Venice rises to the challenge but prize rules need changing

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 October, 2012, 2:01pm

In the end, Alberto Barbera might have wished for less controversy.

The new artistic director of the Venice Film Festival - his second stint in the role - assembled a strong competition line-up that included such top-drawer names as Terrence Malick (To the Wonder), Brian De Palma (Passion) and, opening the festival, Mira Nair (The Reluctant Fundamentalist).

By the time jury head Michael Mann announced the winner of the Golden Lion, most critics had already made up their minds, believing it belonged to Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master, the 1950-set tale about a second world war veteran (Joaquin Phoenix) and the powerful leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman) of a Scientology-like movement known as "The Cause". The Master, the director's first film since 2007's Oscar-nominated There Will Be Blood, was leagues ahead of the competition.

While the jury rightly bestowed the acting honours on both Phoenix and Hoffman, a quirk in the rules meant the film could not also be awarded the Golden Lion. Instead, Anderson took the Silver Lion for best director and Kim Ki-duk's Pieta, about the redemption of a debt collector, took the top prize.

Olivier Assayas' Something in the Air, a compelling tale of student revolution in the 1970s, rightly won the Frenchman the Silver Lion for best screenplay.

These winners were streets ahead of some of their rivals, notably De Palma's latest femme fatale story, which sees the director of such '80s classics as Body Double and Dressed to Kill retread old ground. A remake of the 2010 French film Love Crime, dreams and doubles dominate as a miscast Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace play out a rather tame S&M-tinged tale.

Even Malick drew boos at a press screening of To the Wonder, which lacked the sheer bravura of his Cannes winner The Tree of Life. Set in Paris and Oklahoma, it's a love story crossed with a search for God, starring Olga Kurylenko, Ben Affleck and McAdams (again).

In an attempt to ensure the world's oldest film festival (69 editions) left its mark, Barbera added a five-day market for the first time to attract buyers to tie up deals as they would do in Cannes, Berlin and Toronto. Now all he needs to do is sort out those antiquated prize-giving rules.