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Landesman is best known as a writer and journalist; he was at the center of a minor media controversy a few years ago when he was accused of fabricating research for a New York Times piece about sex slavery. Biographical drama, of course, can fudge as many details as it pleases; the question is whether Landesman can be as crisp as persuasive in a visual and aural medium as he is on the printed page. Luckily, he has brilliant Britain cinematographer Barry Ackroyd and eight-time Oscar nominee James Newton Howard along for the ride. Hit or miss, this doesn't look like the kind of film festival juries reward as a matter of course; reviews at Venice (and later Toronto) will help determine whether or not this has future awards potential.
"The Unknown Known," directed by Errol Morris: Or, to use its full, self-explanatory title, "The Unknown Known: The Life and Times of Donald Rumsfeld." Not that you need the full title to know what this is about. Veteran documentarian Morris won his long-awaited Oscar for 2003's "The Fog of War," an astute, clear-eyed portrait of former US Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara. Ten years later comes what appears to a companion piece to that film: a feature-length interview with a certain more recent Secretary of Defense, delving deep into his controversial role in the Iraq War. Morris is a measured, unflinching interviewer, so this promises to be a valuable addition to the growing library of post-9/11 cinema, though it will probably find Morris on less playful form than in 2010's media scandal study "Tabloid." (Danny Elfman, however, provides the score, as he did in 2008's "Standard Operation Procedure.")
It's still rare for documentaries to appear in Competition at the major festivals. Morris' Abu Ghraib-themed feature "Standard Operating Procedure" did so in Berlin in 2008, while this is the first year he'll be competing for the Golden Lion -- moreover, his is one of two docs in this year's Competition lineup. It won't exactly be the most propulsive film in the running, but it could win something if jurors are in a rather austere mood, and keen to highlight the growing presence of non-fiction filmmaking on the festival circuit. The Weinsteins' Radius label will distribute the film in the US.
"L'intrepido," directed by Gianni Amelio: 68-year-old Italian veteran Amelio is, along with Tsai Ming-liang, one of only two former Golden Lion winners in the running this year: he won in 1998 for his Sicilian family saga "Così ridevano," and has competed on three others occasions, winning non-jury awards each time. (He also won the Grand Prix at Cannes for his best-known film, 1992's "The Stolen Children.") He's therefore a name to reckoned with, though still perhaps more highly regarded at home than elsewhere. Judging from the rather confusingly worded festival blurb for the film, his latest seems steeped in Italian cultural and political reference points that may not translate as well to outsiders. Antonio Albanese ("To Rome With Love") plays an irregularly employed jack-of-all-trades trying to eke out a living in contemporary Milan; his plight is contrasted with that of his musician son.
"Miss Violence," directed by Alexandros Avranas: One of the Competition's real wild-card selections, this Greek drama is the second feature from Avranas, whose 2008 debut "Without" didn't travel very far even on the festival circuit. His follow-up, however, caught the eye of Venice and Toronto alike: opening with the shocking suicide of an 11-year-old girl from a comfortable, middle-class household, this reportedly chilling film digs into not just the familial fallout from this tragedy, but the domestic history that led to it. Greek cinema is in the midst of a mini New Wave at the moment: Venice gave it an additional boost two years ago by programming Yorgos Lanthimos' "Alps" (which eventually won Best Screenplay) in Competition; here's hoping this one is similarly striking.
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?
Everything: Academy Awards
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