It's all eyes on the 73rd Venice Film Festival

By Helen Barlow

It remains to be seen whether Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling will be singing and dancing around the Lido as they do in their new movie La La Land, Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to his feature debut, Whiplash, which opens the 73rd Venice Film Festival on August 31.

Stone and Gosling will surely kick up their heels in one way or another. Who could blame them in the sultry climes of the prestigious event, which takes place across the pond from the famous gondola city? The story follows Stone’s aspiring actress who meets Gosling’s jazz pianist in Hollywood.

Passion is in the air too for Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander in the gut-wrenching drama Derek Cianfrance’s The Light Between Oceans based on M.L. Stedman’s debut novel where a couple discovers a baby girl in a boat and raise her as their own—until the real mum, played by Rachel Weisz, shows up. A colleague advises the film is “magnificent, a total tearjerker” and that Vikander’s flawless beauty (she steals Jason Bourne) matches the stunning landscapes. Set off the coast of Western Australia, the US-Aus-NZ co-production was filmed in Tasmania and New Zealand, a country Fassbender came to love after filming Slow West there.

Of course Fassbender and Vikander started their own real life romance on the film and they aren't the only new loves who will be in Venice.

Guy Pearce met his currently pregnant partner, Carice van Houten (Melisandre on Game of Thrones) on Dutch director Martin Koolhoven’s English-language debut, Brimstone, which also stars Dakota Fanning. Pearce plays a vengeful preacher in the film, which also features another GOT regular, Kit Harrington.

On a rare occasion Naomi Watts and her partner Liev Schreiber star together in the boxing drama The Bleeder. Last year because of his commitments to his hit series, Ray Donovan, Schreiber didn’t make it to the Lido for Spotlight which went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture.

Of course Oscar winners Gravity and Birdman previously opened Venice as well. There are many contenders this year and maybe a less heralded film from Northern Ireland could make the grade. Nick Hamm’s The Journey, based on a screenplay by Colin Bateman (who wrote Murphy’s Law starring James Nesbitt), provides a fictional account of the extraordinary story of two implacable enemies, Democratic Unionist Party leader Paisley (Timothy Spall) and Sinn Fein politician Martin McGuinness (Colm Meaney) as they form a friendship which changes the course of history. Northern Irish actors Ian Beattie and Ian McElhinney appear as Gerry Adams and Rory McBride respectively. Freddie Highmore and John Hurt also star while Toby Stephens is interesting casting as Tony Blair.

After his stellar turn in Blood Father in Cannes, Mel Gibson, who shot an extensive amount of his Oscar-winning Braveheart in Ireland, will bring his new US-Australian movie Hacksaw Ridge, to Venice. He does not appear in the film, which stars Andrew Garfield as Desmond T. Doss, an army medic who refused to kill during the Battle of Okinawa and was the first conscientious objector in U.S. history to win the Congressional Medal of Honor.

The film also features a who’s who of Australian talent, including Rachel Griffiths who at the time of our interview for the Irish film, Mammal, told me : “It was a serious role but just a joyful process. It was wonderful working with an actor who really understands actors. I’ve never seen Hugo Weaving, who I rate so highly as an actor, be so good (as her husband in the film). Andrew Garfield was doing the best work he’s ever done.”

Natalie Portman could be an Oscar contender for her portrayal as Jackie Kennedy during a very specific period of her life : just after JFK’s death. “It’s not a biopic”, the film’s Chilean director Pablo Lorrain stressed in Cannes. The Israeli-American Oscar winner for Black Swan also stretches her linguistic skills in Rebecca Zlotowski’s French film Planetarium about two sisters who communicate with ghosts. Portman plays the sister of the bi-lingual Lily-Rose Depp, the daughter of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis who is rapidly forging a strong career.

Amy Adams is doing double duty at the festival too. She stars with Jake Gyllenhaal in fashion designer Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals, a thriller set in the Los Angeles art scene and his second film after A Single Man. Adams is also a linguistics expert in the sci-fi drama Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve who is currently preparing his Blade Runner movie and was clearly getting in the sci-fi mood.

Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven, the remake of a remake (the 1960 classic western was a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 movie, Seven Samurai) will close the festival, interestingly after opening the Toronto Festival. Sounds like a film not to be missed given the trailer featuring Chris Pratt’s scene-stealing lovable larrikin, who clearly makes the film all his own.

Bosnian Emir Kusturica returns to directing after seven years with the UK-US production On The Milky Road. It looks promising as an adventure epic-romance where he stars with Monica Bellucci, who will send many an Italian heart aflutter, as usual. French director Francois Ozon will also present a sweeping period piece, Frantz, starring rising French star Pierre Niney (Yves Saint Laurent) while German director Wim Wenders will come with the 3-D French-language drama, The Beautiful Days of Aranjuez, based on a play by Peter Handke, his co-writer on Wings of Desire, still probably his best film.

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