Stars, taboo sex and death at Venice film fest

Sun Aug 25, 2013 6:38am EDT
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By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters) - Space, stars and taboo sex will be on display in Venice this week as the world's oldest international film festival fights to keep its head above water in a city slowly slipping into the sea.

The 70th Venice Film Festival will try and see off competition from increasingly popular extravaganzas in Rome and Toronto by opening with the world premiere of 3D space fantasy "Gravity", starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock.

Directed by Mexico's Alfonso Cuaron, of "Children of Men" and Harry Potter-sequel fame, the film depicts Bullock and Clooney as astronauts cast adrift after disaster strikes their shuttle.

"I think the main theme of Venice is that it is proving it is not letting Toronto take the wind out of its sails," Jay Weissberg, film critic for trade publication Variety, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"The number of English-language films is phenomenal and the Rome festival hasn't hurt it at all."

Big names appearing in films vying for Venice's Golden Lion include Scarlett Johansson as an alien in "Under the Skin", Zac Efron in "Parkland" set at the Dallas hospital where John F Kennedy was taken after he was shot, and Matt Damon in dystopian fantasy "The Zero Theorem" directed by Terry Gilliam.

Nicolas Cage stars as an ex-convict in the U.S. southern backwoods movie "Joe" while Judi Dench searches for the child she was forced to give up for adoption in "Philomena".

The festival's unlikeliest "star" will be former Iraq-war era U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in the documentary "The Unknown Known" that takes its title from his famous maxim about threats we know about, and those we don't.   Continued...