From the New York Times:
Fittingly for a festival where about half the titles in the official competition had religious themes, the 69th Venice Film Festival awarded its top prize, the Golden Lion, to “Pieta,” a mother-and-son drama with a sadistic streak from the prolific Korean director Kim Ki-duk. The film sharply divided critics — as do most of Mr. Kim’s confrontational movies — but it was deemed the best of the 18 competitors by a jury led by the filmmaker Michael Mann. Other members of the jury included the actress Samantha Morton, the filmmakers Matteo Garrone and Pablo Trapero and the artist Marina Abramovic.
There was some confusion at the awards ceremony Saturday evening, at which the special jury prize and the Silver Lion for best director were apparently presented in the wrong order — and to the wrong people. A festival press release confirmed that the best director prize went to Paul Thomas Anderson for his hotly anticipated new film, “The Master.” The film’s leads, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix, shared the best actor prize. (Mr. Seymour Hoffman accepted both awards, his collaborators having already made their way to Toronto, the next stop on the festival circuit.)
“The Master” was the only American winner this year, despite a competition stacked with American names; Terrence Malick, Brian DePalma, Harmony Korine and Ramin Bahrani were all shut out. According to a report in The Hollywood Reporter, “The Master” would have won the Golden Lion but for a rule that prohibits any title from winning more than two major awards, requiring the jury to deliberate a second time.
From In Contention's London based Guy Lodge who was there:
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,
“Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.” - Voltaire