The 79th Venice Film Festival has unveiled its line-up, with an intriguing array of big-name directors and stars scheduled to show. The festival, which opens with Noah Baumbach’s adaptation of the Don DeLillo novel White Noise on August 31, has once again positioned itself as a key launchpad for the coming awards season, as Hollywood studios jostle to gain attention for prestige pictures.
There’s plenty of Mena content across the festival too, with films from the region playing in several different sections.
In the Horizons category, Algerian-born filmmaker Rachid Hami brings us his second feature. For My Country (Pour la France) tells of a young police officer of Algerian origin who loses his life during an initiation ritual for the prestigious Saint-Cyr French military school. Partly shot in Morocco, the film stars Karim Leklou (The World Is Yours).
Appearing in Horizons Extra will be Syrian filmmaker Soudade Kaadan, marking her second fiction feature following 2018’s The Day I Lost My Shadow (which won Venice’s Luigi De Laurentiis Award for Best Debut Film). Her new movie, Nezouh — the Arabic title referring to the displacement of souls and people — is set against the backdrop of conflict in Damascus, and follows a girl, Zeina, aged 14, and her family, who are left reeling when a bomb rips through the roof of their building.
Playing in the same strand is Hanging Gardens, the debut feature from Iraqi filmmaker Ahmed Yassin Al Daradji. After his short Children of God made waves (and won awards) on the festival circuit, he returns here to the same Iraqi community featured in that earlier work for a story about a rubbish picker aged 12. This Iraqi-Palestine-UK co-production is already a prize-winner, collecting €5,000 for its post-production from Final Cut, an initiative at last year’s Venice festival designed to support films from Africa and the Middle East.
Iran also has a strong presence in the festival, beginning with actress Leila Hatami (A Separation), who will take her place on the jury alongside its head Julianne Moore. Most potently, in competition, is No Bears by Jafar Panahi, the Iranian director who was only recently condemned to six years in jail for his perceived anti-authoritarian stance. The film is said to be about two parallel love stories and will surely be one of the most talked-about of the festival.
Also in the 23-film line-up that will compete for the coveted Golden Lion is Beyond the Wall, the third feature by Iranian director Vahid Jalilvand, which details the story of a blind man whose life unravels. Two further Iranian films also play. The strikingly titled (and still under wraps) World War III by Houman Seyedi will make its bow in Horizons, while Arian Vazirdaftari’s Without Her takes a slot in Horizons Extra. The female-driven story follows a woman looking to emigrate from Iran.
With this Iranian quartet a clearly pointed political gesture from the festival, artistic director Alberto Barbera doesn’t stop there. Appearing in the non-fiction strand is Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom, by Israeli-American director Evgeny Afineevsky, a documentary that is destined to feel compelling and urgent in the current context of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
In the main competition, it’s like a frenzy of auteurs. Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale, starring Brendan Fraser in a story that deals with morbid obesity, returns the director to the Lido, where his 2008 film The Wrestler won the Golden Lion. Mexico’s Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is back with Bardo, his first film since his 2015 Oscar-winner The Revenant. And Australian director Andrew Dominik brings his long-awaited Marilyn Monroe film Blonde, starring Ana de Armas as the tragic star.
Controversy of the Danish kind will also be in plentiful supply, with two television series set to have premieres on the Lido. Lars von Trier’s The Kingdom Exodus — the third part of his hospital-set drama, which many regard as the best work of his career — will be unveiled. He’ll be joined by fellow Dane Nicolas Winding Refn for his crime yarn Copenhagen Cowboy, which looks set to take the auteur back to his roots, when he launched his career with 1996’s Pusher.
Other out-of-competition films of interest include Olivia Wilde’s psychological thriller Don’t Worry Darling, which features the dream pairing of Harry Styles and Florence Pugh. Paul Schrader, who is collecting a Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, will also be back with Master Gardener, starring Joel Edgerton and Sigourney Weaver. And veteran filmmaker Walter Hill (48 Hrs.) brings his western Dead for A Dollar, with Christoph Waltz and Willem Dafoe.
A highly promising line-up.