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Venice Film Festival 2021: the Asian films you should know

The 78th Lido di Venezia is all set to open its doors for everyone this year on September 1 as the Venice Film Festival 2021 officially begins.

The Venice Film Festival 2021 will conclude on September 11 and boasts of everything from studio films to art house titles. Apart from an impressive line-up of films, this year’s diverse jury will be headed by Oscar-winning South-Korean director Bong Joon-Ho. The Parasite director will be the first filmmaker from South Korea to preside over the film festival’s jury.

Joining him will be another Academy Award winner, Chinese director Chloé Zhao. Other members include Belgian-French actress Virginie Efira, Italian director-screenwriter Saverio Costanzo, British actress and singer-songwriter Cynthia Erivo, Canadian actress-producer Sarah Gadon, and Romanian documentary maker Alexander Nanau. They will be deciding the winner for Venezia 78.

Despite notable films and a diversified panel of judges, the lack of female directors in various categories has become a talking point. In an interview with Variety, Venice Film Festival’s artistic director Alberto Barbera addressed this issue and said: “Last year, there were eight. This year, there are five. On the whole, if you look at the total number of submissions, the percentage of films by women directors last year was around 28%; this year it’s 26%; two years ago it was 25%. We can of course consider this year as a small setback. I think it was probably caused by the fact that the pandemic impacted the production of films directed by females more than those directed by men. But I’m convinced that it’s a momentary lapse because I think the momentum towards greater gender balance is unstoppable.”

Venice Film Festival 2021
Aditya Vikram Sengupta’s Once Upon A Time in Calcutta. (Image credit: Biennale Cinema 2021)

Many Asian films have also made their way to the prestigious film festival and will be competing in the Venezia 78 and Orizzonti sections. The “Luigi De Laurentiis” Venice Award for a Debut Film category will honour a debut film chosen from the film festival’s official selections and independent and parallel sidebars 

Venice Film Festival 2021
A still from HBO series On The Job: The Missing 8. (Image credit: HBO Asia)

An Asian crime thriller series makes the cut

Making its presence felt in the Venezia 78 category is the Philipines HBO Asia original series On The Job: The Missing 8. Directed by Erik Matti, the series stars John Arcilla, Dennis Trillo and Dante Rivero. The six-part crime thriller will air exclusively on HBO GO in September and it is the only Asian entry in Venezia 78. On The Job: The Missing 8 revolves around crime syndicates that temporarily release prison inmates to carry out political assassinations.

Venice Film Festival 2021
A still from the Camobodian film Bodeng Star. (Image credit: Biennale Cinema 2021)

Asian films at the 2021 Venice Film Festival

Meanwhile, Orizzonti has a string of Asian works vying for attention. Pubu (The Falls), the Chinese film directed by Chung Mong-hong portrays how mental illness combined with the threat of COVID-19 wreaks havoc in a mother-daughter duo’s life but also improves their strained relationship. Bodeng Sar (White Building) from Cambodian director Kavich Neang narrates the story of three friends who enjoy dancing and dream of winning television talent contests. The trio live in the White Building, a landmark apartment building in Phnom Penh, but fate takes a tricky turn when the it is ordered to be demolished.

Once Upon A Time in Calcutta is Indian filmmaker Aditya Vikram Sengupta’s ode to grief and a mother’s struggle to find her identity and survive after losing her daughter. Japanese animation film Inu-oh by Masaaki Yuasa is based on Hideo Furukawa’s novel Heike Monogatari: Inu-Oh no Maki (Tales of the Heike: Inu-Oh).

Some films competing in the Orizzonti Short Films Competition are British-Pakistani filmmaker Seemab Gul’s Mulaulaqat (Sandstrom), Chinese director Luo Runxiao’s Tou Sheng, Ji Dan, Zuo Ye Ben (Hair Tie, Egg, Homework Books), Thai filmmaker Sorayos Prapapan’s Pid Pokati Mai (New Abnormal) and Japanese director Momi Yamashita’s Kanoyama (The Last Day).

Wela
A scene from Wela. (Image credit: Biennale Cinema 2021)

Wela (Anatomy of Time) by Thai director Jakrawal Nilthamrong

Thai director Jakrawal Nilthamrong’s Wela (Anatomy of Time) is a “tangible interpretation of a generation that is slowly fading” seen through the eyes of a woman as she reflects on her past while nursing an abusive husband. It features a young woman in 1960s rural Thailand who is being courted by two very different young men. The story is told against a backdrop of military dictatorship and communist rebel uprisings, and tells the story of its central character Maem alongside a country’s tragic past and people. Jakrawal Nilthamrong describes it as “nature of suffering, nature of being and nature of time.”

Land of Dreams
Iranian film Land of Dreams. (Image credit: Biennale Cinema 2021)

Afghan filmmakers at the Venice Film Festival 2021

Iranian filmmakers Shirin Neshat and Shoja Azari’s Land of Dreams will be shown in the Orizzonti Extra section.

Keeping in mind the recent Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the Venice Film Festival 2021 has also invited Afghan filmmakers Sahraa Karimi and Sahra Mani for a panel discussion on “the dramatic situation of Afghan filmmakers and artists in general, the need for the creation of humanitarian corridors and the guarantee of the granting of political refugee status, as well as concern for their future and the need to provide for their accommodation once they arrive in Europe”. It will take place on September 4.

(Main and Featured image: HBO Asia)

Priyanka Lamba
It was while pursuing her degree in computer applications, when Priyanka decided to set her sights on content writing (talk about realisation and serendipity). In her spare time, she is either found immersed in books or movies.