Mon. Jul 13th, 2020

2019 Venice Film Festival Preview

It’s the end of June, and after Cannes wrapped up with the 72nd edition of its film festival, the eyes of the movie world have started to turn to Venice. The selection committee, headed by director Alberto Barbera, will announce its picks at the end of July. What can we expect?


The 76th Venice International Film Festival (VIFF) will start on August 28 and will close on September 7.

Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel (Zama) has been named president of the jury for this year’s festival. She succeeds recent jury presidents including Sam Mendes, Annette Bening and Guillermo Del Toro.

Barbera said of Martel [she is] “Latin America’s most important female director and one of the top female directors worldwide,” adding that she had achieved this status with just “four feature films and a handful of shorts” in less than 20 years.

Lucrecia Martel at the 74th annual Venice International Film Festival, in Venice, Italy, 31 August 2017.
(Photo by Claudio Onorati/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock (9035389c)

“In her films, the originality of her stylistic research and her meticulous mise-en-scène are at the service of a worldview free of compromises, dedicated to exploring the mysteries of female sexuality and the dynamics of groups and classes,” Barbera said in a statement.

“It’s an honor, a responsibility and a pleasure to be a part of this celebration of cinema, of humanity’s immense desire to understand itself,” said Martel.

The Festival has also announced that two honorary Golden Lions will be awarded to Pedro Almodóvar and Julie Andrews, two legends of the screen, both in front of and before the camera.

We also know that the Emcee will be the Italian actress Alessandra Mastronardi. A return to tradition for the festival, that was hosted by two men (Alessandro Borghi and Michele Riondino) in the last two years.


Of course, it’s the Competition lineup that is eagerly awaited by press, fans and film workers alike. Rumors must be taken with a grain of salt until Alberto Barbera announces the film list, but hypotheses and educated guesses can be made on it, with the support of some early word coming straight out of the film business.

Venice has been a launchpad for major awards hopefuls this decade. Gravity, Birdman, Spotlight, La La Land, The Favourite, Roma, The Shape of Water, Jackie, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Arrival and last year’s A Star Is Born are some of the titles that got a huge awards boost at the Lido, and this tendency doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. What are the potential high-profile titles this year? 

Ad Astra (20th Century Fox)

Watch out for Ad Astra. James Gray’s space epic, starring Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones and Ruth Negga, about an astronaut in a mission to find his missing father, has the perfect combination of artistic ambition, star power and spectacle potential that has recently proved extremely effective. Its September 20th US release date indicates that there is room for festival consideration, so there is a high chance that it will show up at Venice.

What else could be in store from the long list of potential awards juggernauts? Fernando Meirelles’s The Pope is another possible addition. The story, penned by Oscar-winning actors’ favorite screenwriter Anthony McCarten, is centered on Pope Francis I and Pope Benedict XVI and their opposite views of the Roman Church. It’s a story that could generate a lot of interest in Italy, for obvious reasons. The two Popes are played by Jonathan Pryce and Sir Anthony Hopkins.

Jojo Rabbit (Fox Searchlight) Photo: Kimberley French

Another special treat could be Taika Waititi’s highly anticipated Jojo Rabbit. Strongly tipped for awards consideration, this dark comedy about a young boy with Adolf Hitler as his imaginary friend could be one of the events of the festival. It helps that Waititi has served as a juror two years ago, and that the film is produced by Fox Searchlight, a studio that has a very high consideration of Venice after landing quite a few of its successes at the Lido (Birdman, The Shape of Water, The Favourite, Three Billboards).

There is a long list of American and British movies vying for a spot in the Competition lineup. From Greta Gerwig’s Little Women (a film that seems like a better fit for a world premiere at Telluride or Toronto) to Justin Kurzel’s The True History of The Kelly Gang, Steven Soderbergh’s The Laundromat, Armando Iannucci’s The Personal History of David Copperfield, the Safdie Brothers’ Uncut Gems or Ang Lee’s Gemini Man, many are the contenders for a prestige spot at the world’s oldest and newly competitive film festival. How many, if any, will make it into the lineup?

The biggest, and surely most controversial, rumor circulating right now is the possible invite sent out to Woody Allen’s stalled A Rainy Day In New York and to Roman Polanski and his An Officer and A Spy, his long-dreamed film adaptation of the infamous Dreyfus Affair. In light of the #MeToo movement, this might be seen as too risky a move by Alberto Barbera, especially after a couple of festivals where the number of films directed by female directors has been particularly low. Will the committee dare to take this step? Let’s wait and see.

Competition titles will not include just Oscar hopefuls and big-name directors, though. A fairly large contingent of more independent and critically lauded filmmakers, hailing from all parts of the world, will make the lineup. Italy might be represented by Pietro Marcello and his film version of Jack London’s Martin Eden, played by the Italian rising star Luca Marinelli; Giorgio Diritti’s Volevo nascondermi (I Wanted To Hide), biopic on the Italian artist Ligabue, starring the Cannes Best Actor winner Elio Germano, is being talked about for a potential lineup slot; while Qui rido io by one of Venice’s beloved directors, Mario Martone, is another likely entry.

Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche in Hirokazu Kore-eda’s The Truth (IFC Films)

Having mentioned Roman Polanski earlier, the French contingent might also include Robert Guediguian’s Gloria Mundi and Hirokazu Kore-eda anticipated French-language debut The Truth, a family drama starring Juliette Binoche, Catherine Deneuve, Ethan Hawke and Ludivine Sagnier. Alice Winocour’s Proxima is yet another potential entry from Italy’s close neighbor.

Expanding the horizons from local and English-language hopefuls, Venice might see the return of Roy Andersson (with About Endlessness, the Swedish director’s follow-up to the Golden Lion winner A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence), and of Pablo Larrain, whose Spanish-language Ema is already one of the most anticipated foreign-language films of the year. Could Ulrich Seidl’s Wicked Games be a part of this wave of returns? The Austrian director’s long post-production process is notorious, but the movie was shot in Italy and it wrapped up filming over a year ago, so an eye must be kept open on that, as well as on Anthony Chen’s A Wet Season.

Frances McDormand in Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland (Photo: Fox Searchlight)

One of the questions waiting to be answered is how many female directors will be in the Competition list? In the year where the Art Biennale features a majority of female artists, it would be a strange countertendency to see women directors relegated to a tiny minority at the Film Biennale. Which female-directed movies could we see this year? Could it be First Cow, by the always brilliant Kelly Reichardt? Or maybe Alice Winocour’s Proxima and Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland? Expectations are rising over the presence of female directors at Cannes and Venice, and while the problem is being acknowledged, it needs to be acted upon.

In the end, there will always be surprises at the announcement. Will Netflix be warmly welcomed back? Rumors circulated back in April that Venice was considering shutting out the streaming giant. It would be a strange move, after Roma’s Golden Lion last year. It would mean that some of the titles mentioned in this preview would be certainly out of the picture (Uncut Gems, The Laundromat and Ema). As would be certainly one of the year’s most coveted film premieres for Venice, which is none other than Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman.

Translated to English from its original Italian.

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