Venice Film Festival 2019: What to Watch For

Including Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson in the "Marriage Story," and the standalone DC movie "Joker."

While Venice Film Festival might sound like a knees-up for lofty cinephiles that has very little to do with your personal movie watching, it's worth keeping an eye out for the releases that everyone will be queuing up to see at your local Vue in a few months time.

The 76th instalment of the international festival begins next week, and will premiere a series of long-awaited releases, from DC's standalone origin film, Joker, to the Brad Pitt-fronted space drama Ad Astra.

Last year saw Alfonso Cuarón's Roma take the top prize, beating out the likes of The Favourite, First Man and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. While Venice doesn't exactly predict who will take home the coveted Best Picture Oscar, the competition for the Gold Lion prize does give a good early indication of the arthouse films that could go the distance.

One such contender is Ad Astra, from The Lost City of Z and We Own The Night director James Gray. In it Brad Pitt plays a man journeying through space to track down his missing father while humanity is under threat. Also starring Ruth Negga and Liv Tyler, the film is another addition to the Sad in Space canon which has included recent award successes such as High Life, Interstellar and Gravity.

Director Noah Baumbach again teams up with Netflix, the streaming platform that hosted his most recent release, The Meyerowitz Stories. In Marriage Story, Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson play a couple in a "compassionate portrait of a marriage breaking up and a family staying together".


The film, which also stars Laura Dern and Ray Liotta, chronicles the couple and their flaws and strengths through each other's eyes. As seen in the dual perspective teaser trailers, Baumbach says that, "the movie embraces different viewpoints in order to find the shared truth."

Netflix, who are welcomed despite being disallowed from competing at Cannes Film Festival without giving films a French theatrical release, have another horse in the Gold Lion race this year.

The Laundromat is the latest project from Magic Mike and Logan Lucky director Steven Soderbergh. Based on the 2016 Panama Papers scandal, the film follows a woman who unearths a case of insurance fraud while on holiday, only to discover it traces to a vast global offshore tax scheme which hides criminals and enriches politicians. The extremely star-studded cast includes Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, Antonio Banderas, Jeffrey Wright, Matthias Schoenaerts and Sharon Stone.

Giving them a run for their money in terms of villainy is The Hangover and Project X director Todd Phillips' Joker, an origins drama staring Joaquin Phoenix as the sinister clown. The R-rated movie tells the story of a mentally ill loner who goes on mass killing sprees, with worrying similarities to the spate of gun violence in America. 

Showing out of competition is David Michôd’s Shakespeare adaptation The King, starring Timothée Chalamet, Robert Pattinson and Lily Rose Depp. The film responsible for the images of Chalamet's disturbing bowl-cut earlier this year will see him play a young Prince Hal, the monarch coronated in the late 1300s after his brother was killed in battle. A reluctant ruler at a time when England was nearly at war with France, the King is under pressure and the empire is on the line.

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Also out of competition is Amazon's Seberg which tells the true story of the FBI's surveillance of French New Wave actress Jean Seberg, who was targeted in the late 1960s due to her links to civil rights activist Hakim Jamal. Playing Seberg is Kristen Stewart, while the extended cast includes Jack O'Connell, Vince Vaughn, Margaret Qualley, Anthony Mackie and Colm Meaney.

 Kristen Stewart as Jean Seberg


With controversies surrounding competing directors mounting up, this year's festival has already sparked criticism. Firstly, there's the inclusion of Nate Parker, the Birth of a Nation director vanished after a rape accusation in 2016, but who will release show his new film, American Skin, which is being "presented" by Spike Lee.

Similarly controversial is the inclusion of Roman Polanski and his new film An Officer and a Spy. The film is a retelling of the Dreyfus Affair, a famous case of anti-Semitism in France. Polanski will be present at The Lido for the festival despite being expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and pleading guilty to statutory rape.


Their inclusion, plus the fact that the only films competing from female directors are Haifaa al-Mansour’s The Perfect Candidate, and Shannon Murphy’s Baby Teeth, has seen widespread condemnation on social media. Though, as some have pointed out, with only one female director competing in 2018 they are making leaps towards improving representation.

The 76th Venice Film Festival runs from 28 August to 7 September.

This story originally appeared on Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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