"Tom A La Ferme"
Synopsis: A young copywriter goes to the countryside for a funeral, only to be drawn into the secrets and games of the grieving family.
What You Need To Know: The absence of a new film from 24-year-old French-Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan in the Cannes line-up this year was something of a surprise, given that his first three pictures had all unspooled on the Croisette. As it turns out, Venice had snapped him up, and "Tom A La Ferme" marks the director's first competition entry at a major festival. Based on the play by Michel Marc Bouchard, this seems to be more of a genre-led entry, a "psychological thriller" that, on paper, nods to "Festen" and Patricia Highsmith, and an experiment that Dolan has described as his "most satisfying journey through this form of art," with the filmmaker leading the mostly unknown cast himself. This writer hasn't wholeheartedly loved any of Dolan's films so far, but he's a consistently interesting voice, and it's only a matter of time before he knocks something out of the park. Could it happen with "Tom A La Ferme"?
When? September 2nd at Venice, before the film heads to TIFF. No U.S. distributor yet.
"Under The Skin"
Synopsis: An alien, disguised as a human, travels on a secret mission through Scotland.
What You Need To Know: If we had to pick one film to see at Venice, it would undoubtedly be this one. Jonathan Glazer was one of the most notable commercials and promos directors of the 1990s, with videos for Blur, Radiohead and Nick Cave, and the famous Guinness surfing ad among his best known credits. Then, in 2000, he made a very strong feature debut with "Sexy Beast," which stood apart from the countless British gangster movies at the time thanks to a whip-smart, foul-mouthed Pinteresque script, and Glazer's inventive visuals. His 2004 follow-up "Birth," which screened at Venice too, was even better, a fascinating, highly original film that numbered among the decade's best, but sadly didn't find an audience at the time. Since then? Almost nothing outside of commercials and videos, as Glazer has spent much of the last decade developing this adaptation of Michel Faber's sci-fi novel, which finally went before cameras with Scarlett Johansson in the lead role a few years back. It's been an extended post-production period, and still very little is known about the film, but it'll finally be unveiled in Venice at the start of next month. What little buzz we've heard around the film is promising, so fingers crossed that Glazer has delivered once again.
When? Screens on the Lido on Tuesday, September 3rd, and it'll head to TIFF soon after.
"The Unknown Known"
Synopsis: A portrait of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, one of George W. Bush's most senior advisers, and one of the men responsible for the Iraq War.
What You Need To Know: It's an especially strong year for documentaries on the Lido this year, with masters of the form like Frederick Wiseman, Alex Gibney and Wang Bing unveiling new films. There are even, in a rare occurence, two docs in competition, and while we're intrigued by Italian entry "Sacro GRA," we're positively breathless in anticipation for "The Unknown Known," the new film from Errol Morris. As much as anyone, Morris has helped popularize the big-screen doc over the last thirty years with films like "Gates Of Heaven," "The Thin Blue Line" and, most recently, "Tabloid," but his new one seems like a semi-sequel to his Oscar-winning 2003 film "The Fog Of War." While that film was a feature length interview with Robert S. McNamara, the Vietnam-era Secretary of Defense, the new one talks to Donald Rumsfeld, the controversial figure who was one of the senior architects of the Iraq War. Rumsfeld's something of an enigma, but if anyone knows how to get the answers out of him, it's Morris, and we're sure it'll be a powerful, provocative and revelatory piece of work, if it's anything like Morris' previous films.
When? We'll have our review late on Tuesday 3rd September, before the film heads to TIFF.
"The Wind Rises"
Synopsis: The story of the friendship between Jiro Horikoshi, the designer of the Zero fighter plane, and writer Tatsuo Hori.
What You Need To Know: One word: Miyazaki. The last decade or so, since the release of "Spirited Away" and the support of Disney and Pixar head honcho John Lasseter, has seen the Japanese animation maestro become ever more popular, but his latest is a serious change of pace, stepping away from his trademark fantasy to tell a serious biographical epic that delves into Japan's history. Described as his most mature picture to date, it looks typically stunning from trailers and footage, and has won great reviews and better box office at home, though it hasn't been without its controversies — the right wing at home have criticized Miyazaki for the film, with debate raging in the papers and online. Its debut at Venice is likely to be a quieter affair, but it'll be interesting to see how far the film travels. But given how much we like more subdued Studio Ghibli fare like "Grave Of The Fireflies" and the recent "From Up On Poppy Hill," we're eager to see how this turns out.
When? Expect our review on Saturday August 31st, with the film screening publicly the following day. It's also heading to TIFF and NYFF, and it'll get a limited one week theatrical run to qualify for the Oscars ahead of a full release sometime in 2014.
"The Zero Theorem"
Synopsis: In the near-future, a reclusive computer genius works on a project that aims to discover the secret of existence, only to fall in love.
What You Need To Know: After a decade-and-a-half of delays and troubled productions (feuding with the studio on "The Brothers Grimm," poor critical reception on "Tideland," the death of star Heath Ledger on "The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus"), "The Zero Theorem" seemed to come together remarkably quickly for Terry Gilliam. The first we heard of it was last August, and a touch over a year later, it's screening in competition at Venice (where "The Fisher King" and "The Brothers Grimm" both screened). Will what seems to be a relatively painless (if lower-budgeted than usual) production add up to a happier end product? Well, star Christoph Waltz is a perfect fit for Gilliam's sensibilities, and there should be fun to be had among the supporting cast, which includes Ben Whishaw, Tilda Swinton and cameos from Robin Williams and Matt Damon. Early footage also suggests that of all the director's previous work, it comes closest to "Brazil," which can only be a good thing, given that that's the director's masterpiece. Fingers crossed we see a return to form here.
When? Monday, September 2nd. The film isn't in the TIFF line-up, so no word on when North America will get it to see it.
Also Worth Looking Out For: There's plenty of gold in the Venice line-up beyond these ten films. In competition: John Curran's "Tracks" with Mia Wasikowska and Adam Driver is somewhat intriguing (check out the first clip here); there's Stephen Frears' "Philomena," which we hope will be a return to form; all-star JFK drama "Parkland"; Philip Groning's "The Police Officer's Wife"; while inevitably, there's also a James Franco movie, in the shape of Cormac McCarthy adaptation "Child Of God" (Franco's novel "Palo Alto" has also been adapted on screen, marking the directorial debut of 26-year old Gia Coppola --granddaughter of Francis Ford, niece of Sofia and Roman -- and that's in one of the sidebars too).
Elsewhere, Asian provocateurs Sion Sono and Kim Ki-Duk (last year's Golden Lion winner) return with "Why Don't You Play In Hell?" and "Moebius" respectively, while Ken Watanabe stars in a Japan-set remake of Clint Eastwood's "Unforgiven." Patrice Leconte returns with "Une Promesse," starring Rebecca Hall, Alan Rickman and "Game Of Thrones" star Richard Madden, while Alex Gibney investigates the most famous present-day sporting cheat with "The Armstrong Lie," Frederick Wiseman looks into what goes on "At Berkeley," and Ti West and his gang reunite for another horror flick, "The Sacrament." Finally, while we won't have time for much in the Classics sidebar, we hope we'll carve out a couple of hours to see the new restoration of William Friedkin's "Sorcerer."
Anything in the lineup that you're particularly stoked for? Let us know below.