VENICE — Sorry for the delay there. The wi-fi in the press room went haywire, so I had to bolt the second the Golden Lion was announced and cycle furiously back to my apartment to get online again, like a lanyard-wearing Nancy Drew.
Clearly, however, technical difficulties weren’t just limited to the press room, as all manner of crossed signals and mixed messages made for the most confusing festival awards ceremony I’ve ever seen — and that was before word leaked of an abrupt switch, forced by festival brass, in the jury’s choice for the top prize.
After jury president Michael Mann announced at the start of the ceremony that no film could be given more than one award, two films were given a pair of statues. Minutes later, two winners were handed the wrong trophies, and were called back onto stage to exchange awards. And finally, it has emerged that film the jury deemed overwhelmingly the best in show hasn’t won the award for, well, best in show. Confused? So are we — and you didn’t have to watch this all play out in Italian.
Here’s how it apparently played out, according to The Hollywood Reporter: the jury was so dazzled by Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” that they voted to hand not only the Golden Lion for Best Film, but the Silver Lion for Best Director too, with a joint Best Actor prize for Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix to boot. That’s how much they liked it.
Such a sweep of the top categories may be commonplace at the Oscars, but it’s very rare indeed in the festival world — it happened at Cannes with “Barton Fink” in 1991 (though rules have since been changed to prevent another such occurrence), but it’s unprecedented at Venice. The Silver Lion may technically be termed a directing prize, but in festival circles, it’s regarded as a runner-up to the Golden Lion — a silver medal, as befits its name.
Festival organizers thought the trio of awards was overkill — redundant, even — and instructed the jury to reallocate one of the prizes. That’s understandable enough. Less clear is why the jury then decided to take the top prize away from Anderson’s film, and hand it to their second favorite, Kim Ki-duk’s “Pieta,” instead. (I’ll have some more thoughts on that when I finally see “Pieta” tonight; schedule clashes conspired to make me miss its initial screenings.) It makes some sense of Mann’s initially cryptic speech at the beginning of the ceremony, in which he stated that the jury paid particular attention to the wording of the award titles, and implied that certain awards should be regarded as equal.
(The trophy switcheroo, incidentally, didn’t concern “Pieta.” Rather, the confusion was between the absent Anderson’s Silver Lion, accepted on his behalf by Philip Seymour Hoffman, and “Paradise: Faith” director Ulrich Seidl’s Special Jury Prize, which effectively amounts to the bronze medal, in this scenario.)
So, it would appear a combination of festival politics and eccentric logic has cost “The Master” a major coup, though it hardly seems fair to Kim Ki-duk either: nobody likes winning on a technicality. It’s fortunate, at least, that this whole fiasco revolves around a director as indifferent to the whole process as Anderson: if the man gave one shit about what awards he gets given, he’d have been at the ceremony. And even ignoring all the smoke and mirrors, it’s still nice to see “The Master” — for my money, the best film at Venice by some distance — recognized in any capacity. (In the long list of preliminary honors from alternative juries announced before the ceremony, it also won the most prestigious one: the FIPRESCI Critics’ Award.)
I’m particularly thrilled that both its leads shared the Best Actor award: going into the ceremony, all the buzz had been about Phoenix, but the superb Hoffman deserves just as much credit as his co-star — if not a teeny bit more. (Phoenix, like Anderson, was not in attendance — both men being unable to travel back to Venice in time after the film’s Toronto premiere on Friday. This again left the charmingly rumpled Hoffman to accept for both of them, after his own rather hurried flight back. “I put this suit on in the bathroom, so don’t judge,” he quipped.) Both men, meanwhile, are firmly on course for Oscar nominations, though it remains to be seen how Hoffman will be categorized — this joint award underlines my perception that the mean are co-leads, but campaign strategists probably won’t see it that way,
Against all this confusion, the other winners are, sadly, being treated rather as afterthoughts. It’s delightful to see 18 year-old Israeli actress Hadas Yaron, so luminous in Rama Burshtein’s well-regarded “Fill the Void,” recognized with the Best Actress prize, and not merely the Marcello Mastroianni award for newcomers. (The downside is that the latter award went to Italian actor Fabrizio Falco, who’s quite startlingly terrible as a crazed truth-teller in Marco Bellocchio’s euthanasia-themed melodrama “Dormant Beauty,” but them’s the breaks.)
It’s also interesting to see some recognition for Seidl’s prickly parable of extreme religious faith, the second part in his “Paradise” trilogy — though I rather preferred “Paradise: Love,” which went unawarded in Cannes. I presume the concluding chapter, “Paradise: Hope,” is Berlin-bound; it’ll be interesting to see if the director can earn some hardware there.
