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Magical musical kicks off Venice fest – Star-studded festival under heightened security

Italian actress Sonia Bergamasco waves from a boat as she arrives at the Venice Lido, Italy, Aug 30, where she will MC the 73rd edition of the Venice Film Festival standing on Aug 31 through Sept 10. (AP)
Italian actress Sonia Bergamasco waves from a boat as she arrives at the Venice Lido, Italy, Aug 30, where she will MC the 73rd edition of the Venice Film Festival standing on Aug 31 through Sept 10. (AP)

VENICE, Aug 31, (Agencies): A bewitching musical starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone will open the Venice Film Festival Wednesday, kicking off a US-heavy line-up of flicks vying for the coveted Golden Lion.

Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land”, described as a tribute to the Golden Age of American musicals, reunites the stars, who appeared together in the 2011 romcom “Crazy, Stupid, Love” — but with oodles of singing this time.

This world premier of the tale about a struggling jazz pianist and his actress girlfriend is the first of 20 films in competition at the 73rd edition of the world’s oldest film festival, which runs from Aug 31 to Sept 10.

The festival’s artistic director Alberto Barbera described the flick by the director of Academy Award-nominated “Whiplash” (2014) as a movie “that does not merely reinvent the musical genre, it gives it a brand new start”.

This year’s line-up on the glamorous Italian island is notable not only for its A-list headliners, from Denzel Washington to Michael Fassbender, but also for the profusion of genre movies, he said.

Dystopian love stories, period dramas, adventure epics, revised Westerns and sci-fi thrillers are all showing at the Lido extravaganza, where Hollywood’s creme de la creme rock up in water taxis to dazzle on the red carpet. The beach-side festival has restored its reputation as an awards-season platform by producing the last two Best Picture Oscars, “Spotlight” and “Birdman”, in a challenge to the mammoth Toronto film festival.

All eyes will be on the jury, lead by British film director Sam Mendes, for hints as to the next Oscar favourite. Security is high at the venue, with road blocks and bag checks after the summer’s jihadist attacks in Europe. While champagne corks were popped and canapes scoffed at luxury Venice hotels on the eve of the festival, the gala dinner on the opening night was cancelled as a mark of respect following a deadly earthquake in Italy.


Films battling for the Lion include Iranian-American Ana Lily Amirpour’s “The Bad Patch”, set in a Texas wasteland and starring Keanu Reeves and Jim Carrey, as well as Derek Cianfrance’s romantic period drama “The Light Between Oceans”, featuring real-life couple Fassbender and Alicia Vikander.

The pair, who famously met and fell in love on the set of the World War I period drama, play a lighthouse keeper and his wife who have problems conceiving but take in a baby girl washed up ashore in a boat.

Among the most anticipated premieres is legendary director Terrence Malick’s 3D documentary about the birth and death of the universe. “Voyage of Time”, a project 40 years in the making, is narrated by Cate Blanchett.

Mel Gibson will be making his directorial comeback after a 10-year break with “Hacksaw Ridge” about a World War II army medic who was the only conscientious objector ever to win the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Former creative director at Gucci, Tom Ford, who wowed critics and the public alike with his directorial debut “A Single Man” in 2009, is back with “Nocturnal Animals”, starring Jake Gyllenhaal.

And there is already a buzz about the out-of-competition offering “The Young Pope”, a 10-part series by HBO telling the life of fictional Pius XIII, with a cigarette-smoking Jude Law as the first American pontiff in history.

Space drama “Gravity”, comedy “Birdman” and last year’s clergy sex abuse film “Spotlight” secured Oscars after premiering in Venice and those wins have helped attract talent to this year’s festival, said artistic director Alberto Barbera.

“The second element is that this year there is a lot of good stuff around,” he told Reuters as the red carpet was laid out in preparation for the star-filled line-up.

The rich selection of US and international movies include Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land”, the festival’s opener, starring Stone and Gosling in a musical comedy-drama about a jazz pianist who falls in love with an aspiring actress in Los Angeles.

‘“La La Land’ is something that everyone is talking about,” said Variety film critic Jay Weissberg. “As much as maybe people don’t even want to admit that they like musicals, everybody kind of likes a musical.”

Others include fashion designer Tom Ford’s thriller “Nocturnal Animals” and Denis Villeneuve’s science fiction drama “Arrival”, both featuring Amy Adams, and Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge”.

The festival organisers have cancelled the beachside gala dinner scheduled for Wednesday in respect of the nearly 300 victims of the earthquake that hit central Italy last week.

“We are here for a festival which is a cultural event, we don’t want to give up of course on the event but we want to give a concrete sign of our solidarity to the victims,” Barbera said.


LOS ANGELES: Manu Riche’s “Problemski Hotel” will open the 24th edition of London’s Raindance Film Festival, which closes with Dominik Moll’s “News from Planet Mars.” Both screenings will be UK premieres.

The festival said both films were “international and unique in their creativity and ability to captivate audiences.”

Riche’s film, which is inspired by Dimitri Verhulst’s novel of the same name, is “both timely and riveting,” the festival said. The pic reveals “the changes that occur in the lives of several people born in areas affected by war and armed conflict. The characters find themselves ejected from their daily lives and propeled into the Kafkaesque absurdity of the refugees’ no-man’s land,” the festival said.

“Problemski Hotel” stars Evgenia Brendes, Carlo Ferrante and Gokhan Girginol; it is a Belgian and Dutch co-production.

Riche’s credits include “Snake Dance” and “Can a Man Change the City.”

Eccentric French comedy “News from Planet Mars,” which stars Francois Damiens and Vincent Macaigne, follows a 49-year-old father, Philippe Mars (Damiens), “whose well-meaning and balanced approach to life is challenged by increasingly chaotic and absurd circumstances,” according to a statement.

“Dealing with his rebellious children, his artist sister and an over-the-top work colleague who moves into his apartment, Philippe’s world goes from bad to worse in this darkly comic take on family life.”

Moll’s credits include “Lemming” and “With a Friend Like Harry…”

“For this year’s festival, we really wanted to enrapture our audiences with our film selection for opening and closing night,” commented Raindance founder Elliot Grove. “Each film is very different, but both stand out as great pieces of independent and international cinema.”

“Problemski Hotel” and “News from Planet Mars” will screen at London’s Picturehouse Central on Sept 21 and Oct 2, respectively. The festival will screen 90 feature films and 85 short films.

Last week the festival announced its jury members, competition films in its feature, short and web series categories. and the full line-up for its inaugural VR Arcade.

Its Music Strand, Co-Production Forum and Industry Days lineups, and additional jury members will be announced on Sept 13.

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