Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson’s 'Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents' about the system of hierarchy that has shaped America; and Evil Does Not Go Away, the new surprise feature from Oscar-winning Drive My Car director Ryusuke Hamaguchi.

Dizzy yet? We told you it was impressive.

Controversial picks threaten to overshadow a fantastic line-up

The Out of Competition and Horizons sidebar selections have also delivered a promising line-up this year, including Richard Linklater’s latest film about a psychologist working undercover for the police (Hit Man), the new documentary by veteran filmmaker Frederick Wiseman about the behind the scenes of a famous Parisian restaurant (Menus Plaisirs – Les Troisgros), French surrealist Quentin Dupieux’s latest comedy about the limitless narcissism of artists (Daaaaaali!), and a documentary chronicling the last solo piano concert by Ryuichi Sakamoto, directed by his son Neo Sora (Ryuichi Sakamoto Opus).

There’s also the return of Wes Anderson... Not that he ever went away. Fresh from his Cannes premiere of Asteroid City, the filmmaker will be in Venice with The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, a series of stories inspired by tales from beloved author Roald Dahl. The 40-minute feature stars Ralph Fiennes, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dev Patel and Ben Kingsley.

As if that wasn’t enough, the Out of Competition selection also features William Friedkin’s court-martial drama The Caine Mutiny Court Martial starring Kiefer Sutherland. Friedkin will also be on the Lido for the previously announced screening of a recently remastered copy of The Exorcist, in celebration of the landmark film’s 50th anniversary.

However, one of the main talking points from this line-up announcement - and this year’s festival - will be the presence of several controversial directors in the programme.

Getty Images, AFP, Shutterstock
Woody Allen, Luc Besson and Roman Polanski will all have their new films premiering at this year's Venice Film FestivalGetty Images, AFP, Shutterstock

Venice has never shied away from ruffling feathers, but this year, they’ve certainly delivered the goods by not just doubling down but tripling down.

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Controversial director Woody Allen will premiere his newest film Coup de Chance in the Out of Competition section. It is his first French-language movie, and his inclusion in the line-up will doubtlessly generate scandal.

Also in Out of Competition is Roman Polanski’s new feature, the black comedy The Palace. Venice premiered Polanski’s An Officer and A Spy in 2019 (and handed the film the runner-up Jury Prize Silver Lion). The film, co-written by Polanski, focuses on a party in a luxurious Swiss hotel on the eve of the new millennium. The cast includes John Cleese, Fanny Ardant and Mickey Rourke.

But why stop at two when you can have three controversy magnets? 

The festival's final problematic trump card is in Competition this time: Luc Besson, the French director who has been accused of alleged sexual misconduct, will premiere his new feature, Dogman, a drama starring Caleb Landry Jones. The director will be hoping for a comeback, but it remains to be seen whether critical and public opinion will forgive and forget, or even accept that these three directors are included in the first place.

As if it wasn’t enough of a challenge to weather the Hollywood strike storm, Venice might be dealing with sizeable criticism and picket lines of their own when these films premiere. Let's hope it doesn't completely overshadow an otherwise stellar selection of films. 

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Here is the full 2023 Venice line-up:

VENEZIA 80 COMPETITON

The Promised Land - Nikolaj Arcel
Dogman - Luc Besson
La Bête - Bertrand Bonello
Hors-Saison - Stéphane Brizé
Enea - Pietro Castellitto
Comandante - Edoardo de Angelis (opening night film)
Maestro - Bradley Cooper
Priscilla - Sofia Coppola
Finalmente L’Alba - Saverio Costanzo
Lubo - Giorgio Diritti
Origin - Ava DuVernay
The Killer - David Fincher
Memory - Michel Franco
Io Capitano - Matteo Garrone
Evil Does Not Exist - Ryusuke Hamaguchi
The Green Border - Agnieszka Holland
Die Theorie Von Allem - Timm Kroger
Poor Things - Yorgos Lanthimos
El Conde - Pablo Larrain
Ferrari - Michael Mann
Adagio - Stefano Sollima
Woman Of -Malgorzata Szumowska, Michal Englert
Holly - Fien Troch

