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"Tracks," directed by John Curran: I was surprised to find out just how long "Tracks" has been loitering in Hollywood's pre-production purgatory: Julia Roberts was attached to make it in the mid-1990s -- before, it seems, "Mary Reilly" clipped her creative wings. Her loss (and that of anyone curious to hear Roberts' attempt at a Down Under accent) is Mia Wasikowska's gain. The prodigiously talented 23-year-old has already proven her unconventional leading-lady chops in "Jane Eyre" and "Stoker," but this may be her most challenging showcase yet: as Robyn Davidson, the young Australian explorer who trekked 1,700 miles across the Outback desert in 1977, she'll be sharing large stretches of screen time with only a dog and four camels. An extra red-carpet draw, meanwhile, is the presence of Adam Driver -- best-known for his compellingly strange, Emmy-nominated work in "Girls" -- as a National Geographic photographer following her progress.
Davidson's mad quest is one made for big-screen treatment, and it's exciting to see Curran attached to it. The American filmmaker stumbled with his starry 2010 thriller "Stone," but deserved far more credit than he received for 2006's lyrical, watercolor-textured adaptation of "The Painted Veil" -- if he can match that film's combination of prettiness and character-based intimacy to this material, he could be onto a winner. He's got a helpful ally in cinematographer Mandy Walker, who previously gave the Outback desert the sweeping travelogue treatment for Baz Luhrmann's "Australia." Iain Canning and Emile Sherman, the Oscar-winning producing team behind "The King's Speech" and "Shame," are steering the project.
The film is currently without US distribution, though Venice buzz will help in that department as it heads to the meat market of Toronto. As could an award, of course. Venice has a history of choosing young Best Actress winners -- could Wasikowska be the latest?
"Via Castellana Bandiera," directed by Emma Dante: For whatever reason, Italy's biggest international festival successes rarely seem to emerge from Venice, which often seems to house less accessible local fare. Certainly, this debut feature from well-regarded Palermo-based theater director Emma Dante, an adaptation of her own novel, sounds fascinatingly eccentric: billed as a "Sicilian western," the film is set entirely in a single Palermo street, one too narrow to allow two cars to pass each other. As the female drivers of said cars (Elena Cotta and Alba Rohrwacher, whom you may recognize from "I Am Love") mutually refuse to back up, they remain in a deadlocked duel at the wheel, staring at each other for days on end. It would appear to be an allegorical conceit, though how the first-time director sustains it for 90 minutes is one of the more intriguing mysteries of the festival.
"Sacro GRA," directed by Gianfranco Rosi: The lesser-hyped of two documentaries in this year's Competition (the other being Errol Morris's "The Unknown Known"), "Sacro GRA" is the fourth feature doc from Italian filmmaker Rosi -- the previous two both won awards in lower-profile strands at Venice, so fest director Alberto Barbera clearly felt he was due a promotion. Perhaps the fact that it's Rosi's first film on an Italian subject made the difference: a study of Rome's gigantic GRA ring road, and the individuals living around it, it's the product of over two years' filming on a minivan around the vicinity. I suspect it's a tad too specialized to be a threat for the Lion, but you can't accuse Barbera of not throwing curveballs into Competition.
Catch up with the first three parts of our Venice preview here, here and here. Our Venice Film Festival coverage kicks off on Wednesday, with the world premiere of Alfonso Cuaron's "Gravity." What films are you most looking forward to?
Everything: Academy Awards
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