The Venice Film Festival is no stranger to controversy. Often, the jury collectively select a fittingly quirky, infuriating drama to cap the ten days of cinematic celebration. In 2010, Jury President Quentin Tarantino awarded former girlfriend Sofia Coppola the top prize for Somewhere, a film so blandly ordinary that many found its win truly baffling. A year earlier, having awarded the Golden Lion to Darren Aronofsky’s bruising The Wrestler, jury head Wim Wenders complained that Venice protocol forbade the awarding of more than one top prize to the same film, thus unfairly ruling out Mickey Rourke from consideration in the Best Actor category.
Last night, The Hollywood Reporter broke the story that a similar argument between the Jury and the festival organisers had taken place following its 69th incarnation. The jury had wanted to give both the Best Actor prize (for both Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix’s central turns) and Golden Lion to Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, only opting for Kim Ki-duk’s Pieta after being informed of the aforementioned ‘single win’ rule.
There are a couple of considerations here. First of all, if there was a mistake, it happened before the festival began. The jury members should have been fully briefed about the regulations, or should have taken the trouble to find out what they were and if they agreed with them before consenting to take part. Once involved, they then ought to respect the limits of their remit and carry it out as honestly as they can. Giving a prize to Kim Ki-duk, having him sing a song on accepting the Lion and then pulling the rug from under him with these comments is disrespectful to a great filmmaker.
Another point to consider is that there were 18 films in competition and there are not many gongs to go around. Giving one film a clean sweep, an American film which will no doubt have a chance of winning accolades on many other occasions, means denying exposure to some fantastic films that otherwise will struggle to find distribution outside of their own domestic territories. The Venice Film Festival should be a portal into international cinema, and not simply a rubber stamp to pave the way for Oscar nominations.
That said, Pieta is a wonderful film and was fully deserving of the prize it picked up. The tale of a brutal loan shark coming to terms with a sudden and surprising late blooming of humanity is a masterful critique of the most savage mechanisms of capitalism. The Master, on the other hand, was not unanimously liked. Many felt that it lacked a spark, seeing it as a cerebral film which was controlled and masterful but ultimately failed to engage. Yet whereas Anderson’s Oscar-winning There Will Be Blood (2008) was a solo piece, The Master is very much a duet, a fact that was nicely recognised in the splitting of the Coppa Volpi.
The female Coppa Volpi went to Hadas Yaron for her role in Fill the Void, a film set in an orthodox Jewish community which, was also widely tipped for a big prize. Olivier Assayas also won the prize for Best Screenplay for new film Something in the Air (Après mai), a nostalgic look back to post-1968 France and the coming of age of a young man, following his loves and his struggles. Ulrich Seidl was perhaps a more deserving winner as he picked up the Special Jury Prize for the brilliantly provocative Paradise: Faith which, along with the Terrence Malick debacle (or work of consummate genius), provided one of the livelier conversation starters. Cannes and Toronto may have the press attention, but what this year’s Venice had was a tight, carefully-selected programme of high quality world cinema.
A full list of the major award winners can be found below:
Golden Lion: Pieta, dir. Kim Ki-duk
Silver Lion (Best Director): The Master, dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
Special Jury Prize: Paradise: Faith, dir. Ulrich Seidl
Best Actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Best Actress: Hadas Yaron, Fill the Void
Best Screenplay: Something in the Air, dir. Olivier Assayas
Technical Achievement Award: It Was the Son, dir. Daniele Cipri
Best Young Actor: Fabrizio Falco, It Was the Son and Dormant Beauty
The 69th Venice Film Festival runs from 29 August-8 September. For more of our Venice 2012 coverage, simply follow this link.