VENICE - Actress Anne Hathaway takes on an unusually dark role as a former drug addict returning home for her sister's wedding in "Rachel Getting Married", a new film about a dysfunctional family haunted by the death of a child.
Tensions explode as family and friends gather under the same roof for a weekend of celebrations, with Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme building up the contrast between the household's painful history and preparations for the happy event.
Hathaway, best known for her roles in "The Princess Diaries" and "The Devil Wears Prada", stepped away from fairytale and comedy to play Kym, a young woman tortured by guilt who has spent the past 10 years in and out of rehabilitation centers.
Her sharp tongue and confrontational attitude serve as the catalyst for the family drama to unfold, particularly as she is forced to face her sister Rachel and her own past.
"It was so much fun to be the combustible element in a scene. I have never played a character like this before," Hathaway said after a press screening on Wednesday at the Venice film festival, where the film is in the main competition.
"It's kind of fun to be the centre of the turmoil ... I enjoyed playing so many of my roles but Kym was definitely by far the most complex.
"I really admired her, and her struggle, and the fact that she is a girl fighting for a place in her family," she told a news conference.
"Rachel", written by film director Sidney Lumet's daughter Jenny, uses long, loosely staged scenes accompanied by live music and documentary-style camera work to create a home movie atmosphere.
Demme, whose 1991 "The Silence of the Lambs" won five Oscars, has focused primarily on making documentary films in recent years -- including two on singer Neil Young.
"In this film, my documentary work really came into play in a big way," he said of the unrehearsed, improvisational shooting style. He added that the director of photography "shot at 360 degrees, he could shoot in any direction he wanted. Even the actors would not know what the shot is."
ROLE FOR DEBRA WINGER
"Rachel" also stars three-time Oscar nominee Debra Winger in a brief but intense role as the family's mother, while the film's big set pieces -- the rehearsal dinner, the wedding and the dance reception party -- are populated with Demme's own friends, family and colleagues.
Winger, who returned to film acting in 2001 after a six-year hiatus that inspired a documentary about ageing in Hollywood, did not travel to Venice.
Hathaway, 25, said she had never clashed with her two brothers the way she does with Rachel on the screen.
"I am not sure I have ever fought like that with anybody. My two brothers are my best friends."
Lumet, on the contrary, appeared to have drawn at least some inspiration from her own family history.
"I tried to write this as honestly as possible. We don't choose our families. She is very difficult, she is not a palatable woman, but none of the women in my family are particularly palatable either," she said.
"Rachel" is one five U.S. films in Venice's 21-title main competition, that will wind up on Saturday with the award ceremony.