For weeks now, a cloud has loomed over the Lido as the countdown to the Venice Film Festival—due to run from 30 August to 9 September—continues: namely, the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes which have brought productions and promotional tours across the globe to a grinding halt as negotiations for a fair deal continue with stubborn producers and studio heads. Shortly after the industrial action began, the previously-announced opening film of the showcase’s 80th edition, Luca Guadagnino’s hotly anticipated Challengers, starring Zendaya and Josh O’Connor, was pulled and its release date moved to 2024. It fuelled rumours that a flurry of other Hollywood blockbusters could follow suit, transforming Venice, one of the industry’s most effective launchpads for Oscar contenders, into a “pan-European festival”.
But somehow, against the odds, the festival has defied its doubters, delivering a jam-packed and formidable line-up that combines European arthouse releases with big-budget awards hopefuls. There were some notable absences (many had hoped to see both Emerald Fennell’s Saltburn and Ridley Scott’s Napoleon included) and a couple of head-scratchers (new films from Woody Allen, Roman Polanski and Luc Besson), and questions remain as to how many stars will receive waivers allowing them to attend, but Venice will go on, largely unchanged from its previous iterations. However, the strike will, rightly, remain at the forefront of attendees’ minds.
Below, we shortlist the 10 films you need to look out for at this year’s Venice Film Festival.
A year on from Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, Sofia Coppola returns with an even more glamorous and dreamy-eyed biopic, with the spotlight this time on the titular wife (Cailee Spaeny) of the king of rock and roll (Jacob Elordi). Expect dazzling ’60s fashion and a heady dose of teen ennui.
Yorgos Lanthimos’s follow-up to The Favourite sees him reunite with Emma Stone for this madcap, surreal sci-fi fantasy following a young woman who is brought back to life by an unorthodox scientist (Willem Dafoe) and embarks on an epic adventure across 19th-century Europe.
Adam Driver and Penélope Cruz playing Enzo and Laura Ferrari, the couple who built the luxury sports car empire that still bears their name? We’re sold. Michael Mann’s first film in almost a decade centres on their tempestuous marriage, as the former bets the future of their company on winning one race: Italy’s notoriously treacherous Mille Miglia.
Yet another famous union is put under a microscope in Bradley Cooper’s first directorial effort since A Star is Born: that of Leonard Bernstein, played by Cooper himself, and the actor Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan), with whom he spent nearly three decades while rising through the ranks to become one of the most prolific conductors and composers of his time.
One of the most thrilling surprises on the Venice Film Festival line-up is this rousing drama from Ava DuVernay, based on Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson’s lauded non-fiction bestseller Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. Examining racism in the US in relation to the caste systems of India and Nazi Germany, it stars Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, Niecy Nash-Betts and Audra McDonald, and will see the auteur make history as the first African-American woman to present a film in competition at Venice.
In David Fincher’s latest blood-soaked thriller, Michael Fassbender plays an always methodical, cold-blooded assassin lying in wait for his next victim—that is, until he begins to develop a conscience and fears he’s losing his mind. Lending support are Tilda Swinton and Charles Parnell.
Evil Does Not Exist
Another unexpected addition to the festival’s programme is this fascinating drama which stars Hitoshi Omika and marks director Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s return to the fray following his Oscar win for Drive My Car. It tracks a father and daughter who live in a sleepy village near Tokyo which is suddenly riven by unrest when a glamping company chooses it as the site of its next resort, despite concerns that they’d be endangering the environment and their traditional way of life.
The raucous and glittering heyday of Rome’s Cinecittà, dubbed “Hollywood on the Tiber” in the ’50s, is brought vividly to life by Saverio Costanzo (My Brilliant Friend) in this sumptuous period drama. At its heart is Rebecca Antonaci, who embodies a wide-eyed aspiring actor who auditions as an extra and winds up on a jaw-dropping film set populated by industry heavyweights played by the likes of Lily James, Rachel Sennott and Joe Keery.
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar
Mere months after debuting Asteroid City at Cannes, Wes Anderson is back to delight yet another European festival with a new release: a 37-minute-long charmer inspired by Roald Dahl’s whimsical short story of the same name about a man who becomes disillusioned with his own wealth. As to be expected from the idiosyncratic American filmmaker, it features a remarkably starry cast which includes Dev Patel, Ben Kingsley, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ralph Fiennes and Richard Ayoade.
Before we see his predictably ravishing take on the life of opera singer Maria Callas, as portrayed by Angelina Jolie, Pablo Larraín returns to his homeland with this pitch black comedy which imagines a parallel universe in which the late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet (Jaime Vadell) is a 250-year-old vampire. Living in a dilapidated mansion at the southern tip of the continent, he continues to feed his appetite for evil in order to sustain himself, acting as a powerful reminder of the insidious and ever-present danger of fascism.
This article was originally published on British Vogue.