Italy’s movie and political worlds made for an explosive mix as the 66th Venice Film Festival kicked off Wednesday with Giuseppe Tornatore’s ambitious Sicilian epic “Baaria.”
“Baaria,” the first Italian movie to open Venice in two decades, dominated the Lido’s opening day and triggered a typically Italian brouhaha after drawing praise from Italo Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi — also the big-budget pic’s main financier.
Tornatore, a known leftist, was asked by the Italo press what he thought about the conservative premier’s declaration that “Baaria” is a “masterpiece that all Italians should see.”
“I thank him for his compliments, which are particularly appreciated because they come from someone who has different political ideas from my own,” Tornatore said.
However, the helmer added that his work should not be boiled down to the single “Baaria” scene that reportedly had Berlusconi raving: one in which a young Sicilian militant communist returns heavily disillusioned from a trip to the 1950s-era Soviet Union.
“Reducing my movie to that is wrong; it’s a lie,” Tornatore complained to Italian journos.
The 2½-hour film spans three generations in Tornatore’s native Bagheria, a suburb of Palermo that provides a prism through which Italian — and world — history is depicted.
“Baaria” broke in the fest’s new red carpet, where Eva Mendes, Harvey Weinstein, jury prexy Ang Lee, fellow juror Sandrine Bonnaire and the evening’s hostess, Maria Grazia Cucinotta, got the paparazzi started prior to the slew of stars expected over the next 10 days.
During the ceremony, two-time Golden Lion winner Lee noted that one cannot do justice to the entries in a movie competition because “each film has its own merits, and it’s impossible to compare.”
But because competitions are necessary to help movies find auds, Lee said the best way to approach the task is “as the hippies used to say, just go with the flow.”
Also strutting down the Lido catwalk was Mediaset VP and Berlusconi’s son Piersilvio and Italo culture minister Sandro Bondi, who prompted vocal protests against arts funding cuts being made by the Berlusconi government.
Earlier in the day, anti-Berlusconi protesters had a mild skirmish with police in front of the Lido’s Hotel Des Bains after they tried to force their way through a security cordon.
Tornatore’s “Baaria” is produced by top Italo film outfit Medusa, a sister company of Berlusconi’s Mediaset TV empire.
Budgeted at e25 million ($35 million), the ensemble epic stars 200 actors, features more than 1,000 extras and was shot for 25 weeks in Sicilian and Tunisian locations. The venerable Ennio Morricone composed the score.
Pic, which Summit Entertainment is selling internationally, posed a linguistic challenge since it was shot in the specific Sicilian dialect of Bagheria. The Sicilian version is the one that will go out internationally with subtitles.
There is also an “Italianized” version that will be released in most of Italy, except for parts of Sicily and a few “original language” copies in selected Italian cities.
Both versions screened in Venice.
“Baaria” will be released by Medusa on Sept. 25 in 450-500 copies, with the filmmakers hoping it will become Italy’s contender in Oscar’s foreign-language category.
The opening-night ceremony and “Baaria” gala screening segued into a Sicilian seafood dinner for 1,200 thrown by Medusa and the Biennale on the Excelsior beach.