‘Commandante’ Replaces ‘Challengers’ as Venice Film Festival’s Opening Film

Luca Guadagnino’s “Challengers” pulled out of the festival rather than screen during the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes

"Commandante" (Courtesy Venice Film Festival)

Edoardo De Angelis’ “Commandante,” a drama based on the true story of World War II Italian naval officer Salvatore Todaro, has been chosen as the new opening night film at the 2023 Venice International Film Festival, which begins Aug. 30.

The film will replace Luca Guadagnino’s “Challengers,” a sports drama with Zendaya and Josh O’Connor that was originally announced to open the festival but has opted to pull out rather than premiere during the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes. The SAG strike would have prevented the actors from appearing in Venice to support the film.

“Challengers” is the first film to pull out of a fall festival during the strikes.

“In the frame of period films, on which Italian cinema has invested considerable production resources, Edoardo De Angelis’ movie reverberates with unambiguously contemporary echoes,” Venice festival director Alberto Barbera said in a statement. “The true story of  Commander Salvatore Todaro, who saved the lives of enemy sailors who had survived the sinking of their merchant ship — endangering the safety of his own submarine and his men — is a powerful call for the need to place the values of ethics and human solidarity before the brutal logic of military protocol. I thank the author, the producers Nicola Giuliano and Pier Paolo Verga and Paolo Del Brocco with Rai Cinema for having accepted our invitation to inaugurate the 80th film festival of the Biennale di Venezia.”

The full lineup of the festival will be announced next week.