The Venice Film Festival is considered one of the "big three" European festivals, along with the glitzy Cannes and the more auteur-minded Berlin. As Venice is a one-of-a-kind city, the festival is also one-of-a-kind, featuring an eclectic selection of films. The last two winners of the Golden Lion have gone on to win Best Director at the Oscars. Though to be fair, the eight before that got a collective zero nominations.
But this year's line-up is the subject of controversy on a lot of fronts. First and foremost, there's a troubling lack of women competing for the top prize. There are a whopping two films directed by ladies, which is double the number last year. Those are Haifaa Al-Mansour's The Perfect Candidate and Shannon Murphy's Babyteeth. That's well behind Cannes, Berlin and Sundance. Then there's the fact that they'll be competing against known abuser Roman Polanski, who still hasn't returned to America since his 1978 plea deal for sex crimes. His latest film is called J'Accuse and it's... wait for it... a true story about a man who's convicted on flimsy evidence and exiled to a place called Devil's Island. I'm sure the film will be well-directed but the subtext is a little hard to ignore. Methinks the pervert doth protest too much.
Then you've also got two popular forces breaking in among the ranks: comic book movies and Netflix. Todd Phillips' take on Joker, starring Joaquin Phoenix, will premiere at the festival ahead of its October 5th opening, solidifying its "not just a comic book movie" bonafides. And the biggest streaming service in the world will present three films: Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story, starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson; and Steven Soderbergh's The Laundromat, about the Panama Papers exposé; while David Michod's The King with Timothée Chalamet will premiere out of competition. Of course there are plenty of purists arguing for the exclusion of all of these films.
There will also be two notorious films holding special screenings: Stanley Kubrick's psychosexual drama Eyes Wide Shut, which has undergone a complete reevaluation in the 20 years since it first premiered; and Irreversible, Gaspar Noé's brutal reverse chronology thriller.
Among the non-controversial premieres: James Gray's sci-fi blockbuster Ad Astra, Hirokazu Kore-eda's English-language debut The Truth, Pablo Larrain's adoption drama Ema, and Olivier Assayas' espionage thriller Wasp Network. Argentine director Lucretia Martel (Zama) will serve as the president of this year's jury.
The 76th Venice Film Festival runs from August 29 to September 7.