Gianfranco Rosi’s “Sacro GRA”, an Italian documentary about Rome’s urban highway, won the top Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival on Saturday night. The jury also handed prizes to “Miss Violence” (Greece) and “Stray Dogs” (Taiwan).
The 70th Venice Film Festival came to a surprising end Saturday night, with a jury headed by filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci handing the top Golden Lion prize to “Sacro GRA”, an Italian documentary from Gianfranco Rosi.
The film, about the most extensive urban highway in Italy (Rome’s Grande Raccordo Anulare), was enthusiastically received by Italian critics and viewers, but generated only moderate interest among the rest of the press.
Meanwhile, the Silver Lion for Best Director was awarded to Alexandros Avranas for his nightmarish family dysfunction drama, “Miss Violence”.
The film’s male lead, Themis Panou, took home Best Actor, making “Miss Violence” the only movie to win two prizes.
An odd set of prizes
The third-place Grand Jury Prize went to Tsai Ming-liang’s “Stray Dogs”, a bleak, 138-minute portrait of a poverty-stricken family in Taipei that had some passionate defenders, but tested the patience of many critics with its abundance of static long takes. In one indelible 11-minute shot that became the talk of the festival, a man smothers, snuggles and then devours a cabbage as he stifles sobs.
Meanwhile, Best Actress went to Italian stage star Elena Cotta for her performance as an elderly widow in Emma Dante’s dark comedy “Via Castellana Bandiera” (“A Street in Palermo”).
Judi Dench of “Philomena”, a crowd-pleasing weepie from Stephen Frears, had widely been considered a favourite for the Best Actress award, but the film instead snagged the Best Screenplay prize (for Jeff Pope and the film’s co-star, Steve Coogan).
Sixteen-year-old American Tye Sheridan was the deserving winner of the Best Young Actor statuette for his tough, touching performance as a southern teen with a hellish home life in David Gordon Green’s uneven “Joe”.
Perhaps the jury’s most perplexing choice was its “Special Prize” for Philip Groning’s tedious and maddeningly mannered three-hour domestic violence drama “The Police Officer’s Wife”.
Overall, it was an odd set of awards that baffled critics, many of whom had placed their bets on warmly received films like Xavier Dolan’s homoerotic Hitchcockian thriller “Tom at the Farm”, Kelly Reichardt’s prickly and resonant “Night Moves”, about radical environmentalists in Oregon, or Hayao Miyazaki’s animated “The Wind Rises”.
Jonathan Glazer’s “Under the Skin”, a sci-fi mood piece starring Scarlett Johansson as an alien seductress, also had its fervent champions, but went home empty-handed.
Festival director slams US film industry
The largely unexpected group of prizes were emblematic of an adventurous, erratic edition of the festival, which failed to produce an overwhelming critical favourite like Abdellatif Kechiche’s Cannes winner “Blue is the Warmest Colour”.
At a July press conference announcing the selection, the festival’s director, Alberto Barbera, had boasted of the prevalence of strong American and British films in competition.
But those movies were largely absent from the awards roster Sunday night.
Moreover, in an interview with French daily newspaper Le Monde published on Friday, Barbera slammed US producers and distributors for keeping some of their biggest and best films away from the festival.
“It’s become a nightmare with the Americans,” he said, referring to the fact that many Hollywood studios choose to premiere their most prestigious productions at Telluride or Toronto, rather than Venice (the three festivals all take place during roughly the same period).
“The only thing that interests American producers and distributors is the US domestic market,” he noted.
Barbera proceeded to single out the US producers of British director Steve McQueen’s upcoming historical drama “Twelve Years a Slave”, who allegedly told him that the film would only come to Venice if the Italian distributor paid for 50 people to accompany McQueen.
The movie ended up staying closer to home, premiering to rapturous reviews at both Telluride and Toronto.
Indeed, if the two North American festivals lack the old-school glamour and prestige of Venice, they have undoubtedly become the most attended and thoroughly programmed forums for Oscar hopefuls like McQueen’s film and many others.
The fact that the Venice Film Festival has not become a circus for Academy Awards buzz, but has retained its lush, laid-back, truly international vibe and – much like the city that hosts it – its feel of decaying grandeur, is unquestionably part of its charm.
But with few of Saturday night’s prize winners likely to make a splash internationally, expect next year’s Venice edition to feature bigger-name auteurs in a bid to protect the festival’s place as one of cinema’s indispensable yearly events.