Venice Film Festival

SOURED ON THE DREAM : Riz Ahmed plays a Pakistani who returns to his homeland after becoming dissatisfied with America in 'The Relucatant Fundamentalist.'

For the next few weeks, studios will be rolling out their prestige films at international festivals. From the beachfront pavilion of Lido, here's a first report from the Venice Film Festival.

Based on Mohsin Hamid's popular post-9/11 novel, Mira Nair's The Reluctant Fundamentalist recounts the tumultuous experience of Pakistani Changez Khan (Riz Ahmed) in America. After graduating from Princeton and becoming a successful Wall Street analyst, his comfortable niche slowly crumbles in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. Falling victim to racial injustices, Changez's questioning of the American Dream leads him back home to Pakistan, where he enters academia. But when an American colleague disappears, Changez finds himself with a target on his back once more. While the political thriller aspect of the film is lacking, Nair's moving portrayal of Changez's personal journey echoes her excellent 2006 adaptation of The Namesake.

Canadian cinema darling Sarah Polley's first documentary feature, Stories We Tell, is a mash-up of interviews with friends and family regarding her deceased mother—a twice-married stage actress who also had an affair with a producer who Polley learned, at age 30, is her biological father. If the project sounds self-indulgent, it is. But by weaving together many perspectives, which often contradict one another, the film opens up a fascinating dialogue between memory and objectivity.

"Pourquoi?" constantly asks Martin Kazinski (Kar Merad), the nondescript IT guy in Superstar who becomes the subject of public attention thanks to a sudden onslaught of viral videos and candid photos featuring him. Within hours, he becomes an Internet sensation who can't take two steps outside without drawing a mob. The film begins as a promising mystery seeking to uncover the reason behind Kazinski's unexpected fame but then devolves into a tedious mess thanks in large part to a botched romantic subplot involving a selfish journalist. Director Xavier Giannoli thinks he's got a finger on the pulse of contemporary social media and celebrity culture, but rather than achieving smart social commentary he merely misfires with a lackluster dramedy.

Michael Shannon takes a turn as sociopathic New Jersey hit man Richard Kuklinski in Ariel Vromen's The Iceman. Like a disco-era Dexter, Kuklinski makes a killing doing mobster Roy's (Ray Liotta) dirty work and launches his unsuspecting family into the echelons of the upper middle class; that is until Kuklinski's greed and ambition land him in the crossfire between feuding mafia bosses. Chris Evans makes a memorable appearance as his business partner, an ice cream man who freezes his victims to confuse the authorities. The cinematography and editing create a sharp, stylish aesthetic, but it's not quite enough to disguise a middling script.

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