Olivier Assayas looked like he was hoping for more than the Best Screenplay prize for “Something in the Air,” his moderately autobiographical reflection on 1970s radicalism — though its seems a reasonable enough hat-tip to an intelligently constructed film that I nevertheless don’t think is one of his finest. The technical prize, meanwhile, was handed to Italian cinematographer-turned-director Daniele Cipri, who shot his own family drama “It Was the Son.” I haven’t seen it, but by all accounts it was no visual feast — perhaps the jury merely looked upon the award as a convenient way to shoehorn in some recognition for another film they liked. Seems a mite dubious, but it’s unlikely to be their most questioned decision.
Golden Lion: “Pieta,” Kim Ki-duk
Silver Lion (Best Director): “The Master,” Paul Thomas Anderson
Special Jury Prize: “Paradise: Faith,” 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,” Olivier Assayas
Technical Achievement Award: “It Was the Son,” Daniele Cipri
Best Young Actor: Fabrizio Falco, “It Was the Son” and “Dormant Beauty”
Luigi De Laurentiis Lion of the Future: “Mold,” Ali Aydin
Orizzonti Award: “Three Sisters,” Wang Bing
Orizzonti Special Jury Prize: “Tango Libre,” Frederic Fonteyne
FIPRESCI Award (Competition): “The Master,” Paul Thomas Anderson
FIPRESCI Award (Orizzonti/Critics’ Week): “The Interval,” Leonardo Di Constanzo
SIGNIS Award: “To the Wonder,” Terrence Malick
SIGNIS Award (Special Mention): “Fill the Void,” Rama Burshtein
Audience Award (Critics’ Week): “Eat Sleep Die,” Gabriela Pilcher
Label Europa Cinemas Award: “Crawl,” Herve Lasgouttes
Leoncino d’Oro Agiscuola Award: “Pieta,” Kim Ki-duk
Leoncino d’Oro Agiscuola Award (Cinema for UNICEF mention): “It Was the Son,” Daniele Cipri
Pasinetti Award: “The Interval,” Leonardo Di Constanzo
Pasinetti Award (Documentary): “The Human Cargo,” Daniele Vicari
Pasinetti Award (Best Actor): Valerio Mastandrea, “Gli Equilibristi”
Pasinetti Award (Special): “Clarisse,” Liliana Cavani
Brian Award: “Dormant Beauty,” Marco Bellocchio
Queer Lion Award: “The Weight,” Jeon Kyu-Hwan
Arca CinemaGiovani Award (Best Film of Venezia 69): “The Fifth Season,” Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth
Arca CinemaGiovani Award (Best Italian Film): “The Ideal City,” Luigi Lo Casco
Biografilm Lancia Award: “The Human Cargo,” Daniele Vicari; “Bad 25,” Spike Lee
CICT-UNESCO Enrico Fulchignoni Award: “The Interval,” Leonardo Di Costanzo
CICAE Award: “Wadjda,” Haifaa Al Mansour
CinemaAvvenire Award (Best Film of Venezia 69): “Paradise: Faith,” Ulrich Seidl
CinemAvvenire Award (Diversity): “Wadjda,” Haifaa Al Mansour
FEDIC Award: “The Interval,” Leonardo Di Costanzo
FEDIC Award (Special Mention): “Bellas Mariposas,” Salvatore Mereu
Mimmo Rotella Foundation Award: “Something in the Air,” Olivier Assayas
Future Film Festival Digital Award: “Bad 25,” Spike Lee
Future Film Festival Digital Award (Special Mention): “Spring Breakers,” Harmony Korine
P. Nazareno Taddei Award: “Pieta,” Kim Ki-duk
P. Nazareno Taddei Award (Special Mention): “Thy Womb,” Brillante Mendoza
Magic Lantern Award: “The Interval,” Leonardo Di Costanzo
Open Award: “The Company You Keep,” Robert Redford
La Navicella-Venezia Cinema Award: “Thy Womb,” Brillante Mendoza
Lina Mangiacapre Award: “Queen of Montreuil,” Solveig Anspach
AIF-FORFILMFEST Award: “The Interval,” Leonardo Di Costanzo
Mouse d’Oro Award: “Pieta,” Kim Ki-duk
Mouse d’Argento Award: “Anton’s Right Here,” Lyubov Arkus
UK-Italy Creative Industries Award: “The Interval,” Leonardo Di Costanzo
Gillo Pontecorvo-Arcobaleno Latino Award: Laura Delli Colli
Christopher D. Smithers Foundation Award: “Low Tide,” Roberto Minervini
Interfilm Award: “Wadjda,” Haifaa Al Mansour
Giovani Giurati del Vittorio Veneto Film Festival Award: “The Company You Keep,” Robert Redford
Giovani Giurati del Vittorio Veneto Film Festival Award (Special Mention): Toni Servillo
Primio Cinematografico Award: “Terramatta,” Costanza Quatriglio
Green Drop Award: “The Fifth Season,” Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth