A Starry Venice 2021 Lineup

Benedict Cumberbatch in Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog (2021)

This morning, Venice Film Festival artistic director Alberto Barbera unveiled this year’s lineup. Just before the announcement, El Deseo, the production company founded by Pedro Almodóvar and his younger brother, Agustín, released a first teaser for Parallel Mothers, which will premiere in competition. The film, starring Penélope Cruz and Milena Smit as two women contending with unplanned pregnancies, will open the festival’s seventy-eighth edition on September 1.

Of the twenty-one films selected for the main competition, a few immediately catch the eye. Jane Campion has spent the 2010s giving us an outstanding two-part miniseries, Top of the Lake, but The Power of the Dog will be her first theatrical feature since 2009’s Bright Star. Campion’s adaptation of Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel about two brothers, wealthy ranchers in 1920s Montana who become rivals when one marries a widow, stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Jesse Plemons, and Kirsten Dunst.

In 2016, Ana Lily Amirpour won a special jury prize in Venice for The Bad Batch, and now she returns with Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon, starring Kate Hudson as a woman with unusual and dangerous powers who escapes from a mental institution and strikes out on her own in New Orleans. Maggie Gyllenhaal is making her directorial debut with The Lost Daughter, an adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s 2006 novel about a divorced professor who goes on holiday in Italy after her children move to Canada with their father. Gyllenhaal has assembled quite a cast: Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, Dakota Johnson, Peter Sarsgaard, Ed Harris, and Alba Rohrwacher.

Audrey Diwan’s adaptation of Annie Ernaux’s 1999 novel, Happening—the story a university student seeking an abortion in 1963, when the procedure was still illegal in France—features Anamaria Vartolomei, Luàna Bajrami, and Sandrine Bonnaire. The fourth and final female filmmaker in competition is Natasha Merkulova, who codirected Captain Volkonogov Escaped with Aleksey Chupov. Set in the Soviet Union in 1938, the story centers on a police officer turned criminal who learns that he has one day to live. If he repents and finds just one person who will forgive him, he may enter paradise. If not, he faces eternal damnation.

Venezuelan director Lorenzo Vigas won the festival’s top prize, the Golden Lion, in 2015 for his first feature, From Afar. Now he returns with The Box, which centers on a teenager from Mexico City who learns that his father’s remains have been discovered in a communal grave. On his way to retrieve them, he meets a man who sparks hope that both of his parents may still be alive.

As one might expect, the Italian contingent is strong. Michelangelo Frammartino (Le quattro volte) tells the story of young spelunkers exploring caves in southern Italy in the summer of 1961 in The Hole. Paolo Sorrentino turns to his youth for inspiration in The Hand of God, which he says “represents for the first time in my career an intimate and personal film, a novel of formation at once light-hearted and painful.”

Twin brothers Damiano and Fabio D’Innocenzo have told the Italian press that America Latina is “a love story, and like all love stories, it’s obviously a thriller.” Gabriele Mainetti’s Freaks Out tracks four circus performers struggling to cope in Rome at the onset of the Second World War. Mario Martone’s Qui rido io features Toni Servillo as Eduardo Scarpetta, the legendary Neapolitan comedian, actor, and playwright.

Pablo Larraín’s Spencer will surely be a hot ticket. Kristen Stewart plays Princess Diana, who decides during her 1991 Christmas holidays with the royal family to divorce Prince Charles (Jack Farthing). The cast also features Timothy Spall and Sally Hawkins, Neon is distributing, and the music is by Jonny Greenwood. The Card Counter, Paul Schrader’s first feature since First Reformed (2017), stars Oscar Isaac as a gambler whose game is thrown off when a young man (Tye Sheridan) asks for help with a plan to take revenge on a military colonel (Willem Dafoe).

