Page last updated at 07:24 GMT, Tuesday, 26 August 2008 08:24 UK

Venice gala starts awards season

By Neil Smith
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

The 65th Venice International Film Festival begins this week with a gala screening of Burn After Reading, the new comedy from the Oscar-winning Coen brothers.

George Clooney in Burn After Reading
Burn After Reading is Clooney's third film with the Coen brothers
It remains to be seen, however, if this high-profile event will fulfil its traditional function as curtain-raiser to next year's awards season.

Last year's programme included a number of features - among them Atonement, Michael Clayton and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford - that would go on to be shortlisted for a slew of film prizes.

This year, though, there are fewer obvious candidates for future glory - a consequence, perhaps, of the US writers' strike and its impact on Hollywood film production.

Of the five American films up for the Golden Lion, the festival's main award, The Burning Plain seems to have the most going for it.

Directed by Guillermo Arriaga, the Oscar-nominated writer of 2006's Babel, the drama sees previous Oscar winners Kim Basinger and Charlize Theron play mother and daughter.

Another family drama, Rachel Getting Married, sees Anne Hathaway from 2005 Lion winner Brokeback Mountain playing a troubled young woman who leaves a rehab facility to attend her sister's nuptials.

Comeback

Directed by Jonathan Demme of The Silence of the Lambs fame, the film marks the screenwriting debut of Jenny Lumet - daughter of veteran Hollywood director Sidney.

One competition entry sure to have people talking is The Wrestler, the latest work from Requiem of a Dream director Darren Aronofsky.

Anne Hathaway
Hathaway can currently be seen in the comedy Get Smart
That's because its star is 1980s heartthrob Mickey Rourke, making a spirited comeback as a retired professional wrestler trying to get back into the ring for one last showdown.

The prospect of an encounter between Rourke and Basinger, with whom he appeared in the notorious Nine-and-a-Half Weeks, on the Venetian Lido is one certain to get the press excited.

Aronofsky, meanwhile, will no doubt face questions on his plans for the new version of cult sci-fi movie Robocop that he is scheduled to direct.

With Burn After Reading boasting the stellar likes of George Clooney and Brad Pitt, recipient of last year's best actor prize for The Assassination of Jesse James, Wednesday's launch looks set to be a star-studded occasion.

Festival-goers should also look out for Natalie Portman, whose first effort as director, Eve, will feature in the short film programme.

It is not just Hollywood talent, though, that will be in the spotlight at this truly international event.

Thriller

Indeed, the fact there are two anime movies up for the Golden Lion award is evidence of an uncommonly strong Japanese contingent.

Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea marks the latest production from Hayao Miyazaki, founder of legendary animation factory Studio Ghibli and director of the Oscar-winning Spirited Away.

Natalie Portman
Portman's Eve will launch the festival's short films strand
The Sky Crawlers, meanwhile, sees Oshii Mamoru, creator of celebrated anime Ghost in the Shell, bring his philosophical outlook to a science-fiction romance about young fighter pilots.

On the live-action front there is the latest from Takeshi Kitano, whose police thriller Hana-Bi won the Golden Lion in 1997.

Achilles And The Tortoise promises to be a more light-hearted affair, focusing as it does on a talentless artist (played by the director) and his relationship with his doting wife.

Japan also makes an appearance in L'Inju: la Bete dans l'Ombre, the latest work from French film-maker Barbet Schroeder.

The thriller, whose subtitle translates as The Beast in the Shadows, involves a novelist who comes to the aid of a geisha during a promotional visit to Tokyo.

With four of this year's competition entrants hailing from Italy, though, it is entirely possible the Golden Lion will go to something closer to home.

Only time will tell what films catch the jury's fancy, or whether their decisions - announced on 6 September - have a bearing on next year's Oscar race.

The Venice Film Festival runs from 27 August to 6 September 2008.


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