Cinema enthusiasts are descending on Italy’s floating city for the 68th edition of the Venice Film Festival, which kicks off on Wednesday with George Clooney’s hotly anticipated Ides of March.
Twenty-two films — all world premieres — will compete for the prestigious Golden Lion award, with a host of stars expected on the red carpet, from the blue-eyed Clooney to US singer Madonna and Godfather star Al Pacino.
Highlights include Swedish director Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of John Le Carre’s Cold War thriller Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, starring Gary Oldman and Colin Firth, and Canadian director David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method.
The latter, starring Keira Knightley, Michael Fassbender and Vincent Cassel, tells the tale of the tempestuous relationship between psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, his pupil Carl Jung, and a bewitching woman who comes between them.
Cronenberg, known in his early horror film days as the “Baron of Blood”, has described the story as a “strange menage a trois… irresistible to do.”
Dark, darker, darkest
Sex and tragedy also drive Dark Horse, about a pair of thirtysomethings with arrested development, which director Todd Solondz has said he made “to see if I could make a movie without rape, paedophilia or masturbation.”
The dark comedy continues with Roman Polanski’s Carnage, starring Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet, which is based on an acclaimed French play about two sets of parents who meet up to talk after their children get into a fight.
Polanski, famous for films such as Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Pianist (2002) will not be present. Wanted in the United States for alleged sexual assault back in 1977, he risks extradition should he travel to Italy.
The controversial director will be competing for his first Golden Lion, as will Ami Cannan Mann, who brings to Venice her second film, Texas Killing Fields, a dark thriller about a pair of detectives tracking a serial killer.
Mann, the daughter of director Michael Mann who produced the film, snatched up the job after the film’s original director, Britain’s Danny Boyle, left the project, reportedly saying it was “so dark it would never get made.”
For Britain, Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights, an adaptation of Emily Bronte’s passionate love story, competes with Steve McQueen’s Shame, produced by the Oscar-winning producers of Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech (2010).
Controversy has already struck the Asian entries, with Taiwan hotly protesting to festival organisers for wrongly listing Seediq Bale as co-produced by China, even though it was solely funded and produced by Taiwan.
With a budget of over $24 million and a cast of 15,000, the epic tale of Taiwan’s indigenous tribes fighting Japanese colonial forces in the 1930s has been tipped to launch the country back onto the international film scene.
For Hong Kong, action film director Johnnie To’s new movie Life Without Principle tells the tale of a bank teller, a thug and a police inspector who are in dire need of money when a bag of stolen money worth millions pops up.
“This is a turbulent world. In order to survive, people have no choice but play the game,” To has been quoted as saying about his new film.
Out of competition screenings are expected to draw large crowds with Madonna presenting her second film as director, WE, a film about King Edward VIII’s romance with American divorcee Wallis Simpson, on Thursday.
Al Pacino, meanwhile, will be presenting his third film as director, with a version of Oscar Wilde’s once-banned Salome, a grisly tale of lust and greed.
But it is Clooney who is expected to draw the screaming crowds on the opening day.
The Hollywood heart-throb will be hoping to snag his first Golden Lion as a director after winning best screenplay and best actor in Venice in 2005 for Goodnight and Good Luck, but losing the Lion to Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain.
The 50-year old has denied media rumours he will bring a new girlfriend to the festival’s glittering premier — to the joy of fans hoping to catch a wave from Hollywood’s most eligible bachelor on the red carpet.
The festival starts on August 31 and concludes on September 10.