BBC Culture

Venice Film Festival: The 10 best films to see

  • The Humbling

    Al Pacino features in a double bill at Venice: he stars alongside Holly Hunter and Harmony Korine in David Gordon Green’s Manglehorn, and Barry Levinson (Rain Man, Wag the Dog) directs him in an adaptation of Philip Roth’s 2009 novel The Humbling. In the latter, Pacino plays an ageing actor who has an affair with a lesbian woman 25 years his junior (Greta Gerwig). It’s the latest collaboration between Pacino and Levinson, who worked together on the Emmy-winning HBO TV movie You Don’t Know Jack. This tragi-comedy, which is showing out of competition,shares many of the preoccupations of Roth’s recent fiction, from the loneliness of old age to lingering sexual desire. (Millennium Films)

  • Birdman

    Another actor struggling with getting old appears in Venice’s opening night film. Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel, 21 Grams) directs a black comedy starring Michael Keaton as a washed-up player famous for his role as the comic strip superhero Birdman. With three superhero movie veterans in the cast – Edward Norton (The Hulk) and Emma Stone (The Amazing Spider-Man) star alongside Keaton – there’s room for some gentle self-parody among the action sequences. Emmanuel Lubezki, who won an Oscar for his work on Gravity, is the cinematographer, and the film promises to be full of lengthy tracking shots. (Fox Searchlight)

  • The Cut

    “For those who are afraid of this film, I tell them: ‘This is just a film’.” In August, Fatih Akin told Turkish-Armenian weekly Agos that Turkey is ready for his latest filmThe Cut – which is in competition at Venice – follows aman who survives the 1915 mass killings of Armenians in what is now Turkey, becomes mute and travels across the world in search of his daughters.Tahar Rahim (A Prophet) plays the lead role, which the Turkish-German director has described as a cross between Charlie Chaplin and a Sergio Leone Western hero. The Cut is the final part of his Akin’s Love, Death and the Devil trilogy, following Head-On and The Edge of Heaven. (Bombero International)

  • The President

    Another filmmaker with a strong social conscience is Mohsen Makhmalbaf, whose first English-language feature will premiere out of competition. The Iranian director was imprisoned at the age of 17 for political activism and has been living in exile since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election in 2005. His latest film was shot in Georgia and is set in a fictional Caucasus country before and after a dictator’s regime is brought down by a coup d’etat. According to Makhmalbaf: “After the collapse of a regime, whether it be a king or a president or a despot, the violence used against them by the people of these countries (as in Libya) will result in new violence later on.” A UK-German-Georgian-French co-production, it has grand ambitions. One of the producers, F&ME’s Mike Downey, says: “The President is an attempt in film terms to propose a solution to avoid violence in future revolutions which are truly seeking freedom and democracy.” (Mohsen Makhmalbaf)

  • Olive Kitteridge

    Despite being nominated for an Oscar for The Kids Are Alright in 2010, Lisa Cholodenko had to go to HBO to get her next project made. The result sees her teaming up with Frances McDormand for an adaptation of Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. The four-part miniseries is a passion project for McDormand, who starred in Cholodenko’s 2002 film Laurel Canyon: she optioned the book before it won the Pulitzer, and took it to HBO believing it was too long and complex for a feature. “A 90-minute time frame is not long enough to tell a good female story,” she said at a panel in July. “That’s why long-form storytelling has become so great.” With a cast including Richard Jenkins, Zoe Kazan and Bill Murray, the drama follows the lives of the residents in a small New England town, told through the lens of the acerbic Olive (McDormand). It will be screened out of competition at Venice. (HBO)

  • Pasolini

    Director Abel Ferrara claims he knows who killed Pier Paolo Pasolini. The Italian cinema legend died in 1975 after being hit by his own car at the seaside near Rome; a young male prostitute was imprisoned for the crime but investigators reopened the inquiry into his death in 2005. Now, Ferrara – whose feature about Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Welcome to New York, caused a stir when it was shown at Cannes this year – has made a biopic of Pasolini. Screening in competition at Venice, the film stars Willem Dafoe in the title role, the fourth time the pair have collaborated. It follows the last day of the Italian director’s life. (Funny Balloons)

  • Loin des Hommes

    Viggo Mortensen takes on his first French-language role in a film from director David Oelhoffen (Nos Retrouvailles), showing in competition at Venice. Inspired by The Guest, a 1957 short story by French-Algerian philosopher and writer Albert Camus, it follows a French teacher (Mortensen) in Algeria during the country’s war of independence from France. Ordered to escort a villager accused of murder (Reda Kateb) to the authorities, he bonds with his prisoner and they both flee across the Atlas mountains. The score has been composed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, who also created soundtracks for The Road and Lawless. (Pathe)

  • The Look of Silence

    The team behind the documentary The Act of Killing follows it up with a film that examines the legacy of the same historical atrocity from a different perspective. Whereas Joshua Oppenheimer’s Oscar-nominated feature showed Indonesian death-squad veterans re-enacting their crimes in the style of well-known movies, The Look of Silence focuses on the families of genocide victims, often forced to live alongside the perpetrators. Oppenheimer, who was born in Texas but now lives in Copenhagen, has signed up Werner Herzog and Errol Morris as executive producers for the companion piece, which premieres in competition at Venice. Because of death threats, Oppenheimer can’t return to Indonesia – he filmed The Look of Silence before The Act of Killing was released. (Final Cut for Real)

  • 99 Homes

    The Amazing Spider-man star Andrew Garfield plays an unemployed contractor in this housing bubble drama, screening in competition. Directed and co-written by Ramin Bahrani (Chop Shop, Goodbye Solo), it follows Garfield’s character, who lives with his mother (Laura Dern) and son (Noah Lomax), as he loses his home to foreclosure. Desperate, he winds up working for the real-estate broker who evicted him (Michael Shannon) in a drama set against the backdrop of the US financial crisis. Directed and co-written by Ramin Bahrani (Chop Shop, Goodbye Solo), it reveals the moral dilemma faced by Garfield’s character as he makes money but loses his conscience. (Noruz Films)

  • The Golden Era

    The latest feature from influential Hong Kong director Ann Hui has been chosen to close the Venice Film Festival. The Golden Era, a biopic of radical Chinese writer Xiao Hong, stars Tang Wei (Lust, Caution) and will premiere out of competition. Hui, whose 2011 film A Simple Life won four prizes at Venice, also heads the jury of the festival’s Horizons section focusing on new trends in global cinema. A leading figure in Hong Kong’s New Wave movement of the 1970s and ‘80s, she was the first woman to win a lifetime achievement award at the Asian Film Awards and is due to be awarded Asian Filmmaker of the Year at the Busan Film Festival. Set in the 1930s, the film explores the writings of Hong, who documented Japanese imperialism in China through fiction, memoirs and journalistic accounts, and who died in 1942. Hui told reporters in April, “It is an experimental film, and I wasn't sure what it would turn out to be like … But at the same time I am happy I did it.” (Stellar Mega Films)