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Zendaya tennis drama ‘Challengers’ to open Venice Film Festival



The Venice Film Festival is serving up one of the year’s buzzier films as its opening night selection in Luca Guadagnino’s “Challengers.” The romantic tennis drama starring Zendaya, “West Side Story’s” Mike Faist and “The Crown’s” Josh O’Connor will have its world premiere out of competition at the 80th edition of the festival in September, organizers said Thursday.

“Challengers” stars Zendaya as a tennis prodigy whose past collides with her present when her husband, played by Faist, faces off against a competitor who was once his best friend and her boyfriend. A spicy and suggestive teaser trailer that debuted recently quickly became a popular meme on social media.

“It’s a modern bold story of youthful energy, love and power,” Guadagnino said in a statement. “I can’t wait for the Lido audience to dance across the notes of the soundtrack of Trent (Reznor) and Atticus (Ross) at the opening night of the 80th edition of the Mostra.”

(From left) Mike Faist, Zendaya and Josh O’Connor are shown in a scene from the film, “Challengers.” The Venice Film Festival is serving up the romantic tennis drama as its opening night selection. (Photo: Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures via AP)

The Italian director has had several films premiere at the festival, including “Bones and All,” which won him the Silver Lion award for directing last year, as well as films like “A Bigger Splash” and “Suspiria.”

As the first major event of the “fall festival” season, Venice is an important stop for Oscar hopefuls. Last year the festival hosted the premiere of “The Whale,” which would go on to win Brendan Fraser best actor, as well as a handful of awards contenders including “Tár,” “The Banshees of Inisherin,” “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” and best actress nominee Ana de Armas (“Blonde”).

Venice Film Festival director Alberto Barbera called “Challengers” cinema in its purest form.

“Luca Guadagnino is one of the few Italian directors who has always been accustomed to working with both Italian and foreign actresses and actors, getting top results from all of them each time,” Barbera said in a statement. “Guadagnino sets no limits to his creative energy in this film as he deals with topics such as love, friendship, and male rivalry, and brings to life an enthralling and affecting movie, full of irony, sensuality, and good nature.”

MGM and Amazon Studios will release “Challengers” in theaters on Sept. 15.

The full lineup for the Venice Film Festival, which runs from Aug. 30 through Sept. 9, will be announced in late July.

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