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VENICE - Bar this morning's review of "The Reluctant Fundamentalist," which christened the 69th Venice Film Festival (and the first under new director Alberto Barbera's rule) this evening, I'm afraid I haven't offered much in the way of festival foreplay.
I had meant to write up some form of preview piece, but travel preparations were more manic than usual, and Venice itself always offers its fair share of practical obstacles. Since arriving yesterday afternoon at the otherwise delightful flat I'm sharing with two colleagues, we've been trying to solve the riddle of how to run electricity, wi-fi and air conditioning simultaneously without short-circuiting the building's entire switchboard. I'm not going steal Jeff Wells' schtick with a diary of technical woes, but suffice to say we're still working on it.
Anyway, offering up a "preview" after the opening film would be more than a little redundant -- and anyway, yesterday's combined HitFix gallery of our most anticipated titles of the fall festival season, to which Kris and I both contributed, set the festival mood rather nicely. The long and short of it is that I'm here and, with the programme's prime offerings still under wraps -- well, mostly -- I'm excited.
For reasons both sentimental and cinephilic, Venice is my personal favorite stop on the festival circuit. In 2009, it wasthe first film festival I'd ever attended outside the UK, and in four years, it's introduced me to a lot of films dear to my heart, from "Black Swan" to "Alps," "Meek's Cutoff" to "Post Mortem," "Damsels in Distress" to, most beloved of all, "White Material." Going on past form, I'm bound to see something in the next ten days that'll wind up in my year-end Top 10: your guess is as good as mine as to what it might be, though I think we can rule out "The Reluctant Fundamentalist."
Quite aside from the films, however, there's Venice itself -- or, to be more precise, the stalled, elegantly crumbling romance of the LIdo, the sleepy resort island immortalized in Thomas Mann's (and Luchino Visconti's) "Death in Venice". It's a coolly uncool location for a festival that I maintain offers the glamor of Cannes, but without the stress: the programme is slimmer (especially this year, as was Barbera's wish), the crowds quite, the red tape lax and faded to a breeze-blown pink. Yesterday, I stumbled across the photo above, of Paul Newman arriving at the festival back in 1963, and thought it summed up that balance rather well.
Not that I won't be busy, of course. To give you an idea of what lies ahead -- and when -- I thought I'd draw up a basic day-by-day rundown of the programme's biggest gets below. There are, naturally, plenty of things to see besides, but for those of you impatient to know when, say, reactions to Terrence Malick's latest will start emerging, take a look.
Thursday 8/30: A morning double feature of Xavier Giannoli's "Superstar" and Ariel Vromen's "The Iceman" -- out of competition, but one of the starrier items in the lineup, with Chris Evans, James Franco, Winona Ryder and Michael Shannon. Evening brings Ramin Bahrani's "At Any Price," starring Zac Efron and Dennis Quaid, It's back-to-back with Ulrich Seidl's "Paradise: Faith," but as much as I'm looking forward to his follow-up to "Paradise: Love" -- which I admired in Cannes -- I'll have to catch a next-day screening.
Friday 8/31: A quieter day (which should enable that Seidl catch-up), with no new competition films unspooling, and Spike Lee's Michael Jackson documentary "Bad 25" the catch of the day.
Saturday 9/1: Okay, now things get serious: after all those pop-up screenings, Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" finally has its "official" premiere, whatever that means these days. The evening's competition film, meanwhile, is Israeli drama "Fill the Void," which is currently in the running to be the country's Oscar submission.
Sunday 9/2: Completing a weekend of the big guns, we'll see Terrence Malick's "To the Wonder" bright and early in the morning. Susanne Bier's "All You Need is Love," unluckily enough, backs onto it, but I'll have to wait for a later screening. Evening brings Takeshi Kitano's "Outrage Beyond," but given how little time I had for its non-Beyond predecessor, I can wait.
Monday 9/3: Olivier Assayas's "Something in the Air" is the morning's big draw, but less essential fare filling out the day -- but don't tell Kim Ki-duk's diehard fans I said that.
Tuesday 9/4: This would be a good day to discover an unheralded gem, or catch up with a word-of-mouth favorite, since until Harmony Korine's "Spring Breakers" in the evening (which I'll be reviewing over at Variety), it's a bit of a lottery. By the way, is Zac Efron now a European festival fixture? Has he got something for Berlin in the hopper?
Thursday 9/6: A spectacularly unlikely double-bill in the morning: "Thy Womb," the latest from divisive Filipino provocateur Brillante Mendoza, followed by Robert Redford's all-star political thriller "The Company You Keep." Perhaps they'll complement each other. Perhaps.
Friday 9/7: The last of the big guns, held until nearly the end to spite those leaving early for Toronto, is Brian DePalma's "Passion." If it's the shot of trashy fun I'm hoping for, that's welcome timing.
Saturday 8/9: The last day of the fest, with closing film "L'homme qui rit" not high on most people's priority lists. Still, this would be as good a day as any to catch up with the restoration of Michael Cimino's "Heaven's Gate."
So there it is -- a rough layout, though these self-drawn schedules never go entirely according to plan. Look out for tomorrow's "At Any Price" review, and hopefully some thoughts on "The Iceman" and "Superstar" too.
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