Ang Lee’s slow-burning erotic espionage drama “Lust, Caution” was the surprise Golden Lion winner at the 64th Venice Film Festival, where the Chinese-language period piece split critics.
Brad Pitt nabbed actor honors for his role as the iconic outlaw in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.” Jury prexy Zhang Yimou praised Pitt’s perf as an important departure from his customary Hollywood roles.
Cate Blanchett took actress for her highly publicized role as one of six Bob Dylan impersonators in Todd Haynes’ experimental biopic “I’m Not There.”
Neither Blanchett nor Pitt were on hand to receive their awards, with such absenteeism a rather common occurrence in Venice. “I’m Not There” co-star Heath Ledger accepted the nod for Blanchett, while Warner Bros. marketing prexy Sue Kroll took the prize for Pitt, who was busy tubthumping “Jesse James” in Toronto.
Brian De Palma took the Silver Lion for “Redacted,” a hard-hitting fictional docu inspired by the true rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl by drunken U.S. soldiers.
Paul Haggis’ similarly themed “In the Valley of Elah” went away empty-handed.
“Hopefully, if this picture gets seen, people will be back out on the streets (protesting the war) like they were in the ’60s,” said De Palma at the post-awards press conference.
“I’m Not There” tied for the special jury prize with Gallic entry “The Secret of the Grain,” a naturalistic depiction of Maghrebi emigre life in France by Tunisian-born helmer Abdellatif Kechiche. “Secret” had been the frontrunner in fest critic polls.
Both pics were given the jury nod after an emergency Biennale board meeting was called to modify the rules to make that possible.
“That was the only way out: (The jurors) were fighting like cats and dogs over these two films,” Venice artistic director Marco Mueller told Daily Variety.
Rules were also circumvented to additionally — and ecumenically — bestow thesping nods on these two titles.
Lee dedicated his prize to the late Ingmar Bergman, whom he visited while preparing “Lust.”
Lee scored the Lido Lion just two years ago with “Brokeback Mountain.”
“I had just gotten one; so I didn’t expect it, out of common sense,” said Lee, accepting the statuette. “This is a wilder, more tender Lion: one that frightens me, like the movie I have made,” he continued.
“Lust” also scored a nod for cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto.
Set in 1940s Japanese-held Shanghai, the tale of a young Chinese resistance spy who becomes sexually and emotionally entangled with the man she is supposed to kill reps an uphill marketing challenge for Focus Features.
U.S.-China co-production, which has an NC-17 rating due to steamy sexual acrobatics in the final reel, will bow Stateside on Sept. 28 in limited release.
In other awards, the Marcello Mastroianni acting prize for emerging young performer went to first-timer Hafsia Herzi for his powerful perf as outspoken teen Latifa in “The Secret of the Grain.”
The Venice screenplay nod went to longtime Ken Loach collaborator Paul Laverty for Loach’s indictment of immigrant labor exploitation in “It’s a Free World,” a definite fest fave.
The main jury also bestowed a Special Lion for overall body of work to Nikita Mikhalkov, whose Chechnya-set courtroom drama “12” unspooled late in the fest, making a big splash. Pic is based on Sidney Lumet’s classic “12 Angry Men.”
The Horizons jury, headed by Gregg Araki, chose Estonian entry “Autumn Ball,” a humorous depiction of alienation in those parts by first-timer Veiki Ounpuu.
The Horizons documentary nod went to China’s Jia Zhangke for “Useless,” an anticonsumerist depiction of the fashion and garment industries in his country. Zhangke, an arthouse darling, won last year’s Golden Lion with “Still Life.”
A jury headed by Bill Mechanic presented the $100,000 Lion of the Future prize to “La Zona,” Mexican first-timer Rodrigo Pla’s account of vigilante justice in a gated community amid the Mexico City slums.
The Europa Cinemas Venice Days Award — which provides distribution incentives in the European Union — went to young Polish helmer Andrzej Jakimowski’s “Tricks,” about a boy trying to trick fate.
“The Most Distant Course,” by Taiwan’s Lin Jingjie, in which the lives of three lost souls intersect in Taipei, won the Critics Week prize.
Short film nod went to U.K. actor Paddy Considine for his 16-minute “Dog Altogether,” starring Peter Mullan.
Breezy closing ceremony also saw Bernardo Bertolucci onstage to receive a special honorary Lion, handed to him by Jonathan Demme and Abbas Kiarostami.
Despite some clunkers and a lack of fully satisfying competition entries, Venice had lots of above-par pics, making for one of its strongest recent editions. This should boost prospects for Mueller, whose mandate is about to expire, to stay on as artistic director.
And the winners are…
“Lust, Caution,” Ang Lee (Hong Kong-U.S.-China)
“Redacted,” Brian De Palma (U.S.)
SPECIAL JURY PRIZE (tie)
“The Secret of the Grain,” Abdellatif Kechiche (France)
“I’m Not There,” Todd Haynes (U.S.)
Brad Pitt, “The Assasination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” (U.S.)
Cate Blanchett, “I’m Not There” (U.S.)
MARCELLO MASTROIANNI PRIZE FOR YOUNG PERFORMER
Hafsia Herzi “The Secret of the Grain,” (France)
Paul Laverty, “It’s a Free World” (U.K.-Italy-Germany-Spain)
Rodrigo Prieto “Lust, Caution” (Hong-Kong-U.S.-China)
LUIGI DE LAURENTIIS LION OF THE FUTURE
“La Zona,” Rodrigo Pla (Spain/Mexico)
“Autumn Ball,” Veiko Ounpuu (Estonia)
VENICE HORIZONS DOCUMENTARY
“Useless,” Jia Zhangke (U.S.)
VENICE HORIZONS SPECIAL MENTION
“Death In The Land of Encantos,” Lav Diaz (Philippines)
LABEL EUROPA CINEMAS — VENICE DAYS 2007 PRIZE
“Tricks,” Andrzej Jakimowski (Poland)
CRITICS WEEK PRIZE
“The Most Distant Course,” Lin Jingjie (Taiwan)
“Dog Altogether” Paddy Considine (U.K.)
SHORT SPECIAL MENTION
“Stone People,” Leonid Rybakov (Russia)
UIP PRIZE FOR EUROPEAN SHORT
“Alumbriamento,” Eduardo Chapero-Jackson (Spain)
FIPRESCI (INTL. CRITICS ASSN) COMPETITION PRIZE
“The Secret of the Grain,” Abdellatif Kechiche (France)
FIPRESCI HORIZONS AND CRITICS WEEK PRIZE
“Man From Plains,” Jonathan Demme (U.S.