10 Highlights of the 75th Venice International Film Festival

venice film festival 2018

The 75th Venice Film Festival (VFF) drew criticism with only having one female-directed film out of the 21 in competition, but, in front of the camera, it was a different story… with strong matriarchies and bonkers queens, not to mention a few biopics and remakes.

VFF is often used as a litmus test for the Academy Awards, so here are the 10 standout films whose titles you should be expecting to see once awards season begins…

The Favourite

Yorgos Lanthimos returns with The Favourite, starring Olivia Colman (Broadchurch) as England’s forgotten Queen Anne. Lanthimos, who’s known for his surreal films, like The Lobster (2015), where alienated characters speak and act in oddly flat and surreal ways, has been working on The Favourite for nearly two decades.

Based on a true story, as Queen Anne struggles with failing health her confidant Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) takes on the task of governing the country while also tending to the queen’s childish and eccentric needs. Sarah’s cousin Abigail Masham (Emma Stone) arrives to serve the Queen only to start a bitter rivalry between herself and Lady Sarah.

Colman plays the queen as a fat, ill, and petulant child who’s more devoted to her 17 rabbits than her friends. Her performance has been described as a mix of Quentin Crisp and Blackadder’s Nursey, reveling in her posh inhumanity. She deservedly won the ‘Best Actress’ award.

This film is a black comedy that smacks its lips at the corruption that takes place behind upholstered costumes and gold-plated rooms. This narrative is about women clawing their way to a place in society, their ambitions giving them killer instincts. The female lead political-erotic triangle is the core narrative of the plot with the male characters being nothing more than supporting lowlifes.

Other cast members include Nicholas Hoult as Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer; Joe Alwyn as Samuel Masham; Mark Gatiss as John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough; James Smith as Godolphin; and Jenny Rainsford as Mae.

The Favourite will be in UK cinemas on 1 January 2019.

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A Star is Born

Originally to be directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Beyonce, A Star is Born became Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut and features a headline-making and possible Oscar-winning performance from pop star Lady Gaga.

A made-under Gaga plays Ally, a food service employee who moonlights as a lounge singer. Cooper himself plays Jackson Maine, a country star whose tinnitus and alcoholism are taking their toll, and who becomes enchanted with Ally after a chance encounter hearing her version of “La Vie en Rose”, so he takes her on as a protégée and lover. The film takes the most inspiration from the Streisand/Kristofferson version and is being hailed as one of the best films of 2018.

While many thought there was little new to add to this remake-of-a-remake-of-a-remake, Cooper manages to make the story his own by crafting a two-hander resting on his tragic character and a stunning performance from co-star Lady Gaga. Cooper and co-writers Eric Roth and Will Fetters make Ally a strong female, whose success is more than just meeting the lucky man.

One of Gaga’s first acting roles, (she starred in American Horror Story and had a small role in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For) her performance also been praised, which is no easy feat considering the part was previously played by Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand, and she’s tipped for Oscar success. Cooper’s performance as the pill-popping drunken country star shows The Hangover (2009) actor at his vulnerable best, offset by Gaga’s gritty realism. His band is played by Neil Young’s longtime backing group Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, and Sam Elliott, Dave Chappelle, and Andrew Dice Clay all put in touching supporting roles.

This is a film that is set to make an impact upon award season, especially for Lady Gaga, because Hollywood loves nothing more than applauding itself.

A Star is Born is released worldwide on 5 October 2018.

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Vox Lux

Vox Lux is part satire and part social comment, powered by a fierce Natalie Portman that shows the ghost of the fame machine. Portman plays Celeste, a kamikaze US pop star who survived a school shooting as a teenager. This film may look glitzy, but this world of celebrity gossip and gun-fuelled terrorism go hand and hand. Celeste’s career is kick-started by a ballad she composed after the shooting tragedy, and Vox Lux is more concerned with her PTSD than how many chart-topping singles she released and how much money she earns.

Raffey Cassidy (The Killing of a Sacred Deer) plays Celeste in the shocking and haunting opening scenes, with Portman not appearing onscreen for nearly an hour. She becomes a cross between Goth and glam, soundtracked by Sia and Scott Walker, with Portman’s performance embodying Elizabeth Taylor as a woman on the brink of collapse. Portman is fearless as she shouts, drinks, and snorts who knows what; barely finding time to perform and when she does she is hounded by the press.

