The Venice film festival is squeezed between the auteurist prestige of Cannes in May and that colossal awards curtain-raiser provided by Toronto in September. But it can still regularly serve up stars and directorial heavy-hitters â€“ and so it has proved this year.
In fact, the Venice opener has achieved a certain institutional prestige itself â€“ Birdman last year, Gravity the year before. For 2015 it is Baltasar KormÃ¡kurâ€™s Everest, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Robin Wright, the true story of climbers trapped on the peak by a snowstorm. It could yet turn out to be a run-of-the-mill action movie, but Venice chief Alberto Barbera has form in finding a genuinely exciting picture to kick off his festival.
Perhaps the most curiosity and interest attaches to Anomalisa, written and co-directed by Charlie Kaufman: a Kickstarter-funded stop-motion animation about a manâ€™s midlife breakdown â€“ what else? â€“ with voice stars including Jennifer Jason Leigh and David Thewlis. Of course, thereâ€™s every chance that Kaufman, a figure with greater claims to genius status than most, has chosen this genre as something he distinctly preferred. But itâ€™s hard to escape the suspicion that this more modest form has been forced on him by the box-office flop of his wonderful 2008 film Synecdoche, New York, and he is being punished for having made one of the best, though uncommercial films of the previous decade. But Anomalisa will be a hot ticket.
Brit megastar Eddie Redmayne comes to Venice in Tom Hooperâ€™s 1920s-set movie The Danish Girl, in which he plays one of the first men to become a trans woman. Alicia Vikander plays his wife â€“ a remarkable pulchritude face-off.
Could this yearâ€™s Venice be the moment for Johnny Depp to get his groove back, after a few unhappy comedy adventures and ho-hum dramas? Scott Cooperâ€™s Black Mass stars Depp as the real-life mafia informant Whitey Bulger. Festival goers at Venice will be hoping Depp will show us something to compare with his performance in Mike Newellâ€™s Donnie Brasco in 1997.
Cary Fukunagaâ€™s Beasts Of No Nation gives an opening for one of the biggest British names: Idris Elba, playing Commandant, a warlord leading child soldiers. It should be a big showcase for Elba who perhaps needs a meaty, villainous, or at least ambiguous role after the faint piety of his Mandela portrayal.
Venice will give a platform to a number of Italian film-makers, of whom the most venerable is 75-year-old Marco Bellocchio, who presents his Blood Of My Blood, and also Luca â€œI Am Loveâ€ Guadagnino, who has a movie with the Hockneyesque title A Bigger Splash, starring Tilda Swinton, reportedly about the ennui of being a celebrity. Itâ€™s a difficult subject: I remember the cool reception Venice accorded to Sofia Coppolaâ€™s Somewhere in 2010. It won the festivalâ€™s top prize regardless.
Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult star in Drake Doremusâ€™s love story Equals, set in a future time where emotions have been eradicated. It sounds like an intriguing project.
Elsewhere, that great warhorse of Russian cinema, Aleksandr Sokurov, comes to Venice with his Francofonia (Sokurov was the Venice Golden Lion winner for Faust in 2011) and Jerzy Skolimowski has 11 Minutes, a thriller with Richard Dormer. All this, and other work from Tsai Ming-liang, Pablo Trapero, Sergei Loznitsa and Frederick Wiseman. Itâ€™s a very intriguing list.
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