Noah Baumbach’s White Noise, starring Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig, will open Venice’s seventy-ninth edition on August 31. An adaptation of Don DeLillo’s 1985 novel has been in the works for nearly two decades, with Barry Sonnenfeld attached to direct at one point, and Michael Almereyda at another. The book “captures the quality of daily existence in media-saturated, hyper-capitalistic postmodern America so precisely, you don’t know whether to laugh or whimper,” wrote Lev Grossman in Time in 2010.
Driver plays a professor of Hitler studies in a midwestern college town. His fourth wife, Babette (Gerwig), has been experimenting with a drug that promises to ward off her obsessive fear of death. That drug is severely tested when a nearby train wreck releases a dark cloud over the entire region—an “Airborne Toxic Event.”
White Noise is one of four films set to compete in Venice with backing from Netflix. The streamer remains at loggerheads with Cannes, but Venice artistic director Alberto Barbera is always eager to launch its most prestigious titles. Last year, he invited Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter, and Paolo Sorrentino’s The Hand of God. Along with White Noise, this year’s lineup features Andrew Dominik’s Blonde; Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths; and Romain Gavras’s Athena—as well as Copenhagen Cowboy, a new series from Nicolas Winding Refn premiering out of competition.
Based on Joyce Carol Oates’s 2000 fictionalized take on the life of Marilyn Monroe, Blonde stars Ana de Armas, who spent ninth months with a dialect coach in order to nail that unforgettable voice. “I only had to audition for Marilyn once and Andrew said, ‘It’s you,’” she told Louis Wise in the Times of London back in January 2021. Talking to Collider’s Steven Weintraub in April, Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) called Blonde “a movie for all the unloved children of the world. It’s like Citizen Kane and Raging Bull had a baby daughter.”
In Bardo, which Iñárritu describes as “a nostalgic comedy set against an epic personal journey,” Daniel Giménez Cacho (Cronos,Zama,Memoria) plays a Mexican journalist and documentary filmmaker who returns home after years away to work through an existential crisis. Three siblings in a Parisian banlieue clash with police following the death of their youngest brother in Athena, the third fictional feature from the youngest son of Costa-Gavras. And Copenhagen Cowboy is a journey through the criminal underworld of the Danish capital led by a young woman, Miu (Angela Bundalovic). “I am returning to my past to shape my future by creating a series, an expansion of my constantly evolving alter-egos, now in the form of my young heroine,” says Refn.
The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Roxborough suggests that Venice is “sending a clear political message to Tehran” with the selection of four films by Iranian directors. Just last week, Jafar Panahi was ordered to serve out a six-year sentence that had been handed down in 2010. No Bears, premiering in competition, is the fifth feature Panahi has shot in secret since his sentencing. According to Screen’s Melanie Goodfellow, the film tracks “two parallel love stories in which the partners are thwarted by hidden, inevitable obstacles, the force of superstition, and the mechanics of power.”
Vahid Jalilvand’s Beyond the Wall, another competitor, is “a metaphorical tale of a blind man whose life starts to fall apart when a wandering woman enters his world,” writes Roxborough. The festival’s Orizzonti program of aesthetically adventurous films by younger directors will launch the other two Iranian features. So far, little is known about Houman Seyedi’s World War III, but in Arian Vazirdaftari’s Without Her, Roya, a woman preparing to leave Iran, meets a younger woman who seems to have lost her memory. Roya helps her set up a new life with her friends and family, unaware that this woman has come to replace her.
Late in 2020, when the world was locked down, Joanna Hogg quietly slipped away to Wales with Tilda Swinton and Carly-Sophia Davies to shoot The Eternal Daughter, the story of a middle-aged woman and her elderly mother who return to their home, a formerly stately manor that has been turned into a hotel with few guests but plenty of mystery. As is typical for Venice, Hogg is one of the few female directors with work in the competition lineup.
Saint Omer is the first fictional feature from Alice Diop, who won Berlin’s Encounters Award last year with We. Rama, a novelist, attends the trial of a young woman accused of killing her fifteen-month-old daughter, who she left her alone on a beach in northern France as the tide rose. In Rebecca Zlotowski’s Other People’s Children, a forty-year-old woman wonders if it might be too late to start a family. The film stars Virginie Efira and Chiara Mastroianni—as well as Roschdy Zem, whose family drama Our Ties is also competing and stars Sami Bouajila and Maïwenn.
Critic and programmer Cédric Succivalli points out that there’s not a single straight male among the five Italian directors with films in the competition. Gianni Amelio’s Il signore delle formiche tells the true story of writer, filmmaker, and artist Aldo Braibanti, who was jailed in 1968 under a Fascist-era law criminalizing homosexual activity. Emanuele Crialese’s L’immensità stars Penélope Cruz as a mother raising children in 1970s Rome.
Susanna Nicchiarelli (Nico, 1988;Miss Marx) completes her trilogy of biographical portraits of women with Chiara, the story of Clare of Assisi, the Italian saint who founded the Order of the Poor Ladies in the thirteenth century. A transgender woman (Trace Lysette) returns to her midwestern home to care for her dying mother (Patricia Clarkson) in Andrea Pallaoro’s Monica.
Luca Guadagnino directs Taylor Russell, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, André Holland, Chloë Sevigny, David Gordon Green, Jessica Harper, Jake Horowitz, and Mark Rylance in Bones and All. Based on Camille DeAngelis’s 2015 novel, Bones is a road movie and a love story about two young drifters. “The movie is for me a meditation on who I am and how I can overcome what I feel, especially if it is something I cannot control in myself,” says Guadagnino.
