VENICE — Mike Leigh’s “Vera Drake,” the tale of a good Samaritan abortionist, was the Venice Intl. Film Festival’s big winner, scooping the Golden Lion and also the best actress nod for Imelda Staunton.
Overall, emotionally stirring dramas which tackle complex ethical took the top awards.
Alejandro Amenabar’s “The Sea Inside,” about a quadriplegic who wants to die by euthanasia, took the Jury Grand Prize and also won thesp Javier Bardem the Coppa Volpi for best actor.
“In a cynical world, it is a wonderful thing, and most reassuring, when low budget, serious committed, independent, European films are recognized,” said Leigh, after being handed the statuette from Sophia Loren.
Then — after thanking fest chief Marco Muller and jury president John Boorman — Leigh took a parting shot at the Cannes fest, to which the film had previously been submitted.
“I want to thank most sincerely the Cannes Film Festival for rejecting this film, so that it might be here this evening. Thank you, Venice!” Leigh said amid roaring applause.
This was the second time in recent memory that a film rejected for the Croisette got the lion on the Lido, the previous one being Zhang Yimou’s “The Story of Qiu Ju,” in 1992.
The Special Director’s prize went to Korean helmer Kim Ki-duk’s “3-iron,” a romance in which a nomadic serial squatter falls in love with a woman he finds in one of the houses he breaks into. Almost entirely visual pic with very little dialogue was a surprise late addition to the competish.
“Vera Drake,” which was produced by Alain Sarde and the U.K. film Council on a shoestring $8.5 million budget, will be released Stateside via Fine Line in October.
This year Fine Line will also release “The Sea Inside,” in the U.S. The two big Venice winners, and also Jonathan Glazer’s well-received Nicole Kidman starrer, “Birth,” mark the New Line specialty arm’s strongest presence ever on the Lido.
“I think this will turn out to have been be a very important Venice for us,” New Line production prexy Toby Emmerich told Daily Variety.
“Both of these movies were important acquisitions and were movies that we thought had a chance to help us re-establish and reinvigorate the Fine Line brand.”
“The direction that I’ve been given from Bob (Shaye) and Michael (Lynne) is to step up and be more aggressive and opportunistic with our acquisition team,” Emmerich added.
Fine Line reportedly plunked down more than $5 million for all English-language rights to “The Sea Inside” from Spain’s Sogepaq in July, just a few days before the Venice lineup was announced.
Somewhat like last year, Italy — which had a huge presence at the fest — was left almost empty-handed. Gianni Amelio’s father-and-son drama “The Keys to the House” was not among prize recipients, despite having been tipped by La Repubblica as the sure-fire lion winner.
This edition of Venice was plagued by late-starting screenings and wrong reel mix-ups more than in past editions but also graced by a strong and varied selection of films.
The only gala event that went without a glitch was DreamWorks and UIP’s spectacular screening Friday of “Shark Tale” on a giant inflatable screen in Venice’s historic Piazza San Marco. Preem hosted by Jeffrey Katzenberg — with voice talent Robert De Niro, Angelina Jolie and Will Smith in tow — unspooled smoothly amid supertight security.
Televised closing ceremony started out nicely with lifetime achievement winner Stanley Donen and Loren cavorting on the stage of the dazzling baroque La Fenice theater.
INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION JURY
“Vera Drake,” (Mike Leigh, UK)
GRAND JURY PRIZE
“The Sea Within,” (Alejandro Amenabar, Spain)
SPECIAL DIRECTOR’S AWARD
“3-iron,” (Kim Ki-duk, Korea)
Imelda Staunton (“Vera Drake,” UK)
Javier Bardem (“The Sea Within, Spain)
OSELLA AWARD FOR TECHNICAL CONTRIBUTION
“Howl’s Moving Castle,” (Hayao Miyazaki, Japan)
MARCELLO MASTROIANNI PRIZE FOR YOUNG PERFORMER(S)
Marco Luisi and Tommaso Ramenghi (“Radio Alice,” Italy)
LUIGI DE LAURENTIIS LION OF THE FUTURE
“Le Grand Voyage,” (Ismael Ferroukhi, France, Morocco)
LION OF THE FUTURE SPECIAL MENTION
“Saimir,” (Francesco Munzi, Italy)
VENICE HORIZONS PRIZE
“Les Petites Fils,” (Ilan Duran Cohen, France)
VENICE HORIZONS SPECIAL MENTION
“Wind From the Earth,” (Vincenzo Marra, Italy)
“20 Fingers,” (Mania Akbari, Iran)
VENICE DIGITAL SPECIAL MENTION
“Life is Short, But The Day is Superlong,” (Lucio Pellegrini, Gianni Zanasi, Italy)
FIPRESCI (INTL. CRITIC’S ASSN) COMPETITION PRIZE
“3-Iron,” (Kim Ki-duk, Korea)
FIPRESCI HORIZONS PRIZE
“Wind of the Earth,” (Vincenzo Marra, Italy)
SILVER LION FOR SHORT FILM
“Sign of Belonging,” (Kamel Cherif, Belgium, Tunisia, France)
SHORT FILMS SPECIAL MENTION
“The Carpenter and his Clumsy Wife,” (Peter Foott, Ireland)
UIP PRIZE EUROPEAN SHORT
“Goodbye,” (Steve Hudson, UK)