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This year’s Venice film festival will help celebrate Chinese cinema centenary, but also will screen nine US world premieres and will play host to a fair dinkum selection of Australians, reports Helen Barlow.

As Chinese cinema celebrates it centenary, Chinese films bookend this year's Venice Film Festival (Aug 30 – Sept 10)- a first for any festival, boasts artistic director Marco Muller. The program opens with Hong Kong director Tsui Hark's Seven Swords, a Lord of the Rings-style epic, and closes with Perhaps Love, about a romantic triangle set during a Chinese musical and stars Takeshi Kaneshiro (House of Flying Daggers). Hong Kong director Stanley Kwan's Everlasting Regret is the Chinese competition entry. A retrospective section curated by Muller, an Asian film specialist, will be dedicated to the Secret History of Asian Cinema.

Still, Muller is as much a lover of American cinema, and has included an astounding nine world premieres of American movies in his newly streamlined program. While the majority are independent productions, like Abel Ferrara's Mary (starring Juliette Binoche as an actress obsessed with Mary Magdalene) and John Turturro's Romance & Cigarettes (a musical starring James Gandolfini, Kate Winslet and Susan Sarandon), Hollywood studio movies are represented too, most noticeably in the Miramax trio of Terry Gilliam's The Brothers Grimm, Ang Lee's gay actioner Brokeback Mountain and John Madden's Proof, based on David Auburn's Pulitzer Prize-winning play. (The latter three films have long been completed and are now being released as the Weinstein brothers form their own company and move away from Disney.)

Australia's Heath Ledger has scored a trifecta, appearing in Grimm, Brokeback and Casanova, and will no doubt be kept busy with promotional duties. Casanova, directed by Lasse Hallstrom, was in fact shot in the city of gondolas during last year's Festival, and will receive the special honour of unspooling on the first Saturday night with a gala screening followed by a black tie party at the Palazzo Ducale in San Marco Square. The film co-stars Sienna Miller in her first major screen role, and it will be interesting to see how much time she is able to spend in Venice, given that she is currently in As You Like It on the London stage.

And Australian newcomer Leon Ford will be attending for his 8-minute film, The Mechanicals, which is screening in Competition.

"to talk up yet another astounding performance as a boxer in Cinderella Man"

If media reports are correct, Russell Crowe should have his telephone throwing incident resolved out of court by the time he attends to talk up yet another astounding performance as a boxer in Cinderella Man. Richard Roxburgh will be at the Festival to promote Fragile, where he appears alongside Calista Flockhart, and maybe even Naomi Watts will attend with her new beau, Liev Schreiber, who will present his directorial debut, Everything is Illuminated, starring Elijah Woods. Woods in turn should be happy to see his Lord of the Rings buddy, Orlando Bloom, who co-stars with Kirsten Dunst in Cameron Crowe's romantic comedy, Elizabeth Town.

The latter film, by the director of Almost Famous and Vanilla Sky, is highly anticipated, as is The Constant Gardener, the first film to emerge as a strong Oscar contender. Starring Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz and directed by Fernando Meirelles (City of God) this adaptation of John Le Carre's novel focuses on the injustices suffered by the African poor.

Jake Gyllenhaal will also double up on films with his appearances in both Proof and Brokeback, as will Sarandon who appears in Elizabeth Town. Her partner and frequent Venice visitor Tim Robbins will be missing this time, unable to be in town to promote his latest independent movie, The Secret Life of Words, directed by Barcelona's Isabelle Coixet, who again works with Sarah Polley after their previous collaboration, My Life Without Me.

"One of the festival's major coups"

One of the festival's major coups is the presence of Japan's Hayao Miyazaki, who will receive the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement. It marks the first time the award has been presented to a director of animated films. Miyazaki, whose Howl's Moving Castle is about to release in cinemas, has been one of the greatest influences for Pixar animators.

A partnership of the business kind will be in evidence when George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh present their latest less mainstream efforts, produced via their company, Section Eight. Given that Soderbergh's Full Frontal and last year's Eros (unreleased in Australia) were highly experimental movies screened in Venice, we might expect more of the same from the ever adventurous director in his digital murder mystery, Bubble, one of six movies he had made that will be released in cinemas, on TV and DVD simultaneously. Definitely of a higher profile will be Clooney's second movie as director, Goodnight. And, Good Luck, a black and white exploration into the evils of Senator Joe McCarthy, starring David Strathhairn, Patricia Clarkson, Jeff Daniels, Robert Downey Jnr (also in Eros) and Clooney himself. The film will go on to open the New York Film Festival.

Other stars expected in Venice include Mark Wahlberg for the John Singleton-directed Four Brothers, a recent surprise hit at the US box office, which tells of Wahlberg and his three adopted black brothers (one is played by OutKast hip-hopper Andre Benjamin) avenging the death of their mother (Fionnuala Flanagan). Gwyneth Paltrow and Anthony Hopkins will grace the Lido for Proof, Matt Damon will be around to talk about portraying the second rogue brother in The Brothers Grimm, while Laura Linney will promote Scott Derrickson's horror thriller The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Fans of DavidMamet will look forward to watching Edmond, directed by Stuart Gordon, written by Mamet and starring Mamet regular William H. Macy, who will attend.

"French cinema is strongly represented"

French cinema is strongly represented at the festival with by a number of films: Patrice Chereau's period drama, Gabrielle, which focuses on a relationship that is torn apart by unfaithfulness, and stars Isabelle Huppert; Laurent Cantet's Vers le Sud, starring Charlotte Rampling; and most intriguing of all is Philippe Garrel's Les Amants Réguliers, starring Garrel's son, Louis, from Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers. Garrel senior, whose cinematic speciality is emotional and sexual disarray, was inspired to make the 178-minute movie by the Bertolucci film, in part because he was there doing it at the time - certainly more than the Italian director.

Fans of Old Boy will look forward to South Korean director Park Chan-wook's follow up, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, a strong competition contender; the street-racing Asian hit Initial D by Hong Hong's Alan Mak and Andrew Lau will also screen; as will Tetsuya Nomura's animated Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, based on the popular video game.

While on children … All the Invisible Children, comprising seven separate stories about children facing difficulties all around the world, should generate some interesting discussion at the festival, not the least because three of the films have been directed by cinema's great provocateurs, Spike Lee, Emir Kusturica and Ridley Scott.

And for those looking for something arty and experimental, Matthew Barney's Drawing Restraint 9, which features a soundtrack by his real life partner Bjork, should fit the bill. The film marks the first collaboration between the pair, and follows the construction and transformation of a vast sculpture of liquid Vaseline, as the film explores the relationship between self-imposed resistance and creativity.

Published August 25, 2005

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Seven Swords


Heath Ledger in The Brothers Grimm

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