Cannes may be just around the corner, but the Venice Film Festival is sooner than you think it is — the two European majors effectively bookend the summer movie season, meaning the first glimpse of fall prestige fare on the Lido is just over three months away. Last week, the festival named William Friedkin the winner of this year’s lifetime achievement Golden Lion, and today they further interrupted the pre-Cannes conversation with the announcement of this year’s Competition jury president: Oscar-winning Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci.
After Berlin selected Wong Kar-Wai as their jury president this year, and Cannes followed up with Steven Spielberg, the bar was set pretty high for Venice to clear, but they haven’t let themselves down: the 73-year-old Bertolucci is the most senior member of this A-list director trifecta. (Your day will come, Adam Shankman.)
It’s not the first time Bertolucci has held the position: he also presided over the 1983 jury, handing the Golden Lion to Jean-Luc Godard for “First Name: Carmen.” It’s unusual to repeat presidents, of course, but given that this will be the 70th edition of the festival, Venice brass presumably felt that a native luminary was needed. Interestingly, he’s the festival’s first Italian jury president since 2005, when celebrated production designer Dante Ferretti was a novel choice for the position.
Winner of the 1987 Best Director Oscar for “The Last Emperor” — one of nine statuettes taken by the lavish historical epic — Bertolucci was nominated twice in 1970s (once for writing, once for directing) for what arguably remain his two signature films, “The Conformist” and “Last Tango in Paris.” Other notable credits include “1900,” “The Spider’s Strategem” and “The Dreamers”; his most recent film, “Me and You,” premiered at Cannes last year.
Somewhat surprisingly, Bertolucci has never actually been in competition at his home festival, though he did receive the career Golden Lion in 2007. At Cannes, meanwhile, he has twice competed for the Palme d’Or (on neither occasion for one of his most acclaimed films) and headed the jury in 1990. (That year, he presented the Palme d’Or to David Lynch for “Wild at Heart,” so it seems his tastes run pretty adventurous.)
While Cannes has opted for the odd veteran actor in recent years, this is the seventh straight year that the Venice jury president has been a major (and male) filmmaker: Michael Mann, Darren Aronofsky, Quentin Tarantino, Ang Lee, Wim Wenders and Zhang Yimou precede him.
In further Venice news, festival organizers have also adjusted the rules dictating the division of prizes between films, and publicly clarified them for good measure. This is in response to the confusion (and ensuing controversy) at last year’s festival, when Michael Mann’s jury, clearly high on Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master,” initially awarded it the Golden Lion, Best Director and a joint Best Actor award for Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman — only to be overruled by festival brass, whose rules forbade one film from taking the top prize and an acting award.
It’s the same technicality that prevented Mickey Rourke from winning Best Actor for 2008 Golden Lion winner “The Wrestler,” though it’s a relatively recent innovation: “Vera Drake,” for example, took the Golden Lion and Best Actress in 2004. Mann’s jury, reluctant to take the award away from Hoffman and Phoenix, compromised by letting “The Master” keep Best Actor and Best Director, handing the Golden Lion to their second favorite: Kim Ki-duk’s “Pieta.”
Much grumbling ensued, but the festival has addressed the situation to some extent by introducing a Grand Jury Prize to their lineup of awards. (Sadly, it replaces the often-interesting Technical Achievement Award.) Like the similarly named prize at Cannes, it will be regarded as the official runner-up honor to the Golden Lion, and is presumably what “The Master” would have ended up taking had it been around last year.
The introduction of a new award, however, hasn’t really changed their policy regarding the allocation of awards: they remain adamant that the Golden Lion winner may not take any other prizes. Indeed, the festival advises a one-award-per-film rule throughout — though either Grand Jury Prize, Jury Prize, Best Director or Best Screenplay winner may also take an acting award “in exceptional circumstances and after consultation with the festival director.” Meanwhile, no ties will be allowed for any award, save the acting ones. You still with me?
It’s not a unique policy: Cannes has similarly clamped down on juries in recent years, preventing the Palme d’Or from taking additional awards. (Rumor has it that last year’s Palme winner, “Amour,” would otherwise have taken Best Actor and Best Actress; jury president Nanni Moretti hinted as much at the award presentations.) I understand the desire to spread the wealth, though I think such cast-iron restrictions are overly obstructive: sometimes the best film does also contain the best performance, after all.