De Palma, Malick and Bellocchio Headline Slimmer Venice Competition Lineup

Rob McEwan
Brian De Palma

UPDATE: The 60-film official selection includes 20 entries from female directors and out-of-competition selections from Jonathan Demme, Spike Lee and Robert Redford.

ROME – The Venice Film Festival announced its full lineup Thursday, with a scaled down official selection compared to previous years, an increased emphasis on female directors, and more than its share of heavyweight directors, including the latest projects from Brian De Palma and Terrence Malick.

Also with a film screening in competition is Marco Bellocchio, whose end-of-life drama Bella Addormentata (Dormant Beauty) is already seen as a possible candidate to be Italy’s nominee for the Foreign language Oscar, while At Any Price, an adventure drama from Ramin Bahrani, a member of Venice’s main jury three years ago; Harmony Korine’s comedy Spring Breakers; and Apres Mai (Something in the Air), a 1960’s coming of age tale from France’s Olivier Assayas, will also compete for Venice’ coveted Golden Lion honor.

De Palma will bring thriller Passion to the Venice Lido, while the enigmatic Malick will screen romantic drama To the Wonder. It is the first ever Venice appearance for Malick, a two-time Oscar nominee.

The out-of competition lineup includes Enzo Avitabile Music Life, a documentary from Jonathan Demme; the epic 270-minute mystery Shokazai (Penance) from Japan’s Kiyoshi Kurosawa; Jean-Pierre Ameris’ drama L’homme qui rit (The Man Who Laughs), which is the festival’s closing film; Spike Lee’s Michael Jackson documentary Bad 25; The Company You Keep, a thriller directed by Robert Redford; The Reluctant Fundamentalist from Mira Nair, the festival’s opening film; and O Gebo e a Sombra (Gebo and the Shadow) from 103-year-old Portugese directing icon Manoel de Oliveira.

All the films in the official selection are world premieres, though one is a world premiere with a footnote: Shokazai, the 270-minute epic from Kurosawa -- who is not related to famed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa -- is whittled down from a 420-minute version of the story that screened in five parts on Japanese television. But Venice will host the world premiere of the “short” -- to use a relative term -- version of the film.

Newly-appointed artistic director Alberto Barbera promised a slimmed down lineup and he delivered: the official selection is made up of just 60 films, not counting autonomous sidebars and the retrospectives. That compares to 85 a year ago, though much of that reduction came from completely eliminating the festival’s all-Italian Contracampo Italiano sidebar, which last year included a dozen feature films and full-length documentaries.

This year the official selection is limited to three sections, in-competition, out-of-competition, and the festival’s competitive Horizon’s sidebar, plus a handful of special screenings.

After he was appointed to his new post in December, Barbera said he wanted to transform Venice into a more selective event that was “more somber and less glitzy” than it had been under predecessor Marco Mueller, now artistic director at the rival International Rome Film Festival. But on Thursday, Barbera said those remarks had been overblown, pointing out that Venice will still have plenty of star power.

Aside from aforementioned directors De Palma, Malick, Demme, Lee, and Redford -- all of whom are expected to make the trip to the Lido for the August 29-Sept. 9 festival -- Barbera said other top-shelf names expected to make an appearance in Venice include Ben Affleck and Rachel McAdams (both appear in Malick’s To the Wonder, while McAdams also stars in De Palma’s Passion); James Franco (in Spring Breakers); Gerard Depardieu (in L’homme qui rit); Pierce Brosnan (in Susanne Bier’s Danish out-of-competition romantic comedy Love Is All You Need); Wynona Ryder (in out-of-competition The Iceman from Ariel Vromen); Dennis Quaid (in At Any Price); Kate Hudson (in The Reluctant Fundamentalist); and award-winning Italian actor Toni Servillo, in both Bella Addormentata and Daniele Cipri’s drama E stat oil figlio (He Was The Son).

The roll call still falls short of the star power from recent editions of the Venice festival, though the arrivals will likely be enough to keep Italian paparazzi and autograph seekers busy for the 12 days of the festival.

“Everybody said I wanted a festival that was too somber, too serious, too intellectual, but I think we can see here we have struck a good balance,” Barbera said Thursday.

Part of the balance, according to Barbera, revolves around the smaller number of films in the official selection. Though the 60 films does not include the 28 total restored films in the festival’s retrospective, or the ambitious lineups from the autonomous sidebars from Venice Days and Critics’ Week, Barbera said the decision to trim the lineup still helped the festival from becoming overwhelming.

“Even if they couldn’t see all of them, if somebody wanted to they could at least see the vast majority of the films in the official selection,” Barbera said.

“This process of reducing the number of films has made me envy Toronto Film Festival artistic director [Cameron Bailey] because with room for 150 films he can say yes to anything," Barbera continued. "It’s very difficult to call a director who might be a friend, might be someone I esteem a lot, and to tell him ‘We don’t have room for your film this year.’”

The festival said a total of nearly 1,800 full-length films were considered before selecting the final 60.

