Venice Film Festival 2023: An Edition Unlike Any Before Is Throwing Up Plenty Of Talking Points

The 80th Venice Film Festival gets underway in earnest today and the landmark edition will be unlike any other, taking place as it does against the backdrop of two Hollywood strikes.

The build-up to the festival has been dominated by talk of which stars will make it to the event and which will stay at home. It hasn’t been as challenging for organizers as the Covid editions, but it’s surely up there in recent memory.

As we revealed on Friday, the outlook  for U.S. celebrity attendance is patchy, with a handful of big names set to appear and do the usual press obligations (largely due to the SAG-AFTRA interim agreements, which allow such promotion), but others have decided to stay away to avoid the accusation of strike breaking or simply “bad optics”. Expect media to be dominated by strike talk, especially on any American films.

Despite initial anxiety about movies changing course because of the strikes, it was only the festival’s opening film, Zendaya starrer Challengers, which opted out in the end. Instead, the event will open with Italian WWII drama Comandante.

Venice has become a popular awards launch pad in the last decade and this year is no different with the 80th selection offering a promising blend of U.S. Oscar hopefuls and high-end international fare.

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Fest chief Alberto Barbera has put together a tantalizing group of titles both in and out of competition, with marquee directors and some potential lightning rod choices.  

Highly anticipated are such competition films as the Bradley Cooper-helmed and starring Maestro, Pablo Larrain’s El Conde and David Fincher’s The Killer — all from Netflix. Also in are A24’s Priscilla from Sofia Coppola, Searchlight’s Poor Things from Yorgos Lanthimos, Neon’s Michael Mann-directed Ferrari and Ava DuVernay’s Origin, which makes for a significant landmark as she becomes the first African American filmmaker to play in the competition.

Cooper is among the high-profile names who won’t be on the red carpet with their movie, which has already garnered some controversy for its star’s use of prosthetics. Pulses were set racing when paps captured images of the actor-filmmaker in Venice over the weekend, but we’ve confirmed that he was only in town to tech check his movie and left within 24 hours.

Also notably making an appearance in competition are Luc Besson’s English-language DogMan, the director’s first time behind the camera since 2019; Michel Franco with Memory; and 2021 Best International Feature Oscar winner Ryusuke Hamaguchi with under-the-radar title Evil Does Not Exist.

There also are some big names in the Out of Competition strand, including Wes Anderson’s Netflix adventure comedy short The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar; Showtime’s war drama The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial from the late William Friedkin; and Richard Linklater’s action comedy Hit Man.

A pair of filmmakers are likely to raise some eyebrows. The fest has invited Roman Polanski’s latest, The Palace, out of competition. The filmmaker is not due to attend. Woody Allen’s 50th film, the French-language Coup de Chance also is playing out of competition. Allen is expected on the Lido.

Over the years, Venice has not been afraid to zig while others zag. The MeToo movement in Italy has never been as strong as in some other western countries, for example. Thus, the festival didn’t flinch about programming auteur filmmakers Polanski, Allen and Besson, each of which have garnered their fair share of controversy. These veteran filmmakers and their movies will be among the festival’s big talking points.

In other sections, we’ll be keeping a close eye on such Horizons and Horizons Extra titles as Guy Nattiv and Zar Amir Ebrahimi’s Tatami, Goran Stolevski’s Housekeeping for Beginners, Jack Huston’s Day of the Fight, Robert Lorenz’s In the Land of Saints and Sinners and Olmo Schnabel’s Pet Shop Days, among others.

Meanwhile, there are tributes aplenty with special nods for Anderson, Liliana Cavani and Tony Leung. Each will also deliver a masterclass, along with Nicolas Winding Refn, Francesca Lo Schiavo and Dante Ferretti, and jury president Damien Chazelle. Sunday night’s Amfar charity event could to be one of the festival’s starriest occasions with performances from Rita Ora and Leona Lewis.

Geopolitics will also play its part with a flash mob scheduled for September 2 in support of Iranian filmmakers and a Ukrainian Day on September 6.

Folks hitting the Lido this week have been met by a deluge of wind and sometimes torrential rain as well as temperatures barely reaching 70 degrees Fahrenheit – a marked change for those coming from Italy’s European neighbors which haven’t seen the mercury dip below 90 for weeks. 

The clouds are due to lift in time for Wednesday night’s opening ceremony and the forecast is for blue skies and sunshine for the rest of this week.

The weather was the least of the challenges for those coming to the festival from the UK on Monday and Tuesday. A local air traffic control meltdown early in the week meant that a host of flights were either cancelled or delayed by multiple hours.

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