Brady Corbet (whose only previous directorial experience was the politically motivated The Childhood of a Leader) has a formal style that may appear emotionless but at the core of this film about the millennial pop landscape is the grief that surrounds 20th-century politics.

Vox Lux has no UK release date yet.

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First Man

Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, La La Land) takes on his biggest project yet as he reunites with Ryan Gosling for this Neil Armstrong biopic. The film depicts the years running up to the 1969 moon landing and also examines his relationships with wife Janet (The Crown’s Claire Foy), and the tragedies that inspired Armstrong to be the first man to walk on the moon. The cast of First Man is largely compromised of NASA employees, with exception of Corey Stoll (House of Cards) as Buzz Aldrin.

This film is not expected to attract as much buzz as La La Land come awards season, but given Armstrong’s life was defined by death and a sometimes unhealthy fixation at the moon, this distant and serious film feels like a perfect tribute. Chazelle wanted to do justice to the existentialism of space and the experience of looking back Earth from another planet.

First Man has been met with outrage after the US flag was omitted from the iconic moon-landing scene, but this film isn’t intended to be anti-nationalist, it’s a story about Armstrong and what it meant to him.

First Man will be released worldwide on 12 October 2018.

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Peterloo

Mike Leigh returns with a dramatic retelling of the real-life 1819 Peterloo Massacre, which saw the peaceful protests of 60,000 people in Manchester take a bloody turn. Peterloo is Leigh at his best; dealing with class-conscious and political conversation in action. The film starts in the aftermath of the Battle of Waterloo as a young soldier called Joseph makes his way home to Manchester.

Peterloo’s set during the Industrial Revolution where poverty was rampant. 60,000 people gathered peacefully in a call for parliamentary reform, hoping the propertied classes for Manchester could have representation in parliament. Fearing a French Revolution-style uprising, the magistrates sent in the Calvary…

This topic is evidently one that’s close to the director’s heart, having grown up just down the road from where the tragedy took place in Salford. It’s also an incredibly relevant film in the current political climate, and many people will find parallels between the historic event and our world today.

The cast includes a host of loved British actors, including Maxine Peake, Pearce Quigley, Rory Kinnear, and David Bramber. The film will make history as the first London Film Festival screen to be shown outside of London when it premieres in Manchester.

Peterloo is released in the UK on 2 November 2018.

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Roma

Months after Netflix refused to put aside their objection to France’s media chronology laws, Alfonso Cuarón’s first film since winning the Best Director Oscar for Gravity (2013), finally debuted to critical acclaim on the Lido.

Roma is a black-and-white film set in 1970s Mexico, inspired by the director’s own upbringing. The movie follows a year in the life of a small middle-class family in Mexico City’s Roma neighbourhood; a clan held together by a domestic worker (Yalitza Aparicio) and the family matriarch (Marina De Tavira), who both wrestle the changes within the family home. All this narrative is set against the political backdrop of the confrontation between the government-backed militia and student demonstrators.

Cuarón’s film is primarily about the real people who shape us, which for him was his nanny, who brought up not only him but his own mother. Set in an era where race and class were causing divides in Mexico these two women existed as equals as they lean on each other through triumphs and hardships.

Despite Netflix picking up distribution rights in December, Cuarón is adamant his film will be available for as many people as possible, ensuring a limited theatrical release. The cinematography heavy film has been as described an observational, hypnotic and grand epic tale. Roma won the festival’s prestigious Golden Lion award.

Netflix will launch Roma in theatres and globally later this year.

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Suspiria

Luca Guadagnino’s (Call Me By Your Name, A Bigger Splash) remake of Dario Argento’s classic Suspiria (1977) has been a long time in the making. The complex film juxtaposes extreme body horror with themes such as war and violence, focusing on a world-renowned dance company and the darkness that engulfs the troupe’s artistic director (Tilda Swinton), ambitious young dancer (Dakota Johnson), and the grieving psychotherapist (Lutz Ebersdorf who may or may not be Tilda Swinton in prosthetics). Other cast members include Chloe Moretz (Kick-Ass), Mia Goth (Nymphomaniac), and original Suspiria star Jessica Harper.

