Venice film festival 2011 to screen trio of British films

Starry Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy remake among homegrown films competing with Clooney, Polanski and Madonna for Golden Lion

It may not have the star wattage of Cannes, or the cutting-edge credibility of SXSW, but a berth at the Venice film festival is still one of the most sought-after slots in the film industry calendar. And when its full lineup was announced on Thursday, it emerged that three British films were strong enough to secure screenings in the competition for the Golden Lion, Venice's premier award.

The British trio are led by Fish Tank director Andrea Arnold, whose long-gestating new film is an adaptation of Emily Brontë's classic novel, Wuthering Heights, starring Skins' Kaya Scoledario. Then there is artist Steve McQueen, who is following up his debut film Hunger with a sex-addiction drama scripted by Abi Morgan called Shame, featuring Hunger's lead actor Michael Fassbender opposite Carey Mulligan. The third British competitor for the Golden Lion is a new version of John le Carré's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, with Gary Oldman in the role made famous by Alec Guinness on TV in 1979. This last has a more international flavour as the director is Tomas Alfredson, the Swedish film-maker responsible for the hit vampire movie Let the Right One In.

Alongside the Brits, Venice has no shortage of major Hollywood names. The opening night film, announced back in June, is political thriller The Ides of March, directed by and starring George Clooney, and very loosely based on Howard Dean's 2004 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. Al Pacino will be bringing his latest directorial effort, Wilde Salome, a study of the controversial Oscar Wilde play starring The Tree of Life's Jessica Chastain. Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet head the cast of Carnage, the new film from Chinatown director Roman Polanski, taken from Yasmina Reza's play; while Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow and Winslet again feature in the virus thriller Contagion, directed by Steven Soderbergh.

Despite its proven heavy-hitting status, however, Venice is not above indulging in some spoiler tactics. Much of its lineup was leaked unofficially on Tuesday, shortly before its main rival, the Toronto international film festival, was due to announce its most high-profile films. Through an accident of the industry calendar, Venice takes place only a week before Toronto, and the two festivals have become virtual mirror images of each other, with many films playing both in quick succession. Films making the hop across the Atlantic include A Dangerous Method, David Cronenberg's study of Sigmund Freud with Viggo Mortensen; Chicken With Plums, the new film from Persepolis animators Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud; and Dark Horse, from black-comedy maestro Todd Solondz of Welcome to the Dollhouse renown.

Venice, however, still retains its distinctive, even idiosyncratic flavour. Aside from the large quotient of contemporary Italian cinema, the festival has selected Damsels in Distress for its prestigious closing-night slot. This is the fourth film from cult American director Whit Stillman, who last made a film in 1998 and whose reputation still rests largely on his debut, Metropolitan, from 1990. Venice has also found room for The Moth Diaries, a boarding-school vampire thriller from American Psycho director Mary Harron, as well as Faust, the latest film from Russian auteur Aleksandr Sokurov.

Neither Venice nor Toronto could, however, resist the temptation to screen Madonna's directorial debut, W.E., a film which partly chronicles the relationship between Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII. After her short film Filth and Wisdom was ridiculed at its premiere at the Berlin film festival in 2008, the entire film industry has been expecting a major fiasco. Recently, however, W.E. was bought by heavyweight executive Harvey Weinstein, thereby suggesting it may be a respectable, marketable proposition. In early September, on the Venice Lido, we shall find out.


Andrew Pulver

The GuardianTramp

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