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Venice Film Festival 2023 preview: What's showing and why we're excited

Here are our top picks of the must-see films premiering at this year's Venice Film Festival
Here are our top picks of the must-see films premiering at this year's Venice Film Festival Copyright Netflix - Searchlight Pictures - ARRAY - Venice Film Festival
Copyright Netflix - Searchlight Pictures - ARRAY - Venice Film Festival
By David Mouriquand
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With a stellar line-up of films, this year's 80th edition looks like it's going to be one for the books...

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The Venice Film Festival, one of the most prestigious events in the global film industry, will declare its 80th edition open next week – and we couldn’t be more excited.

We’ll be on the ground, mainlining as many films as humanly possible to bring you all the coverage your cinephile hearts desire.

While the current strikes in Hollywood mean that the A-listers may not all be gracing the red carpet this year, the line-up of films remains eye-wateringly good. And for good reason, as Venice has steadily built a reputation as the platform future award winners go to for their premieres.

Indeed, the world's oldest film festival has delivered a doozy of a selection for its 80th edition. Here are the ones we’re most excited for - limiting it to Competition titles, otherwise we’d be here all day.

Here goes... (And check out the video above for some more details about what to expect on the Lido this year.)

The Killer

D: David Fincher

Netflix
The KillerNetflix

The last time celebrated filmmaker David Fincher was in Venice, he was premiering 1999’s Fight Club. He returns this year with an adaptation of the French graphic novels by Alexis Nolent and illustrated by Luc Jacamon. Fincher has been working on The Killer for years, and it’s one of the most anticipated titles at this year’s Venice Film Festival. The film - described by Fincher as “a brutal, bloody, elegant noir” - is about a methodical hit man (Michael Fassbender) psychologically cracking as he starts to develop a conscience. We've all been there. He then finds himself on the wrong end of a manhunt following a botched job. We haven't all been there. Considering Fincher is incapable of delivering a bad film, Se7en screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker is on adaptation duties, and we’re getting an original score by regular collaborators Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, there’s every reason to get very excited about this Competition pick. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, Tilda Swinton’s in it too. Sold!

Origin

D: Ava Duvernay

J4A - ARRAY
OriginJ4A - ARRAY

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Ava Duvernay makes history this year at the Venice Film Festival by becoming the first African American woman in competition. Her latest feature is based on Isabel Wilkerson's Pulitzer Prize-winning nonfiction book, 'Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents', and stars Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor (King Richard) and Vera Farmiga (The Departed, Source Code), along with Audra McDonald, Nick Offerman, and Connie Nielsen. Origin tackles systemic racial inequality in the US and will explore the hierarchy of unjust caste systems that have shaped America. With Duvernay’s When They See Us, 13th and Selma, you can bet that this will be a hard-hitting and poignant watch.

Maestro

D: Bradley Cooper

Netflix
MaestroNetflix

Bradley Cooper premiered his directorial debut, 2018's A Star Is Born, at Venice. It was the perfect platform, as the film went on to receive eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Cooper. He returns to the Lido with his sophomore directorial effort, in which he plays the legendary composer Leonard Bernstein, opposite Carey Mulligan as his wife, actress and activist Felicia Montealegre. The film reportedly spans 30 years in the life of Bernstein and is said to focus more on the relationship with his wife (Carey Mulligan) than it does on his own music - or his prosthetic nose, for that matter. There’s some early awards buzz about this one, so we can’t wait to see if Cooper delivers the goods. Let's just hope that Rami Malek doesn't steal Cooper's Oscar next year like he did in 2019... We're still healing. 

El Conde

D: Pablo Larraín

Netflix
El CondeNetflix

Jackie and Spencer saw Chilean director Pablo Larraín exploring history. He returns to Venice with history on the mind, but in a different kind of way. El Conde is a gothic work of historic revisionist fiction that imagines Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet as a 250-year-old vampire who continues suck blood – literally and metaphorically. Tackling the lingering trauma of the dictatorship, Larraín’s film – shot in glorious black and white by veteran Todd Haynes cinematographer Ed Lachman – seems to blend magical realism with a bonkers premise that promises much. As considering he previously explored the lingering tyranny of the dictator in 2012’s stunning (and Oscar nominated) No, El Conde sounds like it could be one to look out for come the Golden Lion ceremony.

Poor Things

D: Yorgos Lanthimos

Searchlight Pictures
Poor ThingsSearchlight Pictures

Greek master of all things surreal and darkly humorous, Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest film – his first since his 2018 Venice-premiering The Favourite – plays out like a gender-swapped 'Frankenstein'. It sees Emma Stone play a woman brought back to life by a mad-scientist (Willem Dafoe). She runs off with Mark Ruffalo (who wouldn’t?) and becomes increasingly more aware of her humanity... and her voracious sexual appetites. The trailers for this one seem to indicate something a bit more mainstream for Lanthimos, but it wouldn’t be the first time marketing undersells a film. Here’s hoping it delivers some surreal and idiosyncratic thrills. And some haemoglobin. That would be nice. 

