Tue. Feb 18th, 2020

2019 Venice Film Festival Preview: ‘Marriage Story,’ ‘Ad Astra,’ ‘The Laundromat’ and more

We’re only one week away from the start of the fall festival season. The engines are starting to roar in Venice, the Lady of the Waters, awaiting the late summer madness that hits the Lido, with press members and movie fans alike getting ready for endless film marathons and movie star stalking.

The excitement is almost at its apex this year, with many big Hollywood productions ready to land at the Sala Grande and refined European and Asian auteurs bringing their new works to the oldest film festival the world has.


This year’s Competition lineup is so rich in talent that it’s hard to make a selection of which movies are at the top of critics’ and fans’ watch lists. Mine is mainly an educated guess, but I reckon that Ad Astra, James Gray’s big-budget space epic starring Brad Pitt as an astronaut on the search of his father, is quite simply one of the most anticipated movies of the entire year. James Gray’s films have enjoyed critical success, with box office rarely matching that same heap of acclaim. Will Ad Astra be a light of change for one of the more interesting auteurs in Hollywood? Brad Pitt, both lead actor and producer for the movie, is the film’s biggest commercial hope, and it doesn’t get much more exciting than one of today’s most iconic movie stars and James Gray working together. Premieres on: August 29.

Scarlett Johansson with Adam Driver in MARRIAGE STORY (photo: Netflix)

Marriage Story is Noah Baumbach’s latest directorial effort, and it’s already generating a lot of talk on social networks right now, with Netflix just releasing trailers and sneak peeks, causing the anticipation to skyrocket. We all know Baumbach’s bittersweet vision of life, and yet he always knows how to charm audiences and critics alike. Will this story about Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson as a divorcing couple be able to replicate the director’s previous successes? That’s what everyone is waiting to find out on August 29, when the unveiling of the movie will take place at the Palazzo del Cinema.

Joaquin Phoenix in Todd Phillips’ JOKER (Photo: Niko Tavernise)

I haven’t checked, but it’s very likely that the inclusion of Joker in a Competition lineup is a revolutionary step for a film festival, and an extremely prestigious one at that. Never had a comic book movie been selected into Cannes, Venice or Berlin, so this aspect alone makes the Todd Phillips film hugely anticipated at the Lido. Combine this with the casting of Joaquin Phoenix as the legendary DC villain and Martin Scorsese serving as co-producer and we have a potential surprise for the palmares too. Premieres on: August 31.

Every festival has its scandals or controversies, and Roman Polanski usually attracts controversy like honey with bees. An Officer and A Spy, whose original French title is taken straight out of Emile Zola’s famous pamphlet J’accuse, is the Polish-French director latest (possibly last?) film, and it’s essentially the movie he has dreamed of making for decades now. The story of the infamous Dreyfus affair, France’s most notorious case of misjustice, has been on Polanski’s mind for a very long time, with production only starting a few years ago. Jean Dujardin plays the lead character, George Picquart, the intelligence officer who discovers the truth about what really happened to Alfred Dreyfus. There has been a lot of discussion on whether it was a good idea to invite Roman Polanski to the festival, in the era of the #MeToo movement. This is a topic that will resurface during the press conference, paired with questions over Polanski’s past, especially given the film’s subject matter. Premieres on: August 30.

Meryl Streep in Steven Soderbergh’s THE LAUNDROMAT (Photo: Netflix)

Any Steven Soderbergh movie feels like a film event, and The Laundromat makes no exception. It’s not just for the sheer star power of its cast, with Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas leading the pack; it’s also for its importance. The publishing of the Panama Papers shocked the world in 2015, uncovering a world of crime whose depth nobody could even conceive. Soderbergh’s tense, cold and calculated filmmaking style seems like a perfect fit for this kind of story. How the film will be received is a question that will be answered in a little longer than a week, but it will probably rekindle the debate on what happened and how to prevent it from happening again. Premieres on: September 1.


While big Hollywood productions are usually the ones that garner the most attention at festivals, it’s usually the quality of independent films that determine the level of a Competition lineup. Venice 2019 has made room for anticipated comebacks and opened its doors to less known directors onto the big stage.

Juliette Binoche, Catherine Deneuve and Ethan Hawke in Hirokazu Kore-eda’s THE TRUTH (Photo: Venice Film Festival)

Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda is coming from a strong 2018, with his Shoplifters nabbing the coveted Palme D’Or at Cannes and multiple Foreign Language prizes during the fall and winter awards season. His The Truth, the French-language drama starring Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche and Ethan Hawke, is one of the most exciting titles in the lineup, and it will have the honor of opening the festival on August 28. The two legendary actresses have won one Volpi Cup each in their careers. Will La Vérité enrich their awards shelf?

Many are the notable independent directors that will premiere their films at the Lido (chief among them Roy Andersson, Olivier Assayas, Atom Egoyan), but two are the ones that should be kept a closer eye on.

Mariana De Girolamo and Gael García Bernal in Pablo Larraín’s EMA (Photo: Pablo Larraín)

One is Pablo Larraín, who had his international breakthrough with Jackie in 2015. Ema, that will be presented to the world on August 31, stars Mariana De Girolamo and Gael García Bernal as a struggling couple that deal the consequences of an adoption. Larraín has proven himself on the world stage multiple times now, and his slightly alienating, idiosyncratic style might prove irresistible once again.

The other is Ciro Guerra, the director who surprised the film world with his masterpiece Embrace Of The Serpent. His new film and English-language debut, Waiting For The Barbarians, based on the Nobel prize J. M. Coetzee’s novel, is another take on colonialism by the Colombian filmmaker, who could count on the talents of Johnny Depp, Robert Pattinson, Mark Rylance in the cast. It is a movie that could fly under the radar only to surprise right near the end, helped by the time collocation assigned by the festival. It premieres on September 6, one day before the closing ceremony.

These are just some of the titles that will grace the Venetian silver screen. At this stage, we can only speculate on which ones might attract the most attention or garner the most critical acclaim. Our hope is that the movies of the 2019 Venice Film Festival will tell us something about the world we live in, and about ourselves. This is what cinema is for and has always been.


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