Venice Set to Start With Oscar Hopefuls, Smattering of Stars, and Italian Politics Looming on the Lido

The 80th Venice Film Festival kicks off tomorrow with a robust roster of awards season hopefuls making their bows, such as Michael Mann’s “Ferrari,” Bradley Cooper’s “Maestro,” Sophia Coppola’s “Priscilla” and David Fincher’s “The Killer,” accompanied by a smattering of stars.

As previously reported by Variety, the festival has confirmed that Adam Driver will be in Venice to promote “Ferrari” while Cailee Spaeny and Jacob Elordi, who play Priscilla and Elvis Presley in “Priscilla,” as well as Priscilla Presley herself, are also expected to be on the Lido. Jessica Chastain is expected to jet in for Mexican auteur Michel Franco’s “Memory,” which is screening toward the end of the fest.

Although Cooper is not coming to Venice, his Netflix drama about Leonard Bernstein will be promoted by the maestro’s progeny, Jamie and Alexander Bernstein and Nina Bernstein Simmons.

All told, there will be enough actors, name directors and other personalities, from the U.S. and elsewhere, to provide a decent amount of global media fodder. But there is no doubt that Venice will feel the impact of the SAG-AFTRA strike, which prohibits union members from doing any type of promotional activity for movies produced by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).

The SAG-AFTRA disruption on the Lido started in July when Luca Guadagnino’s “Challengers,” starring Zendaya – which had been set as the fest opener – was pulled from the festival due to promotional complications.

Venice chief Alberto Barbera promptly replaced Guadagnino’s sexy love triangle comedy with World War II epic “Comandante,” directed by rising auteur Edoardo De Angelis (“The Lying Lives of Adults”), which takes on a timely political significance in Italy.

“Comandante” stars Italian A-list actor Pierfrancesco Favino as heroic naval commander Salvatore Todaro who on Oct. 15, 1940, as commander of the submarine Cappellini, sank a Belgian merchant ship called Kabalo that was carrying aircraft parts and operating under British rule. He then surfaced, disobeying orders from his own command, to rescue the Kabalo’s 26 crew members, obeying what he called “the law of the sea” under which “nobody is left at sea.” 

De Angelis was inspired to make “Comandante” after hearing Todaro cited by an Italian admiral as a role model for how Italy’s coast guard should behave in rescuing migrants from North Africa as they attempt to cross the Mediterranean to seek a better life in Europe.

Italy is struggling to contend with a large number of North African migrants trying to arrive by boat on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, the country’s southernmost outpost. Right-wing Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni – who has made the fight against illegal immigration a cornerstone of her political career – said on Monday she was convening an emergency national security panel to tighten the government’s response to the surge in migrant arrivals by boat.

Matteo Garrone’s “Io Capitano,” screening in Venice on Sept. 6, accurately reconstructs and depicts the odyssey of African migrants to Europe via the Mediterranean. It is likely to add more fuel to local controversy.

Politics loom in background on the Lido also with regards to future management of the Biennale, the fest’s parent organisation, and whether Barbera, who is the fest’s longest serving chief, will stay at the helm or be replaced by the Italian government after his mandate expires following the fest’s 2024 edition.

Venice’s 80th edition runs Aug. 30-Sept. 9.

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