Oscar-winner Jessica Chastain arrived at the Venice Film Festival Friday with a provocative new film, "Memory", and an impassioned message in support of the Hollywood strikes by actors and writers.
Chastain said she was "incredibly nervous" about attending the festival amid the weeks-long strikes over pay and concerns over the use of AI, which have brought Hollywood to a standstill.
But actors were too often told "to be quiet in order to protect future working opportunities", she said.
"That is the environment that has allowed workplace abuse to go unchecked for many decades and it's also the environment that has saddled members of my union with unfair contracts," said Chastain, wearing a T-shirt supporting the unions.
Her new film, "Memory", by Mexican director Michel Franco, is about a recovering alcoholic who befriends someone with dementia.
Since it was made outside the Hollywood studio system, it received a union exemption to the strike ban on promotional work.
Several stars have been forced to skip Venice due to the strike, but the festival has still seen some instant Oscar frontrunners and hard-hitting political dramas at its 80th edition, which concludes Saturday.
- Biopics trend -
Highlights from the 23 entries competing for the top prize Golden Lion include "Poor Things", a feminist reworking of Frankenstein which made Emma Stone a shoo-in for award nominations with her hilarious and shockingly explicit turn as a sex-hungry reanimated corpse.
So are Bradley Cooper and Carey Mulligan for their roles as conductor-composer Leonard Bernstein and his wife Felicia in Cooper's elegant biopic, "Maestro".
Biopics were a thing this year: from Michael Mann's long-awaited take on racing car impresario Enzo Ferrari starring Adam Driver and Penelope Cruz, to Sofia Coppola's lauded "Priscilla" about the wife of Elvis Presley.
"Memory" could be a last-minute dark horse in the Venice competition after its premiere late Friday.
It tackles numerous issues, from buried trauma to the rights of disabled adults to the issue of how to maintain control over their lives.
Chastain stars in what is her first role since winning an Oscar for "The Eyes of Tammy Faye" two years ago.
- Migrant tales -
But the jury, led by writer-director Damien Chazelle ("La La Land") and including Jane Campion and last year's Golden Lion winner Laura Poitras -- all three Oscar winners -- may be swayed by more political entries.
Critics have been impressed by two powerful migrant dramas.
"Io Capitano" tells the epic and brutally powerful story of a Senegalese teenager crossing Africa to reach Europe, with newcomer Seydou Sarr wowing audiences in the central role.
And "Green Border" offered a harrowing account of refugees trapped between Belarus and Poland during a real-life crisis on the EU border in 2021.
The jury might wish to reward one of the odder entries, "El Conde" by Chile's Pablo Larrain, which reimagines Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet as a blood-sucking vampire.
At the more arthouse end of the spectrum was Bertrand Bonello's "The Beast", starring Lea Seydoux, a surreal era-jumping love story with touches of David Lynch that got strong reviews.
And Japan's Ryusuke Hamaguchi followed his Oscar triumph of "Drive My Car" with a quiet and unsettling ecological drama, "Evil Does Not Exist".
The strong competition line-up helped distract from the controversy around the inclusion of Roman Polanski in the out-of-competition section.
As a convicted sex offender, the 90-year-old director was already struggling to find distribution in the US and other countries for his slapstick comedy "The Palace". The disastrous reviews at Venice will not have helped.
Currently holding a resounding zero percent on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, it was variously described as a "laughless debacle" and "soul-throttlingly crap" by critics.
Another director who has been effectively blacklisted in the US, Woody Allen, had a better time with his 50th film (and first in French), "Coup de Chance", which was widely considered his best in at least a decade.