Venice Film Festival: 5 films to check out

Venice Film Festival: 5 films to check out

New and noteworthy

Text: Adibah Isa

Image: United International Pictures

Standout premieres at the Venice Film Festival include performances such as a shrinking Matt Damon, a darker side to Jennifer Lawrence and an unlikely friend of Queen Victoria's

Running till 9 September, the Venice Film Festival's often wrought with red carpet coverage — but what we're really eyeing are new stories to be told. Like Cannes, Venice is where the Oscars come a-shoppin' — La La Land, Arrival, Spotlight, Birdman and Gravity had their world premieres in Venice, bringing their profiles to critical acclaim. This year's slew of premieres give us something to look forward to as well — there's Jennifer Lawrence's entry into psychological thriller territory in mother!, and Kristen Wiig's performance in not one, but two films at Venice: mother! and Downsizing. Here are 5 standout films to keep a lookout for in theatres.

1. mother!
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky, also behind Requiem for a Dream (2000) and Black Swan (2010)
Who's in it: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, and Michelle Pfeiffer 
The story: Aronofsky and the actors have been extremely secretive about the movie, with the trailer and scene preview revealing snapshots of details. The premise surrounds a couple who are surprised by the arrival of an older couple who shakes up the tranquility of their home. However, rumour has it that mother! will give off vibes similar to Aronofsky's earlier work, Requiem for a Dream.
Bet you didn't know: According to chef and personality Anthony Bourdain, who's watched the film, mother! is "dark, brilliant and will upset the f*ck out of people." Lawrence herself said that she had to go to a "darker place" during filming.

2. Victoria and Abdul
Directed by: Stephen Frears, also behind Dangerous Liaisons (1988) and Philomena (2013)
Who's in it: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal and Eddie Izzard
The story: Set in late 19th-century England, Queen Victoria befriends a young Indian man, clerk Abdul Karim, brought in as a gift for her Golden Jubilee. The film draws upon a book by Indian journalist Shrabani Basu, which depicts the unlikely friendship between the two characters while India is still under the British Empire. Under the charm of Abdul Karim, the Queen tries curry for the first time and even picks up Urdu.
Bet you didn't know: This isn't Dench's first time playing Queen Victoria with a mysterious stranger. In Mrs. Brown (1997), she played a recently widowed monarch who befriended John Brown, a Scottish servant.

3. Downsizing
Directed by: Alexander Payne, also behind Sideways (2004) and The Descendants (2011)
Who's in it: Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Christoph Waltz, Alec Baldwin, Neil Patrick Harris and Jason Sudeikis
The story: In order to cut costs, a couple considers downsizing — literally — to five inches in this science fiction satire. Unfortunately, only the husband (played by Damon) goes through with it.
Bet you didn't know: Payne was inspired by thoughts his co-writer had been having about how much better life would be if humans were able to shrink — how much cheaper food would be, and how much smaller houses would be. He then put that into context of shrinking as a solution for overpopulation and climate change, and voila.

4. Human Flow
Directed by: Ai Weiwei
Who's in it: Real life characters, with Princess Dana Firas of Jordan making an appearance
The story: In artist Ai Weiwei's first feature-length documentary, he shot over 40 refugee camps in 23 countries to capture human displacement and migration caused by the current refugee crisis. His affinity with the subject matter stemmed from his consciousness of how refugees are mistreated, neglected and displaced. "I know what it's like to be viewed as an outcast," said the artist who has had several run-ins with the authorities himself.
Bet you didn't know: Last year, Ai Weiwei posed face-down on a beach in Greece to recreate the photo of the late Alan Kurdi, a Syrian toddler whose story captured the world by storm.

5. The Shape of Water
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro, also behind Pan's Labyrinth (2006) and Pacific Rim (2013)
Who's in it: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins and Octavia Spencer
The story: Hawkins plays a mute cleaning lady who works at a government lab in Baltimore, 1962. She uncovers and befriends a swamp monster, to the delight and horror of her colleagues.
Bet you didn't know: While seemingly other-worldly, the movie's actually a love story. Said del Toro in an interview, "I think love is the greatest force in the universe. It's shapeless like water."