One film from the official selection has yet to be named, a 18th in-competition film listed for now as “surprise.” The surprise selection was a tradition started by Mueller during his tenure, but in a small jab at his predecessor Barbera said the only information that he could give about the surprise film was that “it would not be Chinese.” Under Mueller, the surprise film was often from China, at first in order to shorten the time for Chinese censors to take steps against the film in question.

Chinese films in general, common in the official selection previously, were less in evidence this year, with only two among the 35 films in or out of competition: Tai Chi 0, an action film from up-and-coming Hong Kong director Stephen Fung and Shark (Bait) from Kimble Rendall, an Australia-China-Singapore co-production. Both films screen out-of-competition, with two additional Chinese films in the Horizons sidebar.

Of the 60 films in the official selection, 20 of are directed by women, including Un Giorno Speciale (A Special Day) from Italy’s Francesca Comencini, screening in competition, plus Bier’s Love Is All You Need and Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, both out of competition. The Venice Days and Critics' Week sidbars, which announced their lineups Tuesday, also included a heavy emphasis on female directors. 

There are fewer Italian films in the official selection than in the past, due mostly to the elimination of the Contracampo Italiano sidebar. Nonetheless, 14 of the official selection’s 60 films were made by Italian directors, more than any other country. With 11 films, U.S. directors were the next most common.

“We have fewer Italian films than in the past, but that doesn’t mean we don’t love Italian film,” Barbera said. “We just had to be more selective.”

The official selection for the 69th Venice Film Festival (full-length films only, including the country or countries of production):

In-competition films:

Something in the Air, Olivier Assayas (France)

Outrage: Beyond, Takeshi Kitano (Japan)

Fill The Void, Rama Burshtein (Israel)

To the Wonder, Terrence Malick (U.S.)

Pieta, Kim Ki-duk (South Korea)

Dormant Beauty, Marco Bellocchio (Italy)

E' stato il figlio, Daniele Cipri (Italy)

At Any Price, Ramin Bahrani (U.S., U.K.)

La cinquieme saison, Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth (Belgium, Netherlands, France)

Un giorno speciale, Francesca Comencini (Italy)

Passion, Brian De Palma (France, Germany)

Superstar, Xavier Giannoli (France, Belgium)

Spring Breakers, Harmony Korine (U.S.)

Thy Womb, Brillante Mendoza (Philippines)

Linhas de Wellington, Valeria Sarmiento (Portugal, France)

Paradise: Faith, Ulrich Seidl (Austria, France, Germany)

Betrayal, Kirill Serebrennikov (Russia)


Out of competition films:

L'homme qui rit, Jean-Pierre Ameris (France)

Love Is All You Need, Susanne Bier (Denmark, Sweden)

Cherchez Hortense, Pascal Bonitzer (France)

Sur un fil, Simon Brook (France, Italy)

Enzo Avitabile Music Life, Jonathan Demme (Italy, U.S.)

Tai Chi 0, Stephen Fung (China)

Lullaby to My Father, Amos Gitai (Israel, France)

Shokuzai (Penance), Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Japan)

Bad 25, Spike Lee (U.S.)

The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Mira Nair (India, Pakistan, U.S.)

O Gebo e a Sombra, Manoel de Oliveira (Portugal, France)

The Company You Keep, Robert Redford (U.S.)

Shark (Bait 3D), Kimble Rendall (Australia, China, Singapore)

Disconnect, Henry-Alex Rubin (U.S.)

The Iceman, Ariel Vromen (U.S.)


Horizons sidebar:

Wadjda, Haifaa Al Mansour (Germany)

Khanéh Pedari (The Paternal House), Kianoosh Ayari (Iran)

Ja Tozhe Hochu (I Also Want It), Alexey Balabanov (Russia)

Gli equilibristi, Ivano De Matteo (Italy)

L'intervallo, Leonardo Di Costanzo (Italy, Switzerland, Germany)

El Sheita Elli Fat (Winter of Discontent), Ibrahim El Batout (Egypt)

Tango Libre, Frédéric Fonteyne (Belgium, France, Luxembourg)

Menatek Ha-Maim (The Cutoff Man), Idan Hubel (Israel)

Gaosu tamen, wo cheng baihe qu le (Fly with the Crane), Li Ruijun (China)

Kapringen (A Hijacking), Tobias Lindholm (Denmark)

Leones, Jazmin Lopez (Argentina, France, Netherlands)

Bellas Mariposas, Salvatore Mereu (Italy)

Low Tide, Roberto Minervini (U.S., Italy, Belgium)

Boxing Day, Bernard Rose (U.K., U.S.)

Yema, Djamila Sahraoui (Algeria, France)

Araf (Araf - Somewhere in Between), Yesim Ustaoglu (Turkey, France, Germany)

Sennen no Yuraku (The Millennial Rapture), Koji Wakamatsu (Japan) 

San Zi Mei (Three Sisters), Wang Bing (France, Hong Kong, China)