21 films chasing top prize at Venice Film Festival

By: AFP      Published: 09:33 AM, 28 Aug, 2021
21 films chasing top prize at Venice Film Festival
The cast of much-talked about film Dune.

The Golden Lion, the top prize at the Venice Film Festival set to begin September 1, will be awarded to one film among 21 contenders from across the globe.

Here are the films in the running:

- 'Madres paralelas' (Parallel Mothers): Spain -

Two single women prepare to give birth in a maternity ward in Pedro Almodovar's latest film with regulars Penelope Cruz and Rossy De Palma.

- 'Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon': US -

Ana Lily Amirpour's fantasy film starring Kate Hudson, Craig Robinson and Jeon Jong-seo follows a girl with superpowers who escapes a mental asylum and rejoins the world in New Orleans. 

- 'Un Autre Monde' (Another World): France -

The last of Stephane Brize's trilogy about the world of work, it stars Vincent Lindon as a boss forced to make tough decisions. 

- 'The Power of the Dog': New Zealand/Australia -

Two brothers feud on a Montana ranch after one comes home with a new wife, in Jane Campion's film starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Kirsten Dunst. 

- 'America Latina': Italy/France -

Italian twins Fabio and Damiano D'Innocenzo wrote and directed this love story thriller starring Elio Germano.

- 'L'evenement' (Happening): France -

A young woman risks prison as she seeks an abortion in 1960s France in Audrey Diwan's drama.

- 'Competencia Oficial' (Official Competition): Spain/Argentina -

Penelope Cruz stars as a filmmaker dealing with two difficult leading men, including Antonio Banderas, in the comedy directed by Gaston Duprat and Mariano Cohn.

- 'Il Buco' (The Hole): Italy/France/Germany -

Michelangelo Frammartino's film is based on the true story of a group of speleologists who in 1961 discovered a deep cave in a remote area of Italy's south. 

- 'Sundown': Mexico/France/Sweden -

Tim Roth stars as a wealthy man seeking to walk away from his life while on vacation in Mexican director Michel Franco's latest. 

- 'Illusions perdues' (Lost Illusions): France -

Xavier Giannoli's film adaptation of the Balzac novel stars Benjamin Voisin, Xavier Dolan and Gerard Depardieu. 

- 'The Lost Daughter': Greece/US/UK/Israel -

US actress Maggie Gyllenhaal's directorial debut is based on an Elena Ferrante novel and stars Olivia Colman as a woman obsessed with another mother and daughter.

- 'Spencer': Germany/UK -

Chilean director Pablo Larrain follows the last years of marriage between Princess Diana and Prince Charles and stars Kristen Stewart and Jack Farthing. 

- 'Freaks Out': Italy/Belgium -

A circus troupe in Rome becomes increasingly desperate with the onset of WWII in Gabriele Mainetti's film.

- 'Qui rido io' (The King of Laughter): Italy/Spain -

Toni Servillo stars as Naples' famous turn-of-the-century comedian Eduardo Scarpetta in Mario Martone's biopic. 

- 'On the Job: The Missing 8': Philippines - 

Erik Matti's action film with prisoners-turned-hitmen that explores corruption in the media is a sequel to 2013's "On the Job".

- 'Zeby nie Bylo Sladow' (Leave No Traces): Poland/France/Czechoslavakia -

The true story of a witness to the fatal beating of a young activist in Warsaw by the militia under the Communist regime by Polish director Jan P. Matuszynski. 

- 'Kapitan Volkonogov Bezhal' (Captain Volkonogov Escaped): Russia/Estonia/France -

Natasha Merkulova and Aleksey Chupov's thriller follows a state interrogator in the former Soviet Union who flees, hoping to repent.

- 'The Card Counter' US/UK/China -

A gambler is haunted by his past as a serviceman in Paul Schrader's revenge thriller starring Oscar Isaac, Tiffany Haddish and Willem Dafoe.

- 'E’ stata la mano di Dio' (The Hand of God): Italy - 

Paolo Sorrentino's drama is set in Naples during the heady years when football legend Diego Maradona delivered big dreams to the gritty Southern city.

- 'Vidblysk' (Reflection): Ukraine - 

A Ukrainian surgeon seeks to rebuild his life after witnessing horrifying violence as a Russian prisoner in Valentyn Vasyanovych's drama. 

- 'La Caja' (The Box): Mexico/US -

A Mexico City teen heads north to collect his father's remains but is drawn into the grim world of apparel assembly plants in Venezuelan director Lorenzo Vigas' film

Blockbuster lineup

The Venice Film Festival returns Wednesday with an ultra-glitzy lineup, including the world premiere of sci-fi blockbuster "Dune" and Kristen Stewart's turn as Princess Diana, cementing its status as a serious rival to Cannes.

After a low-key event last year due to the pandemic, La Mostra is raising the stakes once again in the battle for film fest supremacy with the sort of lineup that has drool running down the chins of red carpet gawkers and pretentious film critics alike. 

The world's oldest film festival has embraced Hollywood in recent years and its 78th edition, running September 1-11, is no exception.

"Dune" brings hot young things Timothee Chalamet and Zendaya to the Venice festival, while Ridley Scott's "The Last Duel" marks the bromantic return of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, writing and starring together for the first time since their Oscar-winning breakout "Good Will Hunting" in the 1990s. 

But Venice still has serious arthouse chops, and the competition for the Golden Lion award features some of the era's most revered filmmakers, including Spain's Pedro Almodovar, Italy's Paolo Sorrentino and New Zealand's Jane Campion. 

Almodovar opens the festival with the Penelope Cruz-starring "Parallel Mothers" and true to his provocative style, the poster was immediately banned on Instagram for featuring a lactating nipple.

Even the Princess Di biopic, "Spencer", promises to be more than the usual fawning royal mush, as it comes from Chilean director Pablo Larrain, whose 2016 film was an intelligent and lauded take on Jackie Kennedy, starring Natalie Portman.

- Oscar buzz-maker -

Since taking over in 2012, festival director Alberto Barbera is credited with rejuvenating La Mostra, partly by positioning it as the launchpad for Academy Award hopefuls. 

Two of the last four Golden Lion winners, "The Shape of Water" and "Nomadland", have gone on to win the best picture Oscar -- something which had never previously happened.

Many other recent critical and box-office hits have debuted in the floating city, including "La La Land", "Joker" and "A Star Is Born". 

Part of the success is that publicists love having their stars snapped on gondolas, but it's primarily a question of lucky timing. 

"Venice's position on the cusp of summer and fall gives it unmatchable clout as a launchpad" for the Hollywood awards season, explained The Hollywood Reporter.

Venice has also side-stepped the fracas between Netflix and Cannes, over the latter's demand that entries hit the big screen. 

That has left Venice with first dibs on recent Netflix hits such as "Roma" and "Marriage Story", and two of this year's hopefuls: Campion's "The Power of the Dog" and Sorrentino's "The Hand of God".

Movies from 59 countries are being presented this year across its multiple sections, though Cannes director Thierry Fremaux has previously sniffed at his Venice counterpart's "obsession with American movies".

It's true that the main competition has a fairly narrow geographic remit, with nothing from Africa and only one from Asia (the sequel to Filipino action-thriller "On the Job") among the 21 selections. 

But Cannes has hardly steered clear of Hollywood. Its blockbuster premiere this year was Fast & Furious 9.

For film fans happy to see the schedules flooded with exciting releases, all this industry jostling is background noise.

And for Italians, it could cap an exciting summer that has seen them win the World Cup, put in a surprisingly strong Olympic performance and leave the dark days of the country's brutal Covid-19 outbreak behind them.