Two years ago Quentin Tarantino’s Venice jury gave his ex-girlfriend Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere the top prize Golden Lion. An uproar followed and the film did not figure in that year’s awards season. This year’s Lido scandal turns around Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, a picture that rocked, and then haunted, Venice last Saturday and which was widely expected to take home the top prize tonight. But a funny thing happened on the way to the Sala Grande: Kim Ki-duk’s highly-regarded Pieta won the Golden Lion as word spread that the film was not the jury’s first choice. “The jury basically came to a consensus that the Golden Lion was going to The Master,” I’m told. At the same time, the panel was also fixated on the best actor prize being split between that film’s stars, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix. But the rules threw a wrench into the overall plans. Speaking to the press after the awards, jury chairman Michael Mann reportedly said ultimately the best way to give The Master “its fullest recognition,” was to give it the directing prize and the double acting prize. It also ended up effectively giving the film an unprecedented 3 awards.
Anderson, who told a Toronto press conference he was “thrilled with whatever they want to hand over,” was awarded the best directing Silver Lion and the actors got the Volpi Cup, but the festival leans away from giving any one film too much weight. While “exceptions can be made” in giving joint prizes in the acting categories, the regs read: “Individual films may only receive one of the (major) awards.” However, the rules add that in “exceptional cases and after consultation with the festival director,” the jury can give acting awards to those featured in films which are also winners of the Silver Lion, the jury prize or the tech or screenplay awards. While The Master did take the Silver Lion (amid some confusion at the podium), given that I’m told the jury headed by Mann was adamant about the acting awards for Hoffman and Phoenix, they could not bestow the Golden Lion on The Master, according to fest rules.
The fact that Hoffman was present should not go unnoticed. Often in these festivals, the teams behind contending films will be notified that they should be on hand for the awards. I can remember that a schoolbus full of children representing Laurent Cantet’s The Class was called back to Cannes in 2008 just after they’d left the Croisette. They weren’t told why, just that they might want to be present at the awards ceremony. That film went on to win the Palme d’Or.
In comparison, Cannes’ rules also stipulate that “No film can receive more than one award. However, the award for the Best Screenplay and the Jury Prize can be combined with a Best Performance award, on special dispensation of the Festival’s President.” In a departure, Gus Van Sant won both the best director and Palme d’Or prizes for Elephant in 2003.
This is an unfortunate way to wrap up Venice for returning director Alberto Barbera. Many in the festival community have heralded his return with such ‘competing’ festival directors as Berlin’s Dieter Kosslick and Cannes’ Thierry Fremaux coming to Venice to show their support in the past week. Although The Master had been screened in sneaks across the U.S. ahead of its Venice bow, scoring the first world stage for a film that is likely to figure heavily in awards season was a coup. Venice juries have been prescient in recent years with awards for such Oscar contenders (and winners) as Michael Fassbender, Helen Mirren, Colin Firth, Brokeback Mountain, The Wrestler, Black Swan and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Whatever becomes of The Master in the months to come, Venice may now be best remembered as the festival that had the chance to crown it, and didn’t.
(Photo by Getty Images of Philip Seymour Hoffman, juror Marina Abramovic, jury chairman Michael Mann and Special Jury Prize winner director Ulrich Seidl during the awards mixup onstage)