Death in Venice, Hollywood-style

The film festival premieres Steven Soderbergh's thriller about a deadly virus starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Matt Damon

It is already being billed as Sars: the Movie. And the Hollywood A-list cast in Steven Soderbergh's latest thriller is not being spared. Stars including Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne and Jennifer Ehle face a sticky end in Contagion.

The film, a sleek medical thriller which was exciting keen interest on the web even before it was unveiled yesterday at the Venice film festival, features a decidedly peaky-looking Paltrow as Patient Zero in a mystery epidemic that sweeps the world. Soderbergh, an Oscar winner for Traffic, said at a press conference yesterday that the complexity of the film made Hollywood heavyweights particularly important.

"It's very helpful to have movie stars playing as many of these roles as you can, because you're throwing so many characters and so much information at the audience it's very helpful for them to get a sort of reference point," he said. "There's a reason that movie stars have existed since the beginning of cinema. Audiences like to have people they can identify with."

Paltrow was laconic about working with Soderbergh. "I just did what he told me to do," she said. She was more forthcoming about playing the part of a woman who comes to a sticky end, with the top of her head removed in an autopsy. "I liked all that gory stuff. I liked having a seizure and biting a piece of Alka Seltzer and foaming at the mouth."

Paltrow denied there was any moral message in the fact that her character, a married woman, has had an illicit liaison just before she dies. "If a deadly virus was a punishment for extramarital affairs, there would be three people in this room right now. Maybe less, as we're in Italy."

Soderbergh quashed rumours he's giving up cinema to paint. Next week, he starts shooting a film about male strippers, followed by The Man from Uncle and a biopic of the pianist Liberace. Then, he says, he's taking a break. "It's less dramatic than it sounds – it's just a sabbatical."

This Venice is a prime year for British cinema, with no fewer than three UK films in competition. Shame, artist Steve McQueen's follow-up to his acclaimed Hunger, stars Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan in a story of sexual addiction. Fish Tank director Andrea Arnold is offering a Wuthering Heights that promises to cast an interracial light on the Cathy-Heathcliff romance.

Arguably the hottest ticket in the festival is Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, a new adaptation of John le Carré's novel, directed by Sweden's Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In), with a cast including Colin Firth, Kathy Burke, Benedict Cumberbatch and headed by Gary Oldman as spymaster George Smiley, the part made famous by Sir Alec Guinness in the 1979 television series.

Hopes that it will live up to the TV version have been fuelled by an endorsement from Le Carré himself, who has called the film "a triumph" and said: "If people write to me and say, 'How could you let this happen to poor Alec Guinness,' I shall reply that, if 'poor Alec' had witnessed Oldman's performance, he would have been the first to give it a standing ovation."

Ones to watch: Vampires, moors and the end of the world

Notable premieres next week include Dark Horse, Todd Solondz's film about a thirtysomething stuck in arrested development. The Moth Diaries, based on the vampire novel by Rachel Klein, premieres on Tuesday. Andrea Arnold's adaptation of Wuthering Heights is the first to feature a black Heathcliff, and the apocalyptic America drama 4:44 Last Day on Earth is directed by Abel Ferrara and stars Willem Dafoe.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week