Well, I think it’s fair to say the Venice Film Festival has won the Opening Film contest this year. While Cannes had its parade slightly rained upon by the fact that their opener — Baz Luhrmann’s otherwise suitably sparkly “The Great Gatsby” — was released in the US beforehand, their Italian rivals will be kicking things off on August 28 with a world premiere that happens to be one of the year’s most anticipated films: Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity.”
As I wrote in my preview of the Venice lineup two weeks ago, the outer-space thriller, which stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, was all but certain to bow on the Lido: Cuarón has a good relationship with the festival, having premiered both “Children of Men” (2006) and “Y tu Mama Tambien” (2001) there, winning the Best Screenplay award for the latter. (Back in 2001, Alberto Barbera was the festival’s artistic director; 12 years later, he’s in charge again. The more things change, eh?) Clooney is also a Venice staple, having brought a film there in all but one of the last six years.
Less predictable was its selection as the curtain-raiser. The high-stakes opening slot is a tricky one to fill for festival programmers, and Venice has had mixed fortunes with it in recent years: Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” started the festival with a bang in 2010, Mira Nair’s “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” with a thud last year, and with Clooney’s own “The Ides of March” landing somewhere in between in 2011. With the festival planning an all-stops-out 70th anniversary edition this year, they couldn’t afford another “Fundamentalist.” However the film turns out — and hopes are obviously sky-high — “Gravity” is just the starry prestige blockbuster (in 3D, to boot) they needed, one that will unite cineastes and red-carpet hounds alike in their excitement.
Should we be concerned that the film is premiering Out of Competition? It’s something of a surprise, given that Cuarón competed for the Golden Lion on both his previous visits to Venice — but it may be Warner Bros.’s choice rather than the festival’s, as major studios sometimes prefer not to subject their premier attractions to the pressure of early awards competition.
“Gravity” will now almost certainly proceed to Toronto after kicking things off at Venice, while a date at Telluride in between is quite possible. With Bernardo Bertolucci presiding over the Competition jury this year, the 70th Venice Film Festival will take place from August 28 to September 8, and I’ll once more be in attendance. Bring it on.