South Korean film wins top honor at Venice; Paul Thomas Anderson earns kudo for best director

South Korean helmer Kim Ki-duk’s twisted thriller “Pieta,” about a mean loan shark who softens up after meeting a woman who claims to be his mother, is the winner of the 69th Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion.

Ki-duk thanked the jury, headed by Michael Mann, by singing a Korean song.

But while “Pieta,” considered a return to top form by the Asian arthouse darling, took Venice’s top nod, Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” came away with the most prizes, sparking some controversy over this year’s prizegiving method.

“The Master,” Anderson’s powerful drama about the tender male bond between a character based on Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, and a wild, alcoholic, free-spirited follower (Joaquin Phoenix), took both the Silver Lion for Best Director and best male acting nods, ex-aequo, for both Hoffman and Phoenix.

The fact that “The Master” scored multiple prizes, suggests it was the subject of complex negotiations among jurors, as Mann indirectly confirmed.

During the closing ceremony Mann first praised Ki-duk’s “Pieta,” saying it stood out in particular because it “seduced you viscerally.”

He then said the jury tried to “cast the right picture to the right award,” without considering the prizes a strict hierarchy.

Mann further elaborated at the post-awards presser noting that Venice fest rules do not allow a pic to win the Golden Lion and also score acting prizes.

“So we decided that a good way to give ‘The Master’ its fullest recognition was, according to a non-hierarchical principle, to give it the prize for best director and also for the actors,” Mann said.

Hoffmann, looking scruffy, after stepping out of a plane from Toronto and “changing in the bathroom,” paid tribute to Phoenix.

“Joaquin Phoenix is a life force in the film and I kind of rode it in the film, and that was my performance,” he said.

Receiving the award for Anderson, Hoffmann praised the helmer as “one of the great filmmakers in the world. I think he’s the best.”

Austrian director Ulrich Seidel scooped the Special Jury nod for his provocative black comedy “Paradise: Faith,” about an aged femme missionary who self-flagellates in front of a crucifix.

The best actress nod went to Israel’s Hadas Yaron for “Fill The Void” by Rama Bursthein, a fest standout in which Yaron plays a young woman in an Orthodox Hasidic Jewish community whose marriage runs into tragic complications prompting a difficult dilemma.

Gallic helmer Olivier Assayas took the best screenplay nod for “Something in the Air,” an early 1970’s-set coming-of-age pic which drew plenty of praise and had been expected to land one of the main three nods.

The Marcello Mastroianni prize for best emerging thesp went to young Italo actor Fabrizio Falco for his roles in both Marco Bellocchio’s “Dormant Beauty” and Daniele Cipri’s “It Was The Son.”

“It Was The Son,” a Mafia tragicomedy, also took a prize for best cinematography. Italo pics went otherwise empty-handed, prompting customary post-Venice polemics.

The Lion of the Future for best first work went to Turkish helmer Ali Aydin’s drama “Mold,” a Critics’ Week entry about a man on a mission,18 years after the fact, to discover the truth about his son’s death in police custody. Nanni Moretti’s Sacher Film will release “Mold” in Italy.

Chinese helmer Wang Bing took the top prize in the fest’s Horizons section for more cutting-edge works with docu “Three Sisters” about extreme poverty in a remote Yunnan village.

Despite some embarassing confusion during the closing ceremony and some probable polemics over this year’s prizes, Venice’s 69th edition wrapped on a positive note with praise for artistic director Alberto Barbera, back at the helm after over a decade.

Barbera’s slimmed-down lineup went over quite well with critics, the new Venice Film Market he launched was a success, and there were no major organizational glitches.

Overall attendance was down due to the economic crisis, with less hotel rooms booked, but the market brought more industry folks this year and international press presence was on a par with the past.

WINNERS OF THE 69TH VENICE FILM FESTIVAL OFFICIAL AWARDS

INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION JURY

GOLDEN LION

“Pieta” (Kim ki-Duk, South Korea)

SILVER LION

“The Master” (Paul Thomas Anderson, U.S.)

SPECIAL JURY PRIZE

“Paradise: Faith” (Ulrich Seidl, Austria, Germany, France)

ACTOR(S)

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix (“The Master”)

ACTRESS

Hadas Yaron (“Fill The Void,” Israel)

MARCELLO MASTROIANNI PRIZE FOR YOUNG PERFORMER–

Fabrizio Falco (“Dorman Beauty” and “It Was The Son,” Italy)

BEST SCREENPLAY

Olivier Assayas (“Something in the Air”, France)

TECHNICAL CONTRIBUTION — Best Cinematography Daniele Cipri for (“It Was The Son,” Daniele Cipri, Italy)

LUIGI DE LAURENTIIS LION OF THE FUTURE

“Mold” (Ali Aydin, Turkey)

HORIZONS JURY

BEST FILM

“Three Sisters” (Wang Bing, France, Hong Kong)

SPECIAL JURY PRIZE

“Tango Libre” (Frederic Fonteyne, France, Belgium, Luxembourg)

HORIZONS YOUTUBE PRIZE FOR BEST SHORT

“Cho-De” (Yoo Min-young, South Korea)

EUROPEAN FILM AWARDS 2012 EFA

“Titloi Telous” (Yorgos Zois, Greece)

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