‘Hana-bi’ gets gold at Venice

VENICE — In a rare case of a jury verdict wholeheartedly endorsed by the critical cognoscenti, Japanese actor-director Takeshi Kitano’s lyrical drama about a remorseful ex-cop, “Hana-bi,” was awarded the Golden Lion at the 54th Venice Intl. Film Festival, which wrapped Saturday.

The film, which also will screen at the Toronto and New York fests, led the critics’ polls here by a wide margin and was generally considered the most outstanding work of the 18-title competition by a wide margin.

“I’ve been overwhelmed by people’s response to the film here on this island,” said a visibly moved Kitano on the Lido soon after the win was announced. “I’m amazed and surprised. It’s a film full of traditional Japanese elements, that often even the Japanese don’t fully appreciate. I certainly never expected it to be accepted like this by Western audiences.”

While Kitano has been a cult favorite on the festival circuit for several years with films like “Sonatine,” “A Scene at the Sea” and “Kids Return,” the Golden Lion stands to bring the director wider recognition. An enormously popular TV star and comedian in Japan, Kitano’s films have only recently begun to receive serious critical attention at home.

“In Japan, Venice is considered one of the most important festivals in the world; just the honor of being chosen to compete here is a great thing for the film,” added Kitano. “Receiving this award will create a great deal of interest in the film at home, since the Japanese are very sensitive to how our films are received in foreign countries.”

‘Ovosodo’ wins special award

The other main award, the Special Grand Jury Prize, went to Italian director Paolo Virzi’s “Ovosodo,” a finely observed comedy about growing up in a working-class quarter of Livorno that has been a huge hit with audiences here.

Acting honors went to the leads from two U.S. entries competing. These were Wesley Snipes as a married man who reassesses his life after an adulterous encounter in Mike Figgis’ “One Night Stand,” and Robin Tunney, who plays a woman suffering from Tourette Syndrome in “Niagara Niagara,” by Bob Gosse. Tunney’s tearful acceptance of the award was the sole emotional moment of an otherwise lackluster ceremony.

Campion heads jury

The international jury headed by director Jane Campion awarded Golden Osella trophies to Gilles Taurand and Anne Fontaine for their screenplay of French entry “Nettoyage a Sec,” directed by Fontaine; to cinematographer Emmanuel Machuel for his work on “Ossos,” by Portuguese director Pedro Costa; and to composer Graeme Revell’s score for Wayne Wang’s “Chinese Box.” The Italian Senate’s Gold Medal for civil progress and solidarity went to Russian entry “The Thief,” by Pavel Cuchraj.

Other jury members were screenwriter Ron Bass, producer-director Vera Belmont, film critic Peter Buchka, actress Charlotte Rampling and directors Nana Djordjadze, Idrissa Ouedraogo, Francesco Rosi and Shinya Tsukamoto.

The substantial critical support faction on the Lido for Zhang Yimou’s “Keep Cool” expressed disappointment that the Chinese director’s departure from period dramas into contemporary comedy failed to find a place in the winners’ circle.

Unofficial prizes

Among unofficial prizes, the Fipresci (international critics) award went to Polish actor-director Jerzy Stuhr’s “Love Story” as the best film in competition, and Brit filmmaker Shane Meadows’ “TwentyFourSeven” out of competition, with a special mention to Harmony Korine’s “Gummo.” Meadows’ film, which was picked up for U.S. distribution during Venice by October Films, also won the newly established Les Pierrot Prize, created under the auspices of the European Union by film critics orgs in various member countries.

First-time director Roberta Torre’s comic Mafia musical “Tano da morire” won both the Venezia Kodak prize, consisting of 20,000 meters of film stock, and the Luigi De Laurentiis award worth $100,000.

The short film competition jury, made up of directors Marco Bellocchio, Olivier Assayas and Clare Peploe, awarded the Silver Lion to Joseph Gaye Ramaka’s “Ainsi soit-il” (Senegal), and a special mention to Joao Pedro Rodrigues’ “Parabens” (Portugal).

Kidman cancels

Nicole Kidman, who was due in to accept the Golden Lion career award on behalf of director Stanley Kubrick, was forced to cancel, being unable to get from the funeral of Princess Diana to the airport in time to make Venice for the prize ceremony. Accepting the award instead, Campion said: “I’ve spent my entire film career inspired by this great filmmaker and intimidated by his genius.”

Prior to a tribute screening of Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange,” actor Malcolm McDowell gave a live performance, including readings from the Anthony Burgess novel on which the film is based, and recollections of the shoot.