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Thrillers terrorise Venice festival – Clooney, del Toro and Aronofsky films in fest lineup

ROME, July 29, (Agencies): The oldest film festival in the world is going big on nail-biters this year with thrillers dominating the race for Venice’s coveted Golden Lion award, organisers said Thursday.

Stars George Clooney, Matt Damon, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert Redford and Jane Fonda are expected to be among the A-listers spotted posing on the red carpet or hopping into gondolas at the gala’s 74th edition.

This year the festival, a key launchpad for heavyweight Oscar contenders, has gone big on US flicks in particular.

Hollywood heavyweight Ethan Hawke will star in director Paul Schrader’s “First Reformed”, a spine-chiller about members of a church who are tormented by the deaths of loved ones — and harbouring a dark secret.

It goes up against hotly-awaited “mother!” by Darren Aronofsky, the US director behind the 2010 psychological horror film “Black Swan”. Starring Jennifer Lawrence, the film tells the tale of a couple thrown into turmoil by uninvited guests.

And Britain’s Martin McDonaugh — best known for 2008 black comedy “In Bruges” — will hope to suitably unnerve the jury with thriller “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”, starring Frances McDormand as a middle-aged mother who challenges police after her daughter is murdered but no killer is found.

It’s not all white-knuckle suspense: the beachside festival on the Lido island, which runs from July 30 to August 9 and is set to feature 21 world premieres, will kick off on a lighter tone.

Oscar-winning US director Alexander Payne’s latest sci-fi comedy “Downsizing” will open the show, starring Matt Damon as a man who realises he would have a better life if he shrank, and Kirsten Wiig as his indecisive wife.

Damon also stars in Clooney’s new flick “Suburbicon”, a dark comedy written by the Coen brothers and set in 1959, in which he plays a father of a suburban family that discovers the neighbourhood’s dark underbelly of violence.

Teaser pictures released by Paramount show a very blonde Julianne Moore co-starring in Clooney’s sixth directorial effort.

Chief juror Annette Bening and her panel of experts — including filmmakers Michel Franco and Edgar Wright and actress Rebecca Hall — are likely to be already lusting after the latest by Mexican fantasy master Guillermo del Toro.

The Cold War-era love fairytale story “The Shape of Water” by the man behind “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006) stars Sally Hawkins as a custodial worker in a government laboratory who discovers and smuggles out a top-secret experiment.


Two documentaries are also in the running: Frederick Wiseman’s “Ex Libris, New York Public Library” and Ai WeiWei’s “Human Flow”, which was filmed in 23 countries and explores the staggering scale of today’s global migration issue.

Tunisian-French director Abdellatif Kechiche will bring “Mektoub, My Love: Canto Uno”, a 1980s coming-of-age story, while Italy’s Paolo Virzi will premiere “The Leisure Seeker”, starring Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland.

Out of competition but by no means less eagerly awaited, Britain’s Stephen Frears will debut “Victoria & Abdul”, about Queen Victoria’s unlikely friendship with a young Indian clerk, starring Judi Dench, Ali Fazal and Eddie Izzard.

“Exorcist” director William Friedkin delves into the story of a real-life exorcism with his documentary “The Devil and the Father Amorth” while Netflix reveals its first Italian original series “Suburra”, about gangsters and politicians in Rome.

Last but not least, US greats Robert Redford and Jane Fonda will be celebrated with Golden Lion lifetime achievement awards.

While the Cannes Film Festival in May did not have any studio pics, the Venice lineup this year looks set to bolster the Lido’s growing reputation as a launching pad for awards-season titles.

Fox Searchlight will also launch two Golden Lion hopefuls from the Lido, where they are in the main competition: Del Toro’s Cold War-era fantasy “The Shape of Water” and dark thriller “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” directed by Martin McDonaugh (“In Bruges”), which stars Frances McDormand as a feisty middle-aged mother who challenges a small-town police chief, played by Woody Harrelson, after her daughter is murdered and no killer has been found.

Universal International will bow “Victoria and Abdul,” a period piece by director Stephen Frears about the real-life friendship between a young Indian Muslim clerk and Queen Victoria, played by Judi Dench. Frears and Dench also collaborated on Oscar-nominated “Philomena,” which launched from Venice in 2013. “Victoria and Abdul” is out-of-competition.

Another British entry — which will compete — is Andrew Haigh’s Oregon-set “Lean on Pete,” which stars Charlie Plummer (“Granite Flats”) as a teenager who takes a summer job with a washed-up horse trainer, played by Steve Buscemi, and befriends a failing racehorse. New York-based distributor A24 (“Moonlight”) will release “Lean on Pete” in North America.

Amazon Studios will launch competition entry “Human Flow,” Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s take on the global refugee crisis. The movie was filmed in 23 countries over the course of more than a year.

After announcing the lineup, Barbera pronounced himself “97% satisfied in the sense that there are only maybe two or three films that we wanted to have for the festival, and we couldn’t because they will go to other festivals.”

As is often the case, many of the English-language entries at Venice will also screen in Toronto and Telluride. But Venice and Telluride are likely to be sharing as many as eight titles this year, which is unprecedented. Most, if not all, of these will screen in Venice first.

Italian titles competing are Paolo Virzi’s English-language dramedy “The Leisure Seeker,” starring Mirren and Sutherland as a runaway couple on a cross-country journey, and Andrea Pallaoro’s “Hannah,” starring Charlotte Rampling as a woman struggling with her identity after her husband is imprisoned. Both clearly have international elements, Barbera noted.

Netflix will be in Venice with its first Italian original show, “Suburra,” about mobsters and politicians in present-day Rome. The streaming service will also screen its Errol Morris series “Wormwood,” which is not a world premiere.

As previously announced, Netflix will also bow original film “Our Souls at Night,” starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, who will both receive honorary Golden Lions.

The late singer Michael Jackson will have a dedicated special event featuring a reworked 3D version of the “Thriller” music video shot by John Landis, who has overseen the 3D redux, followed by backstage documentary “Making of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller,’” by Jerry Kramer. Both are financed by the Jackson estate to celebrate the album’s 35th anniversary.

Landis will preside over the jury of Venice’s new competitive section dedicated to films made for virtual-reality viewing, which will feature 22 entries and is touted as the first competition for VR works at a major fest. They include “La Camera Insabbiata,” co-directed by Laurie Anderson and Huang Hsin-Chien, and “The Deserted” by Taiwan-based auteur Tsai Ming-Liang, a Venice Golden Lion winner for “Vive l’amour” in 1994.

Asia is also represented at Venice in “Angels Wear White” by China’s Vivian Qu (“Trap Street”) and Japanese festival circuit darling Hirokazu Koreada’s (“The Third Muder”) in competition. Famed Japanese actor-director Takeshi Kitano’s “Outrage Coda” is the out-of-competition closer.

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