Focus Features released a trailer yesterday for Tár, the first feature directed by Todd Field since Little Children (2006). Cate Blanchett stars as Lydia Tár, an accomplished composer who becomes the first female chief conductor of a major German orchestra. In Santiago Mitre’s Argentina, 1985, a team of lawyers takes on the military dictatorship.
The Son, Florian Zeller’s follow-up to his feature debut, The Father (2020), stars Hugh Jackman and Vanessa Kirby as a couple whose lives are disrupted when his first wife (Laura Dern) drops by to deposit their teenage son (Zen McGrath). Another family is thrown off balance in Koji Fukada’s Love Life when a tragic accident brings the father of a happily married woman’s first child back into the picture.
Darren Aronofsky directs Brendan Fraser, Sadie Sink, Hong Chau, Samantha Morton, and Ty Simpkins in Samuel D. Hunter’s adaptation of his own play, The Whale, in which a 600-pound man tries to reconnect with this teenaged daughter. Martin McDonagh, Brendan Gleeson, and Colin Farrell, the team behind In Bruges (2008), reunite for The Banshees of Inisherin, the story of a pair of lifelong friends on a remote Irish island.
The big surprise in the competition lineup is A Couple, the first fictional feature from renowned documentarian Frederick Wiseman. The pandemic has kept Wiseman, who turned ninety-two this year, from making another of his meticulous studies of institutions, so he’s spent this time writing a monologue for Nathalie Boutefeu, the French actress, director, and screenwriter who has worked with Marco Bellocchio (The Butterfly’s Dream), Olivier Assayas (Irma Vep), and Arnaud Desplechin (Kings and Queen). The filmmaker and actor have known each other for years, having worked together in the theater. Wiseman doesn’t see A Couple as a true break from his previous films. “Documentaries,” he says, “are as much a form of fiction as plays, novels, or poems.”
The single documentary selected for the competition is Laura Poitras’s All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, which focuses on the efforts of Nan Goldin, the photographer and former opioid addict, and her group P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) to draw attention to the art world’s dependency on the Sackler family. The Sacklers are the founders and owners of the pharmaceutical companies that make and distribute the highly addictive painkiller OxyContin.
Guy Davidi’s Innocence is the only documentary in this year’s Orizzonti program. Davidi (5 Broken Cameras) draws from the diaries of young Israelis who have died during their years of obligatory military service. Innocence, says Davidi, “interweaves first-hand military images, key moments from childhood until enlistment and home videos of the deceased soldiers whose stories are silenced and seen as a national threat.”
Nine nonfiction films will premiere out of competition. The timeliness of Sergei Loznitsa’s The Kiev Trial and Evgeny Afineevsky and Alex Kashpur’s Freedom on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom hardly needs to be emphasized. Steve James’s A Compassionate Spy, the story of a Manhattan Project insider who slipped secrets to the Russians, and Oliver Stone’s Nuclear might make for a provocative double feature.
With In Viaggio, Gianfranco Rosi (Fire at Sea,Notturno) has put together a montage of footage of Pope Francis’s travels abroad, while Italian television auteur Enrico Ghezzi and Alessandro Gagliardo draw on more than 700 hours of archival footage for The Last Days of Humanity. In The Matchmaker, director and journalist Benedetta Argenteri talks with British jihadist Tooba Gondal about the fascination ISIS holds for young women in the West.
Jørgen Leth, the legendary Danish poet, director, and sports commentator, has teamed up with Andreas Koefoed for a “cinematic improvisation piece,” Music for Black Pigeons. And Christopher Sharp and Moses Bwayo’s Bobi Wine Ghetto President is a portrait of Ugandan pop star-turned-politician Robert Kyagulanyi.
Out of Competition
Not only will Paul Schrader receive a Golden Lion for lifetime achievement, he’ll also launch Master Gardener. Sigourney Weaver plays a wealthy dowager who insists that her horticulturist (Joel Edgerton) take on her troubled great-niece as a new apprentice. Genre stalwart Walter Hill will bring what Alberto Barbera describes as a good old-fashioned western. Dead for a Dollar stars Christoph Waltz as a bounty hunter and Willem Dafoe as his sworn enemy.
Lav Diaz reimagines The Count of Monte Cristo with When the Waves Are Gone; Ti West tells the backstory of the villain of X in Pearl, starring and cowritten with Mia Goth; and Olivia Wilde directs Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Olivia Wilde, Gemma Chan, KiKi Layne, Nick Kroll, and Chris Pine in her psychological thriller Don’t Worry Darling. Venice will also premiere the first five episodes of Lars von Trier’s The Kingdom Exodus as well as new shorts by Lucrecia Martel and Sally Potter, whose Look at Me stars Javier Bardem and Chris Rock.
Classics, Giornate, Critics’ Week
To the eighteen new restorations announced last week for the Venice Classics program, the festival has added nine documentaries about cinema, including Nancy Buirski’s Desperate Souls, Dark City and the Legend of Midnight Cowboy and portraits of Jean-Luc Godard, Jonas Mekas, Sergio Leone, Jerry Schatzberg, Richard Harris, and Franco Zeffirelli.
The Giornate degli Autori, the independent program modeled on the Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes, will open with March on Rome, Mark Cousins’s documentary about the mass demonstration in 1922 that led to the rise of Mussolini. And the lineup is set for the thirty-seventh Venice International Critics’ Week, featuring a special screening of Pedro Costa’s O sangue (1989).
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