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Holly

D: Fien Troch

Unifrance
HollyUnifrance

The festival this year has delivered the goods when it comes to horror or horror-adjacent films. Poor Things and its gothic leanings; El Conde and its spin on the vampire genre... And then there’s Holly. Belgian director Fien Troch (Home) returns to the Lido with a film about a 15-year-old girl with a gift / curse. The titular Holly can make others feel at peace when they are in her presence. Nothing wrong with that... Except when people start trying to exploit her. It reportedly explores the theme of discomfort in adolescence and, according to festival director Alberto Barbera, it’s “a love story that plays with horror genre tropes”. Inject this into our eyeballs now.

Evil Does Not Exist

D: Ryûsuke Hamaguchi

Venice Film Festival
Evil Does Not ExistVenice Film Festival

What a year Japanese maestro Ryûsuke Hamaguchi had in 2021, with the double-tap of the Oscar-winning Drive My Car and the lesser-seen but equally brilliant Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy. This year, he surprised everyone with the announcement of his new film, Evil Does Not Exist. It came out of nowhere and went straight into Venice’s competition selection. We're not complaining. Set in a small town in Japan, we’ll follow how a big Tokyo corporation plans to build a huge glamping retreat, without much consideration for the inhabitants who will be forced to witness an environmentally unfriendly structure take over their homes. It sounds like a socially conscious tale that feels like the perfect springboard for Hamaguchi to tell yet another beautifully devastating human story.

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La Bête

D: Betrand Bonello

Arte France Cinéma; Les Films du Bélier
Le BêteArte France Cinéma; Les Films du Bélier

Betrand Bonello’s sci-fi film plunges us into a near future where emotions have become a threat. Gabrielle (Lea Seydoux) finally decides to be rid of them, using a machine that will plunge her into her past lives and rid her of all strong feelings. She then meets Louis (George MacKay), and their connection will complicate matters. Freely inspired by Henry James’ 1903 novella 'The Beast in the Jungle', this ambitious project sounds incredibly enticing – especially if it explores the inherent complexity (and beauty) of emotional connections. Sign us up.

Ferrari

D: Michael Mann

Neon
FerrariNeon

It’s Michael Mann’s first film in over eight years. And eight years is a long time – especially after the middling Blackhat. So, expectations are high for Ferrari, a biopic which stars Adam Driver as Enzo Ferrari, the Italian race car driver-turned-automobile entrepreneur, and Penelope Cruz as his wife, Laura. The rest of the cast includes Shailene Woodley, Jack O'Connell, and Patrick Dempsey. Considered a labour of love for Mann, who has been attempting to make Ferrari since 2000 (with Christian Bale and then Hugh Jackman originally signing on), the film will trace motor mogul’s life. And considering how adept the appropriately-named Driver is at taking on famed Italian celebs – after his turn in 2021’s House of Gucci as Maurizio Gucci – we're expecting a lot for this (hopefully) intense biopic.

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Priscilla

D: Sofia Coppola

A24
PriscillaA24

Arriving after last year’s Elvis, Baz Luhrmann’s maximalist opus which was a $288.7 million hit at the box office and introduced a whole new generation to the King of Rock ’n’ Roll, Adapted from Priscilla Presley’s 1985 book 'Elvis and Me', Priscilla aims to tell a different side of The King’s story. Director Sofia Coppola (Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation) will follow the King’s widow Priscilla Presley (Cailee Spaeny - Pacific Rim Uprising, Bad Times at the El Royale) and her life with Elvis (Jacob Elordi - Euphoria). Coppola has described the film as “Marie Antoinette in Graceland” and the first images promise a period piece with a degree of authenticity – especially since Priscilla Presley is a producer on the film. Fingers crossed this can do for Priscilla what Pablo Larraín’s Jackie did for Jackie Kennedy.

Outside of Competition, other titles we can’t wait to see include Quentin Dupieux’s demented-sounding Daaaaaali !; Harmony Korine’s experimental action film Aggro Dr1ft; the Ross brother’s Gasoline Rainbow (which, if it’s anywhere near as brilliant as 2020’s Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets should be a highlight); veteran documentary filmmaker Fredrick Wiseman’s Menus-Plaisirs Les Troisgros, a behind-the-scenes excursion into the world of France’s venerable restaurant; and The Caine Mutiny Court Marshall, the late William Friedkin’s final film – released on the same year as The Exorcist’s 50 year anniversary.

The Venice Film Festival takes place from 30 August – 9 September. Stay tuned to Euronews Culture for daily reviews and articles so you don’t miss out on anything happening this year on the Lido.

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