Robert Redford, Jane Fonda and Alexander Payne kick off Venice Film Festival 2017, running August 30 through September 9. Here are 5 must-watch films from around the world.
Venice Film Festival is back, and it’s looking good. Regular staples and festival familiars return for the 74th installment of one of Europe’s greatest cultural calendar dates, part of the wider mantle of the Venice Biennale. Spanning the whole summer and covering everything from movies to sculpture and dance, the Italian city’s international arts festival is one of the world’s most renowned and respected celebrations of all things creative.
This year boasts an all-star lineup of actors, directors and producers from around the globe, continuing the festival’s tradition of excellence. In advance of the actual competition, Robert Redford and Jane Fonda have been confirmed as prospective recipients of the Golden Lion lifetime achievement award. This accompanies the premiere at the Venice Film Festival of Our Souls at Night, in which Redford and Fonda play widower and widow who find companionship during their autumn years. Meanwhile Alexander Payne’s (The Descendants 2011, Sideways 2004) Downsizing has been billed as the festival’s opening movie, starring Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis, Alec Baldwin and Neil Patrick Harris.
As ever, the exceedingly high standards make navigating the options tricky. In view of this, we’re here to bring you five of our favorites to look out for.
1. Human Flow by Ai Weiwei (China / USA)
World-renowned contemporary art maker and political dissident Ai Weiwei has a provocative career that’s spanned several decades. Presented usually in the mediums of sculpture and installations (and now Instagram), Weiwei’s work asks questions about freedom, cultural memory and the role of corporate power in society. No stranger to film, Weiwei has previously starred in and directed the documentaries Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2012) and Beijing 2003 (2004). Human Flow explores the tensions and tragedies of the ongoing global refugee crisis. With the help of filmmakers and activists, Weiwei traveled across North America, Europe and the Middle East to document and interview various people caught up in the nightmare of racist boundaries and population controls. “Very often we talk about ‘refugee crisis’ but there is no ‘refugee crisis.’ There is only human crisis,” reflects Weiwei in a promotional video. With footage and research conducted across 22 countries, the movie’s scope is global, asking what basic values are lost in the process of stripping human beings of citizenship and, indeed, what is even meant by the term. Amazon has purchased the rights to distribute the movie after its Venice Film Festival debut, and it is expected to be released to the general public in the fall.
2. The Deserted by Tsai Ming-liang (Taiwan)
Tsai Ming-liang (Rebels of the Neon God 1992, What Time Is It There? 2001, Stray Dogs 2014) already has a few Venice Film Festival achievements to his name, notably having taken home the Golden Lion twice for Rebels of the Neon God (1992) and What Time Is It There? (2001), as well as the Grand Special Jury Prize for Stray Dogs (2013). Famed as a pioneer of the so-called “slow-fi” movement, Ming-liang makes films that contemplate urban loneliness and the fleeting moments of connection to be found (or lost) in contemporary Asia. Much of his funding these days comes from arts councils, galleries and festivals, as he is respected in the art-house circuit. Nonetheless, his work carries the potential for popular appeal, always underlined with a dry sense of humor and poignant, though understated, romance. Born and raised in Malaysia, Ming-liang soon moved to Taiwan (the Republic of China) to kick off his movie career. An island just off the coast of mainland China, Taiwan shares with Ming-liang the same sense of occupying the periphery. While not overtly political in its content, Ming-liang’s oeuvre deals with questions of outsideness and social otherness, arguably reflecting Taiwan’s geopolitical tension with its sibling and rival, the People’s Republic of China, from which it split in the mid-20th century. The Deserted is Tsai’s first foray into VR and no doubt has offered this heavyweight director an opportunity to flex different artistic muscles, likely with exciting results. Stay tuned.
3. Woodshock by Kate and Laura Mulleavy (USA)
Woodshock will be actress Kirsten Dunst’s second feature this year, after her role in Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled made waves over the summer. Woodshock finds her in an eerie thriller set in the redwood forests of Northern California, starring alongside Joe Cole (Green Room 2015, Skins 2012), Pilou Asbæk (Ghost in the Shell 2017) and Richard Linklater’s daughter, Lorelei Linklater (Boyhood 2014, Waking Life 2001). Kate and Laura Mulleavy were costume designers on Kirsten Dunst’s Bastard (2010) and Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2010), and Woodshock will be their directorial debut. Its page on the A24 studios website enticingly states: “Kirsten Dunst stars as Theresa, a haunted young woman spiraling in the wake of profound loss, torn between her fractured emotional state and the reality-altering effects of a potent cannabinoid drug.” So prepare for trippy, Blair Witch–freaky stuff, but also (given the previous aesthetic achievements of its directors) stunning visuals and serene landscapes.
4. Outrage Coda by Takeshi Kitano (Japan)
Born in Tokyo in 1947, Kitano began his career as a comedian, gaining acclaim for filmmaking with his movie Fireworks in 1997. Since then, Kitano has earned a reputation as a director on the international festival circuit over the past two decades, with movies like The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi (2003) and Fireworks taking home the Silver Lion and Golden Lion respectively. After his stint as a comic, and prior to directing, Takeshi “Beat” Kitano was known as an actor, racking up multiple small to supporting roles, before eventually going the full stretch and getting behind the camera. Known for crime dramas, often depicting Yakuza mobsters running the streets and underground of Japan’s capital, Kitano plays a leading role in Outrage Coda. The film follows the tasks and toils of a veteran gangster just out of prison, settling scores and reconnecting with old allies. You can watch the trailer above ahead of the Venice Film Festival official screening.
5. Nico, 1988 by Susanna Nicchiarelli (Italy / Belgium)
In addition to appearing on the classic Velvet Underground record and being one of Andy Warhol’s muses, Nico led a life on her own terms. Directed by Italian filmmaker Susanna Nicchiarelli (Cosmonaut 2009, La Scoperta Dell’alba 2012), this biopic docufiction was largely constructed on interviews with the late singer’s son, Ari, and her then-manager Alan Wise. Music, of course, will feature heavily in the piece, and Nicchiarelli has specifically remarked that, indeed, it is able to “tell us more than any other dialogue or situation in the film.” Originally an actress, Nico had her breakthrough when she was cast in Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960). Eventually the German-born artist moved to New York, where she modeled and sang in nightclubs. Her career ended after she relocated to Manchester, England, playing around Europe before her tragic death in a bicycle accident in Ibiza, where she’d been on holiday with her son. Filming for Nico, 1988, which captures these final years, took place in Italy, Germany and Belgium. The movie’s release is set for September 30.
So there are a few suggestions to whet your appetite. Plenty more where they came from, mind you. Check the Venice Film Festival website for updates and details.