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18 films chasing top prize at Venice film festival

September 12, 2020 11:59 AM

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The Golden Lion, the top prize at the Venice film festival that wraps up Saturday, will be awarded to one film among 18 contenders from across the globe.

Here are the films in the running:

- 'Le Sorelle Macaluso' (The Macaluso Sisters): Italy - 

The story of five sisters in Palermo seen at various points in their lives and culminating in a family funeral in Emma Dante's film.

- 'The World to Come': US -

In Mona Fastwold's upstate 19th century New York, Abigail (Katherine Waterston) tends a farm with her husband (Casey Affleck) but falls in love with a female neighbour.

- 'Nuevo Orden' (New Order): Mexico/France -

A dystopian film from Michel Franco depicts social and economic disparity in Mexico, starting with a well-to-do family wedding and ending in a coup d'etat.

- 'Amants' (Lovers): France -

Nicole Garcia's film tells the story of Lisa and Simon, lovers who paths cross again three years after Simon fled Paris.

- 'Laila in Haifa': Israel/France -

Five women's stories interweave in the course of one night at a Haifa club. As one of the few spaces where Israelis and Palestinians can mingle, director Amos Gitai turns the venue itself into a protagonist.

- 'Dorogie Tovarischi!' (Dear Comrades!): Russia -

Based on the true story of a 1962 labour strike in Novocherkassk, USSR, in which 26 protesters were shot by Soviet troops. Andrei Konchalosky's film retells events kept secret until the 1990s.

- 'Spy No Tsuma' (Wife of a Spy): Japan -

Against the backdrop of a looming World War II and the invasion of Manchuria, a wife's love is tested and her Kobe merchant husband struggles with loyalty and betrayal in Kiyoshi Kurosawa's film.

- 'Khorshid' (Sun Children): Iran -

Ali and his friends work small jobs and hustle to support their families. Majid Majidi's film explores what happens when Ali learns of an underground treasure. 

- 'Pieces of a Woman': Canada/Hungary -

Martha and Sean (Vanessa Kirby and Shia LaBeouf) are a Boston couple whose baby dies after a home birth. Director Kornel Mundruczo shows how grieving Martha navigates her relationships with her husband and mother (Ellen Burstyn), while facing the midwife (Molly Parker) in court.

- 'Miss Marx': Italy/Belgium -

Susanna Nicchiarelli tells the story of Eleanor, the youngest daughter of Karl Marx, who battled for the rights of workers and women while dealing with an unhappy love affair.

- 'Padrenostro': Italy -

The life of 10-year-old Valerio is turned upside down when he and his mother witness a terrorist attack against his father in this autobiographical film from director Claudio Noce.

- 'Notturno': Italy/France/Germany -

Shot over three years on the borders of Iraq, Kurdistan, Syria and Lebanon, Gianfranco Rosi's documentary follows people trying to survive despite the violence around them.  

- 'Sniegu Juz Nigby Nie Bedzie' (Never Gonna Snow Again): Poland/Germany -

A mysterious masseur from Ukraine, Zhenia becomes a guru for a spiritually barren gated community in this film by Malgorzata Szumowska and Michal Englert.

- 'The Disciple': India -

Director Chaitanya Tamhane tells the story of Sharad, chasing his dream of becoming an Indian classical vocalist in the sprawling metropolis of Mumbai. 

- 'Und Morgen die Ganze Welt' (And Tomorrow the Entire World): Germany/France -

In Julia von Heinz's film, Luisa and her anti-fascist group question how far they're willing to go to battle hatred after a wave of racist attacks in Germany.

- 'Quo vadis, Aida?': Bosnia-Herzegovina -

Based on true events in 1995 Srebrenica. Aida is a translator working for United Nations peacekeepers. When the Bosnian Serb army invades, she and thousands of others seek safety in the Dutch UN camp in Jasmila Zbanic's film.

- 'Nomadland': US -

Director Chloe Zhao tells the story of Fern (Frances McDormand), who sets off from her impoverished Nevada town in her van to scratch out a living as a modern-day nomad.

