Venice preview, part three: 'Under the Skin,' 'Night Moves,' 'Tom at the Farm,' 'Ana Arabia,' 'The Police Officer's Wife'
Continuing our preview of the 20 titles in the running for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, which kicks off next week. Today's selection includes new films from Jonathan Glazer, Kelly Reichardt, Xavier Dolan, Amos Gitai and Philip Gröning.
"Under the Skin," directed by Jonathan Glazer: Regular readers may well have worked out that this is my most anticipated title of the Venice Film Festival -- if not the entire remainder of 2013. Impatiently, I held out a sliver of hope that Glazer's long-awaited third feature would show up in Cannes, but it was always likeliest to premiere on the Lido -- where the British director's last feature, "Birth," was unveiled a full nine years ago. The eerie reincarnation drama was an immediately polarizing title. Some denounced it as overreaching twaddle; I'm in the camp that deems it one of the films of the new century. Nothing about "Under the Skin" suggests that Glazer, in his long absence, has grown any more inclined to play it safe.
You may well have heard the premise by now. Adapted from a critically acclaimed, unremittingly dark sci-fi novel by Dutch-born, Scotland-based author Michel Faber, the film stars Scarlett Johansson as an alien in human form, sent to Earth by her employers at a rich extra-terrestrial corporation; there, she prowls the backroads of rural Britain, preying on hitchhikers for decidedly sinister purposes. If you haven't read the novel, it's best to curb your knowledge going in; suffice to say it has a wickedly satirical streak that I hope is delicately handled in the adaptation by Glazer and Walter Campbell.
The supporting cast includes Scottish actor Paul Brannigan, who made an auspicious debut last year in Ken Loach's "The Angel's Share." Below the line, it's interesting to see Glazer, who worked with the late Harris Savides on his last film, reteaming with cinematographer Dan Landin, who shot many of the visually arresting ads and music videos that were Glazer's calling card in the 90s. The frosty, pristine aesthetic sensibility that is Glazer's trademark is perfectly suited to this material -- as, for that matter, is Scarlett Johansson's cool allure.
The film has been tightly guarded by its British producers, despite it having been ready for some time. Now, buzz is building that it could be something special: an auteur genre piece with good reason to keep its secrets secret. Early festival reactions will determine whether it's strictly an art house venture, or has the makings of a classy crossover item in the "Black Swan" vein.
"Night Moves," directed by Kelly Reichardt: Another of my most anticipated. Reichardt's last film, the remarkable trail western "Meek's Cutoff," played in Competition at Venice three years ago (after being turned down by Cannes, say some sources). So it's not a surprise to see the defiantly independent American -- one of two women vying for the Golden Bear this year -- return to the Lido with her latest. What may be a surprise to those who haven't checked in with Reichardt lately are the new film's baby steps toward the mainstream. That could work in its favor with the jury: Reichardt has never wanted for passionate advocates, but there are those who find her previous work a little sparse for their taste.
After easing into the practice of name actor collaborations with Michelle Williams, Reichardt has picked her starriest ensemble to date for "Night Moves": Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard and Oscar nominee Jesse Eisenberg star as a trio of eco-terrorists whose plot to blow up a dam has severe, unexpected consequences for all three. It's a premise that reportedly grazes thriller territory while accommodating Reichardt's regular thematic preoccupations of environmental and human integrity.