Paul Schrader, a singular American auteur and key figure of the New Hollywood era, will be back at the Venice Film Festival this year to collect a Golden Lion for lifetime achievement. But that shouldn’t suggest the 76-year-old director has acquiesced into the valedictory phase of his creative life.
Schrader will also be on hand in Venice to unveil his 22nd directorial feature, Master Gardener, starring Joel Edgerton and Sigourney Weaver. The film will premiere in one of Venice’s coveted out-of-competition slots, alongside new features from Olivia Wilde, Walter Hill and the late Kim Ki-duk, among others.
Not much has been revealed about the new film, but its summary suggests it loosely conforms to the self-pioneered genre that has defined so much of Schrader’s filmography — what he calls “man in a room” stories, or intimate character studies of socially disaffected men.
Edgerton stars as Narvel Roth, the meticulous horticulturist of Gracewood Gardens, who is as devoted to tending the grounds of this beautiful and historic estate as he is to pandering to his employer, the wealthy dowager Mrs. Haverhill, played by Weaver. When Mrs. Haverhill demands that Roth take on her wayward and troubled great-niece Maya as a new apprentice, chaos enters his spartan existence, unlocking dark secrets from a buried violent past that threaten them all.
Schrader happened upon his “man in a room” storytelling mode when he was a disaffected young man himself, transposing his alienation into the screenplay that became Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. The template has recurred in many of his career highlights, including cult favorites like Light Sleeper (1992) and American Gigolo (1980), as well as the acclaimed existential drama First Reformed, starring Ethan Hawke, which won Schrader his overdue first Oscar nomination as a screenwriter in 2017.
Schrader has a longstanding connection to Venice — both the city and the festival. In 1990, he utilized the city’s doom-laden atmosphere and evocative waterways as the setting for his sexual psychodrama The Comfort of Strangers, starring Christopher Walken, Rupert Everett, Natasha Richardson and Helen Mirren. Last year, he premiered in Venice his latest release, The Card Counter, starring Oscar Isaac as a professional gambler with a dark past, which won wide critical acclaim. And it was at Venice in 2021, where Master Gardner was first announced to the industry.
In response to the recent news of his upcoming honorary Golden Lion, Schrader said: “I am deeply honored. Venice is the Lion of my heart.”
This year’s Venice Film Festival runs Aug. 31-Sept. 10, kicking off with Noah Baumbach’s Netflix film White Noise, an adaptation of Don DeLillo’s now-classic post-modern novel.