There’s much to be excited for in the upcoming 2019 Venice Film Festival, the 76th edition of the world’s oldest major film festival. Of course, there’s also room for improvement, given the festival’s timing, nestled as it is in primetime fourth quarter Awards campaign season, making it a lucrative platform for American studios dependent upon industry buzz, of which this program is not an exception. Likewise, conversations about women directors and their overwhelming lack of participation in the main competition is still a sticking point, though at two this year (Haifaa al-Mansour and Shannon Murphy) that doubles last year, of which only Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale held this distinction. With Lucrecia Martel as jury president (whose 2017 Zama was curiously programmed out of competition that year, with Vivian Qu’s Angels Wear White the sole woman in comp) and Mary Harron in tow, it will be curious to see who will take home the 2019 Golden Lion from a line-up which includes a strong Netflix component (Soderbergh, Baumbach and Larrain). Here’s a glance at ten items I am most anticipating from across the program.
#10. Only the Animals – Dir. Dominik Moll (France)
Director Dominik Moll reunites with screenwriter Gilles Marchand for a wintry rural thriller in Only the Animals in what promised to be a return to the genre flair they exhibited in items such as With a Friend Like Harry…(2000) and the underrated Lemming (2005). Moll’s latest will premiere out of the Venice Days sidebar.
#9. The Weeping Woman – Dir. Jayro Bustamente (Guatemala)
After landing in Berlin’s competition with his 2015 debut Ixcanul, Jayro Bustamente has been assembling several follow-up projects, two of which premiered this year (the first being Tremors, which should have been in Berlin’s competition but instead played in the Panorama sidebar) and now The Weeping Woman, an updated take on the local legend of La Llorna. Bustamente’s latest will premiere out of the Venice Days sidebar.
#8. About Endlessness – Dir. Roy Andersson (Sweden)
When Roy Andersson was last in Venice with 2014’s A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence he took home the Golden Lion. What promises to be another compilation of vignettes reflecting the absurdity of human existence is said to be partly influenced by an Arabian Nights angle. Andersson will compete for the 2019 Golden Lion.
#7. The Painted Bird – Dir. Vaclav Marhoul (Czech Republic)
Actor Vaclav Marhoul returns to the director’s seat for the first time in over a decade for his third feature, The Painted Bird, which focuses on a young Jewish boy encountering a variety of characters as WWII rages. An impressive international cast includes Udo Kier, Stellan Skarsgard and Harvey Keitel. Notably, the film is an adaptation of a novel by Jerzy Kosinski—whose last work adapted for the screen was the classic Being There (1979) courtesy of Hal Ashby. Marhoul will compete for the 2019 Golden Lion.
#6. Saturday Fiction – Dir. Lou Ye (China)
Plagued by censorship, which accounted for the messy Shadow Play (aka Cloud in the Wind), which arrived at Berlin earlier this year in the Panorama sidebar, bearing all the marks of a heavily edited salvage job, China’s Lou Ye may be ready with his most promising feature in a decade with Saturday Fiction, a period spy drama starring Gong Li. Ye will compete for the 2019 Golden Lion.
#5. Ad Astra – Dir. James Gray (US)
Yes, James Gray goes to space with Brad Pitt and a cohort of noted American actors in Ad Astra, which will examine the nebulous meaning of human existence with the cosmos as a backdrop. Gray will compete for the 2019 Golden Lion.
#4. Wasp Network – Dir. Olivier Assayas (France)
Olivier Assayas, still working at breakneck speed it would seem, is back with Wasp Network, a 1990s set espionage saga with a starry cast, filmed in English. Assayas was in Venice in 2012 with Something in the Air and just last year with Non-Fiction. Assayas will compete for the 2019 Golden Lion.
#3. American Skin – Dir. Nate Parker (US)
Bless Venice for providing a platform for the unfairly maligned Nate Parker, who has sophomore drama American Skin ready, starring Omari Hardwicke and to be presented by Spike Lee. Parker will premiere out of the Sconfini section.
#2. An Officer and a Spy – Dir. Roman Polanski (France)
Likely to be his last feature, the controversial auteur Roman Polanski finally got around to mounting his film on the Dreyfus Affair with An Officer and a Spy. Unfortunately, unlike many of the Venice competition titles, no other fall circuit festivals in North American have yet to program Polanski’s latest, much like 2017’s Based on a True Story. Polanski will compete for the 2019 Golden Lion.
#1. The Truth – Dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda (France/Japan)
After winning the Palme d’Or in 2018 for Shoplifters, Kore-eda made his first feature outside of Japan with The Truth, starring French legends Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche as a contentious mother and daughter. Though it’s slated to open the festival (which historically is not an indication it will take home the top prize), Kore-eda will compete for the 2019 Golden Lion (returning to the Lido for the second time after 2017’s The Third Murder).
Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.