Venice off to strong start with Clooney space thriller

Italian Golden Lion contender screens, 'Via Castellana Bandiera'

Venice off to strong start with Clooney space thriller

(By Kate Carlisle) Venice, August 29 - The 70th edition of the Venice Film Festival opened with a bang, garnering rave reviews for the stellar and spectacular screening of space thriller Gravity, starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón's feature, screened on Wednesday evening at the kick-off of the festival, was described by Variety magazine as a "white-knuckle space odyssey" that "should inspire awe among critics and audiences worldwide". Slathering on more kudos, British daily the Guardian wrote that Gravity is "a brilliantly tense and involving account of two stricken astronauts; a howl in the wilderness that sucks the breath from your lungs". Clooney and Bullock are the sole actors in the film that portrays two astronauts stranded in space after their shuttle is pummelled by debris from a destroyed Russian satellite. On Thursday, the first of three Italian entries was screened. 'Via Castellana Bandiera', the debut film by director Emma Dante, is a comedy featuring an all-female ensemble set in a particularly sultry Sicily. Dante's film is one of 20 titles contending for this year's coveted Golden Lion award. The Sicilian director created a minimalist drama about a fierce showdown between two women who refuse to give way when their cars confront each other on a small street in Palermo. One driver is the elderly, stubborn Samira, who is transporting her large family. In the other car is the couple, Rosa and Clara. The confrontation lasts more than a day, while neighborhood residents start making bets on who will prevail. Thursday's screening of John Curran's Tracks, with Mia Wasikowska playing Australian writer Robyn Davidson on her nine-month journey across the country's rugged outback was received with enthusiastic applause. For the first time documentaries are competing for the Golden Lion - Errol Morris's The Unknown Known: The Life and Times of Donald Rumsfeld, and Gianfranco Rosi's Sacro GRA, a film about life around Rome's peripheral ring road. Another contender vying for the Lion is Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin, starring Scarlett Johansson. Johansson, an alluring alien with a penchant for male hitchhikers, culls her victims for a corporation that markets human flesh. Another fantasy hovering on the dark side is Terry Gilliam's The Zero Theorem, with Matt Damon alongside double Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz. Peter Landesman's Parkland is set in Dallas at the hospital by the same name in 1963 on the day President John F Kennedy was assassinated in the Texas city. Fresh-faced star Zac Efron plays the doctor who examined JFK's body. In Stephen Frears' Philomena, Judi Dench plays an Irish mother searching for the son she gave up for adoption in the 1950s. The only Chinese language film running for the festival's top prize, 'Jiaoyou' (Stray Dogs), has gathered much advance interest. Taiwanese-Chinese director Tsai Ming-Liang's depicts a story about a father and his two children who scratch out an existence in modern Taipei. The world's oldest film festival runs from August 28 until September 7.

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