The Venice International Film Festival gets under way today with a juicy-looking line-up that feels almost like the before times. In other words, those heady days before the Covid-19 pandemic changed lives for ever – and brought the film industry to its knees. Yet with vaccination rates on the rise and increased safety measures in place, the feeling is that this year's event has the opportunity to be really special.
Last year, Venice was the only A-list film festival to take place in physical form, with the Lido archipelago offering a geographical haven for festivalgoers. Temperature checks were mandatory on entrance into the festival area, and having taken place in a time before Covid-19 vaccines, it was a method that kept the virus at bay. Now, vaccinated visitors will be able to use Italy's green pass to enter cinemas, as well as restaurants and other indoor facilities.
It certainly seems like Hollywood has returned to the international festival circuit with confidence at this year's Venice Film Festival, with some heavyweight movies set to be unveiled and stars in attendance on the red carpet.
Out of competition, perhaps the biggest movie to be screened is Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, an epic-looking adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi novel set far in the future on a desert planet named Arrakis.
With Timothee Chalamet leading an all-star cast that includes Zendaya, Oscar Isaac and Jason Momoa, the film was partly filmed in Jordan and Abu Dhabi, with Villeneuve’s team capturing the beautiful desert regions to form the backdrop of Arrakis. Early footage from the trailers looks staggering, with this version liable to consign David Lynch’s maligned 1984 adaptation to the waste bin once and for all.
In competition, there are several A-list directors who will be vying for the festival’s coveted Golden Lion. Opening the festival is Spanish maestro Pedro Almodovar, whose short film The Human Voice played at last year’s event. His new film, Parallel Mothers, starring his regular siren Penelope Cruz, has already caused a storm with its poster, which was removed from Instagram owing to its rules over nudity. Almodovar has already said the film will be his entry into “the female universe”, with a story about two mothers who give birth on the same day.
Also in competition will be The Power of the Dog, Jane Campion’s first film in 12 years, since 2009’s Bright Star. In between, she made the superb two-season show Top of the Lake, but it’s pleasing to see her back with a movie – in what is her first for Netflix. Benedict Cumberbatch and Jesse Plemons play brothers living in 1920s Montana whose lives are torn apart when one marries a young widow (played by Plemons’ real-life partner Kirsten Dunst).
Paul Schrader will also be back on the Lido, some eight years after he brought The Canyons with Lindsay Lohan. This time, he’s written and directed The Card Counter, a glorious-looking tale of an ex-military interrogator turned gambler, played by Oscar Isaac.
With a cast that features Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan and Willem Dafoe, this has all the hallmarks of a classic outing from Schrader, the writer of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull.
Italy’s Paolo Sorrentino will also top-line his country’s own competition entries with The Hand of God. Set in the mid-1980s when footballer Diego Maradona joined Napoli and single-handedly turned them into Serie A champions, the film is said to be a reflection on Sorrentino’s own youth and his most personal film to date. After his last Venice-bound efforts, TV dramas The Young Pope and The New Pope, like Campion, it’s good to see him back in cinema.
From the Mena region, there are several key films to look out for. Playing in the Orizzonti Extra strand, Mounia Akl’s Costa Brava, Lebanon stars actor-director Nadine Labaki in a story about a family escaping Beirut’s pollution alongside Palestinian actor Saleh Bakri.
Meanwhile, out of competition, Diana El Jeiroudi’s Republic of Silence is a three-hour documentary that deals with her life in Syria and, as she puts it in her director’s statement, “how cinema has saved our sanity and probably our lives”.
There are also a few major documentaries premiering at the festival.
Becoming Led Zeppelin, by director Bernard MacMahon, is the first officially sanctioned documentary about the famed British rock band and will feature new interviews with remaining members Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones.
Ennio, meanwhile, celebrates the life and work of Ennio Morricone, the film composer who died last year, aged 91. It's directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, whose classic Cinema Paradiso was scored by Morricone, so you can expect this to be joyous.
Finally, for all Spaghetti Western fans, Django & Django: Sergio Corbucci Unchained takes a look at the Italian director behind the character Django. Quentin Tarantino narrates in what will undoubtedly be a hot ticket in a festival full of them.
The 78th Venice Film Festival runs until Saturday, September 11.