Luca Guadagnino’s Zendaya-Starrer ‘Challengers’ to Open Venice

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By Joshephira Honey

Luca Guadagnino’s Challengers, a ménage à trois tennis drama starring Zendaya, Josh O’Connor and Mike Faist, will open the 80th Venice Film Festival, the festival announced Thursday. The film will screen out of competition.

Zendaya stars as Tashi Duncan, a former tennis prodigy turned coach and a force of nature, whose husband, a former champion played by West Side Story star Mike Faist, is on a losing streak. He ends up in a competition facing off against the washed-up Patrick (Josh O’Connor), his former best friend and Tashi’s ex. As their past and present collide, Tashi is forced to ask herself what she is willing to do to win.

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Challengers will premiere Aug. 30, kicking off the 2023 Venice Film Festival. The movie will roll out in the U.S. through MGM and Amazon Studios and internationally through Warner Bros Pictures. Challengers was written by Justin Kuritzkes and produced by Amy Pascal, Guadagnino, Zendaya and Rachel O’Connor. Executive producers are Bernard Bellew, Lorenzo Mieli, and Kevin Ulrich. Music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

“I am so thrilled for audiences to experience my new film Challengers at the Venice Film Festival,” said Guadagnino in a statement. “It’s a modern bold story of youthful energy, love and power. Zendaya, Josh and Mike are totally original and fresh, bringing a new energy like you’ve never seen before. I can’t wait for the Lido audience to dance across the notes of the soundtrack of Trent and Atticus at the opening night of the 80th edition of the Mostra. As a filmmaker, it is a dream come true and I am grateful to Alberto and the whole Venice family for this wonderful recognition for the film.”

The Call Me by Your Name director is a regular in Venice, appearing in competition last year with his cannibal love story Bones and All starring Timothée Chalamet and Taylor Russell, as well as premiering such features as I am Love (2009), A Bigger Splash (2015) and Suspiria (2018) on the Lido. Zendaya lasted graced the Venice red carpet in 2021, alongside Chalamet, for the world premiere of Dune: Part 1.

“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,” said Venice film festival artistic director Alberto Barbera. “Even when he is filming abroad as is the case with Challengers. With a light hand and sporting self-confidence, 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. Cinema in its purest form.”

The 80th Venice Film Festival runs from Aug. 30 to Sept. 9. Venice will unveil its full 2023 lineup on July 25. La La Land and Babylon director Damien Chazelle is this year’s international jury president judging the main competition titles.


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