Italians aside – and there are many of them – the line-up of this year’s Venice Film Festival doesn’t lack in surprises and interesting themes. It looks like a particularly dark edition, with a couple of titles that Artistic Director Alberto Barbera himself suggested to avoid if one’s too sensible. The first is Canibà by Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel (Orizzonti competition) on the atrocious episode of the cannibal killer Issei Sagawa, who not only killed and ate a French student, but was acquitted thanks to his father, an important businessman, thus gaining celebrity thanks to his horrible crime.


The second is midnight film Brawl in Cell Block 99 by S. Craig Zahler starring Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter, and Don Johnson, announced as one of the most violent films in recent years. There’s a lot of anticipation for George Clooney’s Suburbicon, Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water, and Darren Aronofsky’s mother! Other much-awaited titles include the latest works by Payne, Haigh, Schrader, Kechiche, the documentary Human Flow by Chinese controversial artist Ai Weiwei, and that on Jim Carrey. Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz are back on screen together directed by Fernando Leon de Aranoa in Loving Pablo, chronicling the life and loves of Pablo Escobar.


William Friedkin’s The Devil and Father Amorth, out of competition, looks interesting too as the director goes back to the topic of demonic possession after The Exorcist. Same goes for the well-known Michael Jackson’s medium-length horror video Thriller, that will be presented in a shining 3D version by its director John Landis, who is back to the Lido after the last year’s remastered version of An American Werewolf in London. Still out of competition is Stephen Frears’ Victoria and Abdul. Based on the book by Shrabani Basu, the film tells the true story of the friendship between Queen Victoria and his Indian assistant Abdul Karim. In the Cinema in the Garden section, the first two episodes of Suburra TV series.


This year the festival dedicates a proper competition to VR films, called Virtual Reality. The works will be presented in the historical buildings of the Lazzaretto Vecchio, an island just in front of the Lido.


The festival doesn’t lack all-time big names such as the two Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement recipients Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, actresses Judi Dench and Helen Mirren, and actors Donald Sutherland and Michael Caine. Among the titles that didn’t come up in the Venice line-up, the new Linklater film and the western Hostiles by Scott Cooper.


Biennale President Paolo Baratta gladly confirms what’s new on the Lido this year. After the annus horribilis 2010 (when asbestos was found during the works in progress), the festival area has fully recovered his spaces, including the new “red cube” as the theatre for the Cinema in the Garden section. During the works, Biennale focused its attention on the structures “that made the history of the festival,” as the President puts it. Among these, the Palazzo del cinema, built in 1937, “that has been the first theatre in the world conceived for a film festival”; the brand-new Sala Darsena as a symbol of the festival’s opening to the audience; the Casino Palace that has been acquired by the festival in 2000 and that “symbolizes the festival’s ongoing relationship with the press.” Thanks to the local Municipality, “the area in front of the Casino and the Sala Grande has been completely renovated” and “new funds will be used for further refurbishment in the Casino.”


Other key points of the festival are the Venice Production Bridge, “a useful complement to film markets”, and the Venice Classics section, “that has already become a classic itself.”