Michel Franco, who won the grand jury prize in Venice last year for New Order, returns with Sundown, and we know very little about it other than that it stars Tim Roth and Charlotte Gainsbourg. Xavier Giannoli’s Lost Illusions, based on the serial novel that Balzac wrote between 1837 and 1843, offers another starry cast: Gérard Depardieu, Jeanne Balibar, Xavier Dolan, Vincent Lacoste, Cécile de France, and Benjamin Voisin. Another World, the story of a senior executive overwhelmed by his job, reunites writer and director Stéphane Brizé with Vincent Lindon (The Measure of a Man) and Sandrine Kiberlain (Mademoiselle Chambon).

In Reflection, Valentyn Vasyanovych tells the story of a surgeon drawn into the conflict in eastern Ukraine when he is captured by the Russian military. Jan P. Matuszyński’s Leave No Traces is based on the true story of a high school student who was beaten to death by the Polish military in 1983. There was only one witness, and the government is determined to keep him quiet. Filipino director Eric Matti tackles corruption in his country with the thriller On the Job 2: The Missing 8, in which a journalist investigates the mysterious disappearances of his colleagues.

Things may get a little meta on the Lido when Gastón Duprat and Mariano Cohn present their comedy, Official Competition. A billionaire hires a famous director (Penélope Cruz), a movie star (Antonio Banderas), and a radical theater actor (Oscar Martínez) to make a movie. Problem is, they find it next to impossible to work together.

Out of Competition and Orizzonti

Some of the year’s biggest productions will premiere out of competition, starting, of course, with Denis Villeneuve’s Dune. Timothée Chalamet, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Zendaya, Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa, and Javier Bardem star in this latest adaptation of Frank Herbert’s daunting sci-fi classic.

Jamie Lee Curtis will not only receive a Golden Lion for lifetime achievement but will also play Laurie Strode one more time in David Gordon Green’s Halloween Kills. Ridley Scott directs Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, Matt Damon, and Ben Affleck in The Last Duel, which is based on Eric Jager’s 2004 historical account of the face-off between a Norman knight and a squire on December 29, 1386. It was the last officially recognized judicial duel fought in France.

In Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho, an aspiring young fashion designer (Thomasin McKenzie) is transported to the London of 1966 and finds herself in the body of a singer she adores (Anya Taylor-Joy). Rita Tushingham, Terence Stamp, and the late Diana Rigg appear in supporting roles.

Venice will also launch a series, Scenes from a Marriage, a contemporary take on Ingmar Bergman’s 1973 miniseries. Hagai Levi directs Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain. Among the documentaries is Steve Della Casa and Luca Rea’s Django & Django, a salute to Sergio Corbucci. And two of the most intriguing titles in this program are short films, Tsai Ming-liang’s The Night and Radu Jude’s Plastic Semiotic.

The Orizzonti section, Venice’s rough equivalent to Un Certain Regard in Cannes or the Forum in Berlin, will present Rhino, which Ukrainian director Oleg Sentsov began working on several years ago. The project was suspended when Sentsov was arrested by Russian security services in 2014. Five years later, Sentsov was released, and he immediately returned to the story of a petty thief who works his way up the hierarchy in the Ukrainian underworld of the 1990s.

As with every lineup announcement, there are always a few titles one had hoped to see but that have instead gone missing. Cannes artistic director Thierry Frémaux invited Blonde, Andrew Dominik’s adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’s 2000 novel about the life of Marilyn Monroe, but Netflix insisted on a competition slot. French laws regulating theatrical release windows would have prohibited that, but there are no such obstacles in Italy. Meantime, the status of Fire, the film that Claire Denis shot last year with Juliette Binoche, Vincent Lindon, Mati Diop, and Bulle Ogier remains a mystery.

There is nonetheless plenty to attract attendees to a robust, twelve-day edition that, like last year—when Venice became the first major event of its kind to stage an indoor festival since the outbreak of the pandemic—will fill theaters to fifty percent capacity and welcome stars as they walk up the red carpet.

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