After the Venice Film Festival awarded the Golden Lion to “Somewhere” on Sept. 11, the Italian media served up its usual coda of Venice vitriol, claiming that jury prez Quentin Tarantino strong-armed his colleagues into voting for the film of pal Sofia Coppola.

Venice artistic director Marco Mueller tells Variety, “Quentin has a very strong personality, but so do all the other jury members. I’m sure that nobody would think that Arnaud Desplechin, a filmmaker with a distinctive style and a vision of his own, could be brainwashed; and the same goes for all the others on the jury panel.

“I think it would be an insult to them to trivialize everything, and say that the jury simply expresses Quentin’s wishes.”

Mueller says the Italian press loves taking shots at Venice no matter what. It’s like a national sport, and this underscores a larger national media malaise.

He says he knows for a fact that one of the star reporter-reviewers for La Repubblica “simply did not attend many of the screenings and was asking around what the buzz about the films was. She was basing her articles on hearsay.” And a critic for Corriere della Sera “walked out after half an hour of Vincent Gallo’s ‘Promises Written in Water’ but still wrote the review,” Mueller maintains.

“I’ve been living with this for many years; but there is something fundamentally wrong. Criticism can be very healthy, but this kind of criticism is not,” he charges.

The negative post-mortems came after a fest that was widely considered a stronger artistic and sellable lineup than Cannes. “If ever there was a positive year, in terms of how Venice was perceived by the international media, it is this one,” Mueller says.

“I think we confirmed our position as the platform that puts films on the path to a wider recognition, and what has been happening in Toronto to our English-language films (which segued there) stands as clear proof.”

Indeed, while Toronto’s unofficial marketplace gives it greater weight in the minds of many indie film mavens — follow the money! — the fact is that many titles that screened in Venice sealed deals at Toronto.

Some Italo papers asked if Tarantino bent the rules, allowing Alex de la Iglesia’s “The Last Circus” and Jerzy Skolimowsky’s “Essential Killing” to get multiple prizes — unthinkable in past years, when prize-giving rules restricted how kudos can be combined.

That issue was addressed by the jury, as a whole, at the beginning of the fest, according to Mueller. “They said: ‘Look, we don’t think it’s a wise idea to force us not to combine the best director or special jury award with best actor, or screenplay. We want that kind of freedom,’?” Mueller recounts.

So Biennale president Paolo Baratta summoned the board and “changed (the rules), once and for all.”

Mueller says his only regret “is that every vote was a unanimous one, because I think we had a very strong Italian selection this year, and at least two films could have been considered for a major award.”

Even with four films in competition, Italy emerged empty-handed once again, even with two Italians on the jury, helmers Gabriele Salvatores and Luca Guadagnino.

Italy has not scooped a Golden Lion since 1998, when a jury headed by Ettore Scola gave it to Gianni Amelio’s “Cosi ridevano,” which thereafter plunged rapidly into oblivion.

But Mueller takes some consolation in the fact that this year, just on the basis of the Venice screenings, Saverio Costanzo’s sentimental thriller “The Solitude of Prime Numbers” was sold immediately to five territories.

Mueller does acknowledge that the Lido’s “fragile infrastructure” is a major sore spot that the festival has to put up with, but not for much longer, hopefully, with completion expected in 2012 on the new Palazzo del Cinema as part of a more general move toward revamping the whole Lido.