The Venice film festival opens its doors on Wednesday to a stack of highly anticipated movies but less star power than usual, as a Hollywood actors’ strike keeps many A-listers off the famed red carpet.
The festival’s artistic director Alberto Barbera is putting a brave face on the expected disruption and has managed to attract one of the strongest line-ups in recent years, defying dire predictions of a mass no-show by big studio productions.
“We know that some talent will not be able to attend … But some others will come because they are working in the independent films,” Barbera told Reuters Television. “So everything is good. It looks very positive.”
New films by directors including Bradley Cooper, Yorgos Lanthimos, David Fincher, Michael Mann, Sofia Coppola, Ava DuVernay, and Ryusuke Hamaguchi will compete for the prestigious Golden Lion at the event, which runs until September 9.
But away from Venice’s picture-perfect canals, a sense of crisis pervades the movie-making business, with strikes by both the main US actors and writers’ unions bringing much of the entertainment industry to a standstill.
“If the strikes last longer, it will have a huge, negative impact on the next (release) season and the awards season as well,” Barbera said.
Venice regularly throws up big favourites for the Oscars, with eight of the past 11 best-director Oscars going to films that debuted at Venice, including “La La Land” in 2016, directed by this year’s jury president, Damien Chazelle.
“I would be surprised if we don’t see David Fincher or Bradley Cooper or Sofia Coppola in the running for the Oscar this year,” Barbera said.
Fincher directs “The Killer,” a thriller about a ruthless hitman played by Michael Fassbender, while Cooper directs and stars in “Maestro,” about the composer Leonard Bernstein. Coppola will present “Priscilla,” based on the memoirs of Elvis Presley’s wife and starring Cailee Spaeny.
Another eagerly anticipated biopic is “Ferrari,” directed by Mann, which features Adam Driver as the Italian carmaker Enzo Ferrari and Penelope Cruz as his wife.
“Ferrari” is an independent production not made by one of the big Hollywood studios and its cast has been given a pass by the US actors’ union to promote the picture.
It is not certain Driver or Cruz will show up, but among the top actors expected in Venice are Jessica Chastain, who has the lead in Michel Franco’s new picture “Memory,” and Mads Mikkelsen, the lead in Nikolaj Arcel’s “The Promised Land”.
Controversially, Venice will also give coveted spots to new films by Woody Allen, Luc Besson, and Roman Polanski, three directors hit by #MeToo scandals who have been cold-shouldered by many industry figures over the past decade.
Besson is returning to the festival circuit after being cleared in June of rape charges levelled against him in 2018 by an actress. He denied wrongdoing, as did Allen, who was accused of assaulting his adopted daughter but was cleared by police.
Polanski, 90, fled the United States over a conviction for raping a 13-year-old girl in 1977, a crime he admitted.
“The history of art is full of criminals who made beautiful pieces of art. So, why not Polanski? He’s one of the great masters still in activity,” Barbera said.
Besson’s picture “Dogman” is in the main draw, while Allen’s first French-language film “Coup de Chance” and Polanski’s comedy “The Palace” are being shown out of competition.