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VENICE – Andrea Arnold’s adaptation of Emily Bronte’s classic 19th century novel Wuthering Heights was the main event at the Venice Film Festival Tuesday, while officials unveiled the identity of the festival’s surprise film to finally fill out the field of 23 works vying for the Golden Lion honor.
The surprise film is Ren Shan Ren Hai (Sea of People), a murder drama from Chinese director Cai Shangjun. The selection brings the total number of Chinese films in competition to four, making China the second most represented country in the main competition — only the U.S. has more.
Ren Shan Ren Hai tells the story of a penniless man who returns home to his remote village and must avenge the murder of his brother. It is the second directorial effort for Cai, who won the FIPRESCI Award at the Pusan Film Festival for father-son drama Hongse kanbaiyin (The Red Awn) in 2007.
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In addition to Ren Shan Ren Hai, the Chinese films in the competition are Johnnie To’s Duo mingjin (Life Without Principle), Seediq Bale from Wei Te-sheng, and Tao jie (A Simple Life), directed by Ann Hui.
Wuthering Heights, which stars Kaya Scodelario and James Howson as Cathy and Heathcliff, respectively, screened to a sold out Sala Grande crowd for an unorthodox adaptation of the classic story. In this version, Heathcliff is black, the story is removed from its mid-19th century context, and the screenplay is peppered with occasional profanity and nudity.
In a press briefing before the Sala Grande screening, Arnold said that despite her unusual take on the story,that she believed Bronte would have approved of it.
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“I really wanted to do honor to Bronte,” Arnold said. “Wuthering Heights is a strange, dark, and profound book and I wanted to honor that spirit. I made decisions that felt true to me and were also true to what I believed was the spirit of the book.”
With the in-competition world premiere of Wuthering Heights, the Venice festival takes a more Italian turn, as many of the international players begin to migrate to Toronto, where the festival there gets underway Wednesday. Two of the three Italian films in competition will premiere over the next three days, and the Italian oriented sidebars are starting to hit full stride.
The 68th edition of the festival, which got underway August 31, will conclude on Saturday with the main prize ceremony.
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