Though it's her largest-scale project to date, the director's regular below-the-line team, as well as usual co-writer Jon Raymond, is still intact. That's particularly good news in the case of cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt, who did something approximating magic on "Meek's Cutoff" (and also distinguished himself this year on "The Bling Ring").

"Tom at the Farm," directed by Xavier Dolan: Dolan is probably tired of hearing the word "wunderkind," but with four features under his belt at the age of 24, the lavishly coiffed French-Canadian actor-director won't stop hearing it for a good few years yet. Patience is not one of his strengths: he was said to be greatly peeved last year when his third feature, the near three-hour transgender drama "Laurence Anyways," failed to make the Cannes Competition lineup. The festival's decision was justified by the intermittently brilliant but precociously overblown film, but Dolan has packed his bags regardless: "Tom at the Farm" will be his first film to premiere outside Cannes, and Venice has duly obliged with a Competition slot.

Still, perhaps he noted some of the "Laurence" criticism: "Tom" finds him taming his vision to a compact 91 minutes, though I rather wish he'd followed his last film's lead by not casting himself in it. Swings and roundabouts, I guess. Dolan plays the title character, a young urbanite who travels to the countryside for the funeral of his male lover, only to find himself physically and psychologically cornered by the dead man's violently homophobic brother. Described as a psychological thriller -- fresh territory for Dolan indeed -- this has the potential to be his simplest, most piercing work since his first (and, I say, still his best) film, "I Killed My Mother." An unexpected name in the credits is that of Oscar-winning composer Gabriel Yared ("The English Patient"), which proves Dolan's sway these days. Will the jury think he's ripe for a major award, or deem him still a bit unseasoned?  

"Ana Arabia," directed by Amos Gitai: Prolific Israeli auteur Gitai is a veteran dramatic chronicler of ongoing political and cultural conflict in his native land, and has been in Competition three times before at Venice. His latest continues both traditions, following a young female journalist as she observes and interviews a community of Jewish and Arab outcasts living a deserted rural territory. Perhaps more intriguing than the vague synopsis is the way it's filmed: Gitai set himself a challenge to tell the entire story in a single unbroken shot lasting over 80 minutes: "It’s also somewhat of a political statement," he explains in his director's statement, "commenting that the destinies of Jews and Arabs on this land will not be cut." Formal ambition plus political relevance -- it's a combination that has impressed other juries, and Venice has been good to Israeli cinema in recent years, with prominent wins for "Lebanon" and last year's "Fill the Void."

The Police Officer's Wife," directed by Philip Gröning: Eight years after wowing critics and various festival juries with his three-hour monastery documentary "Into Great Silence," German director Gröning is back, this time with a return to fiction filmmaking. "The Police Officer's Wife," however, promises to be as detailed and observational as one of his docs: coming in at 175 minutes, the film tells the story of a young family descending into abuse, following the titular wife as she fights for her child's soul. Gröning's cryptic director's statement says "I shoot better films without a script," again reminding us of his documentary ties, and he describes the film's simplicity as "precious."

Join me tomorrow for another roundup of five Venice Competition titles, as we count down to our festival coverage -- which kicks off on Wednesday. What films are you most looking forward to?

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