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The Black Dahlia: opening film at the 63rd Venice Fest

La Biennale di Venezia / 63rd Venice International Film Festival / The Black Dahlia by Brian De Palma, with Scarlett Johansson, Hilary Swank and Josh Hartnett, to be the opening film at the 63rd Venice International Film Festival

The Black Dahlia, the eagerly-awaited film directed by Brian De Palma, starring Scarlett Johansson, Hilary Swank and Josh Hartnett - and adapted from the famous novel of the same name by James Ellroy, inspired by a crime in 1940s Los Angeles - will be the opening film at the 63rd Venice International Film Festival. It will be presented in competition as a world premiere on the evening of 30th August 2006 in the Sala Grande of the Palazzo del Cinema. The 63rd Venice Film Festival will run at Lido di Venezia from 30th August to 9th September 2006, and is for the third year directed by Marco Müller, and organised by the Biennale di Venezia, chaired by Davide Croff. The Black Dahlia, produced by Art Linson, Rudy Cohen, Moshe Diamant and Avi Lerner, will be released in Italy at the end of October and distributed by 01 Distribution.

“We are honoured”, declared President Davide Croff and Director Marco Müller, “that Brian De Palma has chosen to open the 63rd Festival with his new and long-awaited thriller, thus confirming his strong links with Venice. He was invited here in 1975 with one of his first films, Sisters, and in September, De Palma will appear on the parade in front of the Palazzo del Cinema for the fifth time. In the intervening years, he has presented Blow Out, Raising Cain, and one of his greatest masterpieces, The Untouchables. We are also happy that the Festival, thanks to this film, will once again be able to welcome two great stars from today’s film industry, both of whom first made a name for themselves in Venice: Scarlett Johansson, with Lost in Translation, and a jury member in 2004, and Hilary Swank, who was in Venice in 1999 with the film that won her her first Oscar, Boy’s Don’t Cry. The Festival will also welcome back Dante Ferretti, who has produced the period sets for The Black Dahlia, and confirms his position as most sought-after production designer by Hollywood’s directors”.

The Black Dahlia, adapted from the novel of the same name – the first of a quadrilogy on Los Angeles that revealed the talents of James Ellroy as a crime writer (L.A. Confidential) – is set in 1947 and sees two policemen as protagonists. Friends and former boxers, Bucky Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart) are in love with the same woman, the mysterious Kay Lake (Scarlett Johansson), former friend of a gangster. However, it is a terrible crime that the two are called on to investigate that changes their lives for ever: the murder of Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner), a girl with ambitions to be an actress, known as the Black Dahlia, who is found brutally murdered on the hillsides of Hollywood. During the course of the investigations, Bucky meets Madeleine Sprague (double Oscar-winner Hilary Swank) and begins a passionate relationship with her, although realising that she is indirectly involved in the crime, and that corruption and conspiracies dominate his police department. When his friend and colleague, Lee, suddenly disappears, for Bucky the investigation turns into a morbid obsession.

The Black Dahlia will feature the theme of the double, one particularly dear to Brian De Palma. The two protagonists, anything but lily-white policemen, tackle not only their love for the same woman in a mirrored, opposing manner (the one with a chaste relationship, the other with great passion), but also their obsession for the macabre murder of a girl, whose body is found cut in two. This double theme also appears in the role played by Hilary Swank, that of Madeleine Sprangue (a name recalling the most famous “double” in film history, Madeleine-Kim Novak in Vertigo), a young, cold middle-class woman, but also an ambiguous and dangerous “femme fatale”, who dresses and makes herself up as the Black Dahlia - Elizabeth Short. Kay Lake herself (Scarlett Johansson), sweet and sensual, has an obscure past that she keeps hidden. In The Black Dahlia, as in all self-respecting thrillers, all the characters present two faces, and the reality always has a dark side.

Brian De Palma, born in 1940 in Newark (New Jersey), began studying physics but soon changed direction, becoming a typical exponent of the generation that learned film-making at university, frequenting Columbia University. His first work as director was The Wedding Party (1966), made with non-professional means and with a youthful De Niro, then at the outset of his career. He soon established himself as one of the protagonists of the New Hollywood, which changed American cinema in an epoch-making manner in the 1970s (together with Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, amongst others). His first success came with Greetings (1968), a comedy that won the Silver Bear in Berlin in 1969 for its “cheerful non-conformity and the impeccable group work of its actors and director”, followed by Hi, Mom! (1969), once more with an entertaining De Niro. In the 1970s, De Palma refined his directing skills with cult films such as Sisters (1973), proposed two years later at the Venice Film Festival, Phantom of the Paradise (1974), a rock version of the famous Phantom of the Opera; the thriller, Obsession (1976); the horror film, Carrie (1976), by Stephen King; the spy film, The Fury (1978). Among the many titles that established his reputation in the 1980s and 1990s as one of the leading personalities in Hollywood, it is worth mentioning Dressed to Kill (1980); Blow Out (1981), presented in the Mezzogiorno-Mezzanotte section in Venice and a declared homage to Antonioni’s Blow up; Scarface (1983), a remake of Hawks’s masterpiece of the same name; Body Double (1984), the finest expression of his voyeuristic style; the masterpiece, The Untouchables (1987), written with David Mamet and presented not in competition in Venice; Carlito's Way (1993); Mission Impossible (1996); Snake Eyes (1998); Mission to Mars (2000); Femme Fatale (2002). A visionary director able like few others to dazzle the viewer with movements of the camera (the opening or topical moments of his films are legendary, with long panning shots that are smooth and spectacular) and his use of colour, setting or music (his work with the Venetian composer Pino Donaggio for Carrie, Blow Out, Body Double and Dressed to Kill is celebrated), De Palma always manages to leave his personal mark in works appreciated by the general public. Voyeurism, doubles and disguises as metaphor for the cinema are the themes he is most keen on. Accustomed to working with the greatest actors in Hollywood, De Palma has always succeeded in bringing out the best from the stars he has working with him, from Al Pacino, the memorable interpreter of Scarface (1983) and Carlito's Way (1993), to many others, including Michael Caine, John Travolta, Kevin Costner, Tom Cruise and Nicolas Cage. New works eagerly awaited by De Palma include a horror film, Toyer, still in pre-production and to be released in 2007, and, subsequently, The Untouchables: Capone Rising, which so far has only been announced.

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