The script, co-written with David Kajganich (A Bigger Splash), aims to fill in numerous plot holes in the original plot and mythology. Susie (originally played by Jessica Harper but now by Dakota Johnson) is now given a backstory that explains why a young American would enrol in an eccentric dance academy. The fantasy realm Argento created for the original has been replaced with 1977 Berlin, with the academy being placed right in front of the wall.

The film could be this year’s mother! (2018), as some critics have hailed it as gorgeously hideous and uncompromising whilst others have called it boring and confusing, either way, audiences will be talking about it.

Suspiria’s UK release date is 16 October 2018.

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the nightingale

The Nightingale

Four years after her directorial debut The Babadook (2014) premiered at Sundance, Australian writer-director Jennifer Kent’s follow-up was the only female-directed movie in VFF competition.

The Nightingale follows a young Irish convict (The Fall’s Aisling Franciosi) and her Aborigine tracker (Baykali Ganambarr) traversing Tasmanian wilderness in 1825, out for revenge on the British officer (Sam Claflin) who attacked her family.

Grotesquely jeered at by an Italian journalist during the Venice press screening, this hard and violent film has been described as a feminist companion to Warwick Thornton’s recent Sweet Country. The Nightingale depicts the violence of Australia’s colonial past in the early 19th-century Can Diemen Land, now known as Tasmania. Whilst on the surface this is a revenge thriller, it becomes a story about looking for a difference so you can find a mutual understanding.

The Nightingale won big at the festival, with Jennifer Kent nabbing a Special Jury Prize, and Baykali Ganambarr a coveted Mastroianni Best Emerging Actor award.

The Nightingale has no current release date.

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the ballad of buster scruggs

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Last year Netflix announced The Ballad of Buster Scruggs as an original television series telling six tales about the American frontier. The end result is actually a Coen Brothers-directed 132-minute feature film, which won them the festival’s Best Screenplay award.

Long-time Coen player Tim Blake Nelson stars in the opening story as Buster Scruggs, a crooner and good-humoured gunslinger who manages to keep his own home courtesy no matter what stomach turning events are happening around him.

In another story, James Franco is a bank robber, with Liam Neeson playing a travelling theatrical impresario and Ulster protestant whose star turn is an unfortunate young man without arms or legs. Tom Waits is a Walter Huston-type prospector who gets himself into some trouble, and Tyne Daly plays is a righteous lady who finds herself confronted by two bounty hunters on a stagecoach. The final story is a heart-wrenching tale of an unmarried woman played (Zoe Kazan) who joins a wagon train in hopes of making a new life for herself in Oregon.

This handsome film, scored by long-time collaborator Carter Burwell, puts a new twist on the well-oiled western genre—to the point it’s almost self-satirising. The settlers are always in danger from the Native Americans and the white men and women, whilst dominate the narrative, are portrayed as greedy, violent and pompous.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs will be released on Netflix in November.

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22 July

Paul Greengrass is (United 93) often regarded as one of Hollywood’s best action filmmakers, but he strays away from the genre with 22 July. The film is set in the aftermath of the 2011 Norwegian attacks, which saw 77 people killed after a gunman opened fire during a summer camp on the island of Utøya.

The film, which features an all Norwegian cast, is not just the story of the gunman Breivik (Anders Danielson Lie) but shows three narrative strands: the gunman, his morally troubled lawyer (Jon Øigarden), and a young man called Viljar (Jonas Strand Gravli) who survived the incident. The incident on the 22nd July first involved a targeted van explosion in Oslo’s town centre before gunning down 69 students at a nearby summer camp, with Breikvik calling himself a commander in a war against enforced multiculturalism and the dissolution of European identity.

The massacre itself is only the first 20-minutes of the film, the real protagonist is Viljar, a teen who survives being shot in the head and whose recovery accounts for the film’s second half. Attorney Geir, who feels duty bound to represent Breivik, despite the lawyer representing Norway’s vision of tolerance and kindness.

Spoken in accented English, this film is an immersive look at the kind of violence that is coming more and more common but he doesn’t link it too strongly with the current politics, the viewers can make that connection by themselves. Greengrass forgoes his shaky-cam preference and captures the violence in steady compositions and longer takes.

Netflix will debut 22 July on 10 October 2018.

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