Yanks and Brits float their boat

Risk takers focus of Venice fest

With more than a third of this year's features made in the U.S. or U.K., the 64th annual Venice Film Festival will have a stronger English-language flavor than it has had in years, organizers said as they took the wraps off the full lineup Thursday.

Fifteen U.S. films, including Wes Anderson's "The Darjeeling Limited" and the George Clooney starrer "Michael Clayton," and seven British titles are among the 57 features screening at the festival. But artistic director Marco Mueller's well-known taste for Asian cinema remains in evidence, and the festival boasts a strong presence of homegrown Italian fare.

"There are a lot of films in English, but that is because those countries continue to be willing to risk everything when that's needed," said Mueller, who added that more than 3,000 films were considered. "The films we selected are very innovative works with casts of really big stars, and we continue to look for surprising and innovative films, wherever they come from."

Among the U.S. films joining Anderson's "Darjeeling" and the Tony Gilroy-helmed "Clayton" in competition are "Redacted," from Brian De Palma, a story about the Iraq War; Andrew Dominik's "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," starring Brad Pitt as Jesse James; "In the Valley of Elah," from Paul Haggis, about a soldier who returns from Iraq to a family crisis; Todd Haynes' "I'm Not There," about the life of folk icon Bob Dylan; and the China-U.S. co-production "Lust, Caution," from Golden Lion winner Ang Lee, a thriller set in World War II-era Shanghai.

Lee's film is just the tip of the iceberg for Asia-produced or co-produced films in competition, joining with the China/Hong Kong co-production "The Sun Also Rises," from Jiang Wen; Japan's "Sukiyaki Western Django," from Takashi Miike; and Taiwan's "Help Me Eros," from Lee Kang Sheg.

Other noteworthy competition titles include Kenneth Branagh's "Sleuth," marking the second consecutive year a Branagh film has screened at Venice following last year's adaptation of "The Magic Flute"; Ken Loach's "It's a Free World"; and Andrea Porporati's Italian drama "The Sweet and the Bitter."

The festival's opening-night film, "Atonement," from Joe Wright and starring Keira Knightley, James McAvoy and Vanessa Redgrave, also will be in competition.

Egypt, France, Canada and Russia each can boast films among the 21 competition titles named thus far, all world premieres for the second consecutive year. Mueller said that of the 57 full-length films in and out of competition, 51 are world premieres.

"This number of high-quality, important world premieres in one festival is really unheard of," he said.

In addition, there will be surprises on the program in the form of unannounced films. One as-yet-unnamed film will screen at midnight, and another will screen in competition, raising the total number of films eligible for the Golden Lion Award to 22. Last year, there was one surprise film, Jia Zhangke's "Still Life." The film screened at midnight as a competition entry and went on to win the Golden Lion.

Jurors selecting the winning films include Catherine Breillat of France, Italy's Emanuele Crialese, Mexico's Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Paul Verhoeven of the Netherlands.

Out of competition films of note include Woody Allen's latest, "Cassandra's Dream"; South Korea's "Beyond the Years" from Im Kwon Taek; and "Christopher Columbus: An Enigma" from Portugal's Manoel de Oliveira — all in Venetian Masters sidebar.

Alexi Tan's "Blood Brothers" will be the festival's closing-night film, screening as part of the Venice Night's sidebar, which also will include "The Hunting Party," from Richard Shepard, and the Scarlett Johansson starrer "The Nanny Diaries." "Nanny" marks the actress' second consecutive year with a film in Venice following last year's "The Black Dahlia."

The Venice Nights sidebar also will include a restored version of Sergio Leone's 1964 classic "A Fistful of Dollars," the film credited with launching Clint Eastwood's movie career and giving legs to the fledgling Spaghetti Western genre. Although that film will not screen in the Spaghetti Western sidebar announced this week, the sidebar, hosted by Quentin Tarantino, will feature 32 restored prints of films from the genre.

Oscar-winning director Bernardo Bertolucci will receive the 75th anniversary Golden Lion Award and be the subject of a two-film retrospective. Tim Burton also will receive a career Golden Lion.

In addition to Leone's "Dollars," the two Bertolucci films as well as the films from the Spaghetti Western sidebar, several other restored films will screen in Venice, the oldest of which is the 1917 D.W. Griffith classic "Intolerance."

Venice is famous for its glitz and glamour, and this year should be no different, with Clooney, Pitt, Johansson, Allen, Knightley, Redgrave, Loach, Branagh, Ang Lee and Jiang expected to grace the red carpet. Other potential attendees include Colin Farrell, Tommy Lee Jones, Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Bill Murray, Anjelica Huston and Sydney Pollack.

While the Aug. 29-Sept. 8 festival is Venice's 64th edition, it also marks the 75th anniversary of the first Venice event, which was halted because of World War II and again for financial issues in later years.
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