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The Conversation: Cinema Italiano – 2016 Venice Film Festival Predictions

Looking towards the Lido, we’re just over three months away before the fourth quarter Fall Festival circuit kick off, and the final prestigious competition platform for 2016 in Venice. The sooner we get beyond the queasiness from the George Miller led jury’s aggravating dispensing of awards within one of Cannes’ best competition line-ups in years, the better. And as a final note on the subject, yes, there’s something to be said about the ‘seasoned’ tastes of career film critics and their expertise in the determination of quality cinema—but a sense of good taste and the ability to resist making antiquated political statements via title or endowment was—maybe— once considered a given no matter one’s ‘profession’ in the industry/community.

Like the resolutely meaningless tradition of the Academy Awards in the US, perhaps what Cannes needs more than rethinking its programming techniques is a more diversified process of selecting jury members by demanding a certain number of seats based on profession, and ending the stunt casting of glitzy (and glaringly American) celebrities. And although the Coen Bros. responded to the derision which met their awards selection process in 2015 with a statement regarding their decisions as ‘artists’ and not ‘critics,’ everyone seems to have forgotten how these are not mutually exclusive roles. When an artist agrees to sit on a jury and mete judgment on the products of other artists, they become a critic (just as anyone else does who tweets, slurps, or muses aloud about a film or any other such program created by someone else). Past award winners at Venice have drawn equal ire (just ask Bellocchio or Sorrentino), including last year with Venezuelan entry From Afar taking home the Golden Lion—perhaps when we can acknowledge the inherent absurdity of such purposeless distinctions, the better.

This year’s frenzied spate of auteurs vying for space in the Cannes main competition left quite a bit of directors standing without the validating set of laurels they have become accustomed to, allowing Venice the chance to pick up some major slack (particularly properties from several notable French auteurs initially tipped for Cannes who presumably declined an invitation to play in the Un Certain Regard sidebar). Despite Bertrand Bonello’s slighted Nocturama alighting at San Sebastian, we’re predicting to see several of his French peers invited to compete at Venice (although we’d imagine TIFF will have found time to convince one or more of these filmmakers to be part of their second annual Platform competition, as well).

High profile French language items we expect to see include Rebecca Zlotowski with Planetarium, Katell Quillevere with Heart, Arnaud des Pallieres with Orpheline, and perhaps Stephane Brize with A Woman’s Life. Other French property possibly making an appearance are two titles directed by actresses, such as Fanny Ardant’s Stalin’s Couch and Sara Forestier’s M, while Sylvie Verheyde’s Sex Doll and Tran Anh Hung’s Eternity (which was rumored to have bypassed a closing night slot at Cannes) could snag a comp slot. And then, there’s the case of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s French language debut, The Woman in the Silver Plate which was also curiously left out of Cannes.

Several titles which were reported as not ready in time for Cannes include Fatih Akin’s Tschick, Emir Kusturica’s long gestating On the Milky Road, and the latest from Denis Villeneuve, once called Story of Your Life but now retitled Arrival as it continues a series of test screenings since it is the property of Warner Bros., a studio which may have not granted him final cut. Meanwhile, Mexican auteur Amat Escalante’s The Untamed was also cited as not complete in time for Cannes, so there’s a likelihood one of these will show up in Venice. Lucrecia Martel’s Zama was widely reported as far from complete, but we think this will be pegged for Cannes 2017. Joao Pedro Rodrigues had apparently been a lock in the Directors’ Fortnight line-up with The Ornithologist only to be replaced at the last minute by Laura Poitras, so hopefully he’ll have a crack at Venice (if he doesn’t settle in Locarno, where’s he premiered in the past). And then, there were a decent number of auteurs who appeared at the Cannes Market who should (hopefully) pop up in Venice, such as Lido regular Benoit Jacquot with his adaptation of Don DeLillo’s The Body Artist, apparently retitled Never Ever, while Wim Wenders could be a contender with The Beautiful Days of Aranjuez (though he may hold out for Berlin 2017, the same guess we’d wage for a new film from Volker Schlondorff, Return to Montauk). Other auteurs earlier expected at Cannes were Ben Wheatley with Free Fire, and a new untitled film from Hong Sang-soo. If Locarno doesn’t snap him up, we’d hope Venice invites him back.

And then, what of the Italian auteurs? Gianfranco Rosi, who won Venice in 2012, swept up top honors at Berlin this year with Fire at Sea. It was a low key year for Italy at Cannes (especially compared to 2015’s lineup), but seasoned auteurs popped up in sidebars, like Marco Bellocchio as the Directors’ Fortnight opener with Sweet Dreams, the same program which took Paolo Virzi’s Like Crazy. Likewise Alessandro Comodin bowed in Critics’ Week with his sophomore feature Happy Days Will Come Again. So who are the major Italian players set to unveil in Venice? Andrea Pallaoro would have been a good bet with his Charlotte Rampling headlined The Whale, but it appears filming has been delayed, making this a 2017 title. Likewise, it’s unsure where Michelangelo Frammartino is with his next project, Tarda Primavera. While it seems Fabio Mollo’s White Shadows was delayed, his next project Il Padre d’Italia could be ready in time. High profile items from Giuseppe Tornatore, Roberto Ando and Ivano De Matteo have already been released domestically, so there’s reason to expect some surprise entries from newer Italian directors.

And then there are plenty of odds and ends to expect at Venice. Amazon Studios had a vice grip on Cannes this year, but we’re expecting Netflix to take on Venice again, this time with David Michod’s War Machine, perhaps. Other American auteurs (or US productions) likely to be unveiling here are Terrence Malick with Weightless (come on already!), maybe John Cameron Mitchell with How to Talk to Girls at Parties, Mike Mills with 20th Century Women, Ana Lily Amirpour with The Bad Batch, Adam Wingard with The Woods, Oliver Stone with Snowden, Tom Ford with Nocturnal Animals (we sure hope so), James Gray with The Lost City of Z and after presenting Heaven Knows What in 2014, the Safdie Bros. could return with Good Time, which stars Robert Pattinson, Buddy Duress and Souleymane Sy Savane (Goodbye Solo).

Word has been slim on Gerardo Naranjo’s Viena and the Fantomes, but Venice or TIFF seems likely. Peter Greenaway might be ready with Walking to Paris, while Alexandros Avranas might score a slot with his English debut, True Crimes. Other English language entries from Joseph Cedar (Oppenheimer Strategies), Per Fly (Backstabbing for Beginners), Jim Sheridan (The Secret Scripture) and Werner Herzog (Salt and Fire) are likely seeking a slot somewhere, while a smattering of other international auteurs with ready projects, such as Calin Peter Netzer, Marco Dutra, Matias Pineiro, Andrzej Wajda, Johnnie To, Valerie Sarmiento, Gyorgy Palfi could also pop up.

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Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes, TIFF and AFI. His top 3 for 2016: Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade), Elle (Paul Verhoeven) and OJ: Made in America (Ezra Edelman).

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