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‘Lust,’ ‘Atonement’ heat up Venice

Sex-themed films create steamy day two slate

Ang Lee’s erotic espionage pic “Lust, Caution” thrilled Venice auds and raised more than just eyebrows on Thursday, while a bevy of U.K. films also explored sex and passion, but with a typically British stiff upper lip.

Following Wednesday’s classy bow of “Atonement,” the strong Blighty presence here continued with the Jude Law-Michael Caine starrer “Sleuth” and helmer Asif Kapadia’s “Far North.” All three pics address sexual themes with varying degrees of steaminess.

Focus Features co-chair James Schamus shrugged off the MPAA’s NC-17 classification when speaking at the press confab for “Lust, Caution.” “We are going to fight the good fight. We are comfortable with the rating. The film is for adults, not for kids,” Schamus said.

In a sign of the Lion buzz that the pic is already generating, attending journos gave a standing ovation to Lee, winner of the Golden Lion for “Brokeback Mountain” in 2005.

The helmer was less than decisive when quizzed on the film’s official nationality. The Taiwan government had lodged a complaint with Venice fest organizers over the lumping together of Taiwan and China in the film’s official fest credits. “I don’t really have that much to say. They seem to be changing it from one to the other. Once you find out, please let me know,” Lee said.

The director was on more comfortable ground when queried about the pic’s sexual content. One Croatian journo got in the swing of things by asking if Lee’s cast were doing it for real. “Have you seen the film?” quipped Lee.

Brit pics at the fest have also sported their share of sexuality, although the protags’ clothes largely remain on.

The press confab for “Sleuth” was a bawdy all-boys affair, as co-stars Caine and Law joshed with helmer Kenneth Branagh. “It was a privilege for both of us. He should be proud to work with me because I was proud to work with him,” quipped Caine.

Pic, which revamps the Anthony Shaffer play and 1972 film version with Caine and Laurence Olivier, features a much darker screenplay, courtesy of Harold Pinter. Branagh and Pinter emphasize the sexual games being played by the two men and the woman they share, but sexually the film is markedly more restrained than Lee’s. “It doesn’t necessarily make it less sexual,” Branagh told Daily Variety. “I remember reading the script and telling my wife I thought it was a really dirty movie in a tension-filled way. It’s an interesting way to look at sexual tension.”

A raft of U.K. pics are set to hit the Lido in the coming days, with Ken Loach’s “It’s a Free World,” Penny Woolcock’s “Exodus” and Peter Greenaway’s “Nightwatching” all set to unspool.

“I think it’s a very exciting time to be in Britain making films,” said “Atonement” helmer Joe Wright. “I remember looking ’round me in the 1990s, and all that seemed to be getting made was films about gangsters and/or drugs. I think people are far more interested now in branching out those discussions and looking at other arenas.”

Other U.K. film execs put the confluence of Blighty talent down to luck and timing. Varying sizes of the various pic budgets also make any overarching thematic or aesthetic unity difficult to gauge.

“Atonement,” for example, features studio backing through Universal. But while helmer Ken Loach’s “It’s a Free World” is also vying for the Golden Lion, it is receiving a straight-to-TV release in the U.K. on Channel 4 after the hybrid broadcaster kicked in £1 million ($2 million) of the $5.4 million budget.

“A large part of the British film industry is like a subdivision of American filmmaking, anyway,” Loach said. “I think labeling films into nationalities is misleading.”

Just ask Ang Lee.

Fest runs through Sept. 8.

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