OUT OF COMPETITION

Fiction

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Coup de Chance - Woody Allen
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar - Wes Anderson
The Penitent - Luca Barbareschi
L’Ordine del Tempo - Liliana Cavani
Vivants - Alix Delaporte
Daaaaaali! - Quentin Dupieux
The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial - William Friedkin
Aggro Dr1ft - Harmony Korine
Hit Man - Richard Linklater
The Palace - Roman Polanski
Snow Leopard - Pema Tseden

Non-Fiction

Hollywoodgate - Ibrahim Nash’at
Amor - Virginia Eleuteri Serpieri
Ryuichi Sakamoto Opus - Neo Sora
Frente a Guernica (Version Integrale) - Yervant Gianikian, Angela Ricci Lucchi
Enzo Jannacci Vengo Anch’io -  Giorgio Verdelli
Menus Plaisirs – Les Troisgros - Frederick Wiseman

Series

D’Argent et de Sang (episodes 1-12) - Xavier Giannoli, Frederic Planchon
I Know Your Soul (episodes 1&2) - Alen Drljevic, Nermin Hamzagic

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Special Screening

La Parte del Leone: Una Storia della Mostra - Baptiste Etchegary, Guiseppe Bucchi

HORIZONS EXTRA

Bota Jone - Luana Bajrami
Forever Forever - Anna Buryachkova
The Rescue - Daniela Goggi
In the Land of Saints and Sinners - Robert Lorenz
Day of the Fight - Jack Huston
Felicita - Micaela Ramazzotti
Pet Shop Boys - Olmo Schnabel
Stolen - Karan Tejpal
L’Homme d’Argile - Anais Tellenne

HORIZONS

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A Cielo Abierto - Mariana Arriaga, Santiago Arriaga
El Paraiso - Enrico Maria Artale
Behind the Mountains - Mohamed Ben Attia
The Red Suitcase - Fidel Devkota
Tatami - Guy Nattiv, Zar Amir Ebrahimi
Paradise Is Burning - Mika Gustafson
The Featherweight - Robert Kolodny
Invelle - Simone Massi
Hesitation Wound - Selman Nacar
Heartless - Nara Normande, Tiao
Una Sterminata Domenica - Alain Perroni
City of Wind - Lkhagvadulam Purev-Ochir
Explanation for Everything - Gabor Reisz
Gasoline Rainbow - Bill Ross, Turner Ross
En Attendant la Nuit - Céline Rouzet
Housekeeping for Beginners - Goran Stolevski
Shadow of Fire - Shinya Tsukamoto
Dormitory - Nehir Tuna

VENICE CLASSICS

Bill Douglas My Best Friend - Jack Archer
Le Film Pro-Nazi d’Hitchcock - Daphne Baiwir
Thank You Very Much - Alex Braverman
Landrian - Ernesto Daranas Serrano
Un Altra Italia Era Possibile, Il Cinema Di Guiseppe De Santis - Stefano Della Casa
Michel Gondry Do It Yourself - François Nemeta
Ken Jacobs From Orchard Street to the Museum of Modern Art - Fred Riedel
Frank Capra: Mr America - Matthew Wells
Dario Argento Panico - Simone Scafidi

La La Land and First Man filmmaker Damien Chazelle is the president of this year’s jury, which will also feature Jane Campion, Laura Poitras, Mia Hansen-Løve, Martin McDonagh, Gabriele Mainetti, Santiago Mitre, Saleh Bakri, and Shu Qi.

The Venice Film Festival runs from 30 August to 9 September. Stay tuned to Euronews Culture for our full coverage of the festival, including our most anticipated films for this year's 80th edition.

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