US, Japanese, Indonesian movies vie for Golden Lion

By Ella Ide, AFP

VENICE — Movies from the United States, Indonesia and Japan are tipped by critics as the favorites to win this year’s Golden Lion award at the Venice film festival, due to be announced on Saturday. American comedy “Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance,” directed by Mexico’s Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and starring Michael Keaton of “Batman” fame, opened the festival with a punch and immediately stole the show. Critics were universally wowed by the brilliant dark comedy, which delves into the cinema and theater worlds to explore the drug that is fame through the story of a washed-up actor once famous for playing the “Birdman” superhero. The film couldn’t be more different to fellow front-runner “The Look of Silence,” Joshua Oppenheimer’s shocking second documentary about the murder of over a million communists following Indonesia’s 1965 coup. Picking up where his acclaimed “The Act of Killing” left off, Oppenheimer follows a man who confronts his brother’s killers and critics suggested the director, who missed out on an Oscar in 2012 by a whisker, could pick up the top prize for this moving follow up. “Making ‘The Look of Silence’ frightened me, I think it frightened us all,” a softly-spoken Oppenheimer told AFP in a beach-side interview in Venice. Violence and war are also at the heart of Cult Japanese director Shinya Tsukamoto’s film “Fires on the Plain,” which both thrilled and shocked Venice, and might snap up the Lion for pushing the depiction of horror to new extremes. The remake of Kon Ichikawa’s 1959 classic about defeated Japanese troops in the Philippines at the end of World War Two explores the lure of cannibalism and features shots of dismembered limbs and maggots devouring rotting flesh. Jury head Alexandre Desplat, a French film score composer whose dozens of works include the music for “The King’s Speech” and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” told AFP the Lion would go to an “unusual” film which unites “flawless method and a humanist theme.” Drones, Dogs and the Mafia

Best actor prize is tipped to go to Keaton for his powerful depiction of a man tormented by inner demons in “Birdman,” or Michael Shannon for his pitiless real estate broker in Ramin Bahrani’s “99 Homes,” a dramatic tale of bankruptcy, greed and despair.