- 'In Between Dying': Azerbaijan/US -

Davud is a restless young man on a journey of self-discovery through Hilal Baydarov's film, keeping ahead of men pursuing him. When his journey ends at home, Davud finds the love he's seeking -- but is it too late?   

Masked Golden Lion winner

The Venice film festival will present its coveted Golden Lion award Saturday after a competition marked by facemasks and missing stars but billed as a relaunch of global cinema, bruised by the coronavirus crisis.

Throughout the 11 days of industry schmoozing and movie watching on the glitzy beachfront Lido, elbow bumps replaced handshakes, theatregoers were masked and the red carpet eerily devoid of screaming fans. 

The 77th edition of the "Mostra" festival has taken place against an unprecedented backdrop, in a year where theatres have been closed, film sets shut down and moviegoers forced to embrace streaming video at home instead, during months of coronavirus-imposed lockdown. 

Many directors saluted the festival's organisers for going ahead with the event.

"The Venice Film Festival has given us the opportunity and the privilege to start dreaming again," Italian director Emma Dante said in Ciak magazine, distributed daily at the festival.

Leading contenders among the 18 films vying for the top prize include Michel Franco's "Nuevo Orden" (New Order), a dystopian view of Mexico, Gianfranco Rosi's documentary "Notturno" shot on the borders of Syria, "Quo Vadis, Aida?" by Bosnia's Jasmila Zbanic about the 1995 Srebrenica massacre and "Dear Comrades!" from veteran Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky about the 1962 shooting of striking factory workers in the USSR by the army.

The last entry in the competition lineup to premiere was the much anticipated "Nomadland" by US director Chloe Zhao, starring Frances McDormand -- one of the few films from the United States at the festival -- which received sustained applause during its earlier press screening. 

- High-profile 'test' -

Normally attended by more than 10,000 film industry executives, critics, journalists and moviegoers, the Venice festival was the first major international movie competition to go ahead after others around the world, including its main rival, the Cannes Film Festival, were cancelled.

Festival director Alberto Barbera called the event "a sort of test" for the film industry, which is slowly regaining its footing, with some production resuming and cinemas reopening, even as Covid-19 cases continue to rise in many parts of the world. 

In Italy, the festival was also viewed as a sign of hope and normalcy for the first country in Europe to be battered by the global crisis. 

Nevertheless, big-budget blockbusters that have premiered in Venice in years past were missing, as was the bevy of Hollywood A-listers, who have fans screaming for autographs on the sidelines of the red carpet. 

Instead, the 2020 version was decidedly low-key, with about half the usual number of attendees, fewer films and seating in theatres that was staggered to respect social distancing.

Masks were mandatory, hand sanitiser bountiful, temperatures were taken on entering the festival grounds and ubiquitous red signs warned attendees to respect the anti-coronavirus measures. 

Still, organisers said the scaled-down event offered a diverse panorama of cinema today, with 50 different countries represented in the lineup.

Of the contenders for the top prize, eight were directed by women, which some hope reflects a new direction for festivals after criticism in past years over a lack of gender diversity. 

- 'A miracle' - 

  Brad Pitt, Meryl Streep and Scarlett Johansson were among those to have supplied the celebrity panache at last year's festival.

But ongoing travel restrictions -- especially a travel ban from the United States into Europe -- mean most Hollywood big names were no-shows this year, along with actors and directors from China, India and South America.

However, Cate Blanchett, as jury president, provided some much-needed star power, telling an opening night audience that the festival's launch seemed "some kind of wonderous miracle."

"The way is uncertain, but tonight is a beginning," she said.

As well as Blanchett, the judges comprise US actor Matt Dillon, Austrian director Veronika Franz, British director Joanna Hogg, Italian writer Nicola Lagioia, German director Christian Petzold and French actress Ludivine Sagnier. 

Last year, "Joker" by US director Todd Phillips took home the Golden Lion, while Roman Polanski won the runner-up Grand Jury prize for "An Officer and a Spy."

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