Well, this is a refreshing choice. At major festivals, the position of jury president is usually the preserve of directors and actors. At Cannes, for example, you have to go all the way back to 1983 to find a president -- novelist William Styron -- who doesn't tick either of those boxes. And while exceptions have been made for writers, it's very rare for below-the-line artists to take the top position. Production designer Dante Ferretti did the honors at the 2005 Venice Film Festival, and it's the Italians who are once more taking that route: composer Alexandre Desplat will preside over the Competition jury at Venice this year.
While it's an unexpected appointment, it's hardly an undeserved one. Desplat is currently among the hardest-working craftsmen in the business, having scored over 60 features in the last decade -- his intricate compositions frequently an invaluable component of films that range from megabudget Hollywood blockbusters to minute arthouse fare in his native France.
This year alone, his credits include Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel," Gareth Edwards' "Godzilla," George Clooney's "The Monuments Men" and the upcoming prestige double-shot of Angelina Jolie's "Unbroken" and the Benedict Cumberbatch starrer "The Imitation Game." (In case you were wondering if either of those might compete on the Lido, there's your answer.) Frankly, Venice programmers have their work cut out for them finding 20 films he hasn't scored to fill the lineup.
Many of Desplat's most high-profile projects, meanwhile, have been Venice premieres, including "Birth" (still his best work, for my money), 2007 Golden Lion winner "Lust, Caution," "Carnage," "The Ides of March," "The Queen" and "Philomena" -- those last two films accounting for two of his six Oscar nominations to date.
Desplat served on the Tim Burton-led jury of the 2010 Cannes Film Festival; interestingly, one of his fellow jurors that year was Alberto Barbera, now the director of the Venice fest. Desplat presumably made an impression. Barbera states: “Alexandre Desplat is not only one of the greatest composers of film scores today but an ardent cinéphile, whose extraordinary artistic sensitivity is sustained by a profound knowledge of cinema, of its history, of its language.”
Desplat himself states: “It is a great honour and an arduous responsibility to be the president of the Jury of such a prestigious Festival. Italian cinema has influenced both my taste and my music more than any other, and I am proud to be coming to the Venice Film Festival the year after Mr. Bernardo Bertolucci."
In addition to Bertolucci, recent Venice jury presidents include Michael Mann, Darren Aronofsky, Quentin Tarantino, Ang Lee, Wim Wenders, Zhang Yimou and Catherine Deneuve. This year's festival will run from August 27 to September 6.