"Poetic" Italian documentary takes top honour at Venice filmfest

By Michael Roddy

VENICE (Reuters) - The Italian film "Sacro GRA" about people living along the ring road around Rome was chosen as the first documentary ever to win the Golden Lion for best film on Saturday at the 70th Venice Film Festival.

It also was the first Italian production in 15 years to win the top prize at the world's oldest film festival.

"I didn't know that it has been 15 years before an Italian won in Venice this award," director Gianfranco Rosi told Reuters as he left a news conference after the awards ceremony presided over by jury president and veteran Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci.

"The last one was won by (director Gianni) Amelio and the previous one by Bertolucci so for me it's an incredible honour. And tonight I saw the maestro and he was extremely moved when he gave me the award and this makes this even more important."

"Sacro GRA", whose name is a pun on the ring road's name which evokes the Italian for Holy Grail - delves into the lives of a dozen characters.

They include a weevil-fighting tree scientist, ambulance drivers, an eel fisherman and an intellectual down on his luck and living in a tiny one-room flat with his studious daughter.

"There is also drama in my film," Rosi said. "Reality becomes drama, makes drama from the ordinary. So there is drama. There is a narrative structure. I thought about cinema when I made this film."

Despite great differences this year among critics and audiences about the 20 films in competition, Bertolucci said he did not recall any juror opposing the award to "Sacro GRA".

"I think that all the jury felt the poetic force of Rosi's film and that's all there is to be said," Bertolucci said.

Some of the films that went away empty-handed included Jonathan Glazer's "Under the Skin" with Scarlett Johansson as an alien in human form, the JFK assassination movie "Parkland" and the James Franco necrophilia film "Child of God".

Rosi's film was one of an unprecedented two documentaries in competition at Venice. The other was American director Errol Morris's "The Unknown Known" about Donald Rumsfeld, U.S. defense secretary during the Iraq war, which also won no prizes.

The Morris film failed to impress critics, the jury and festivalgoers alike for what was seen as its failure to ask challenging questions of the man whose response to questions about the looting of Baghdad after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 was: "Stuff happens".

Jay Weissberg, the Rome-based film critic for trade publication Variety, said Morris, who won an Oscar for his 2003 documentary about Vietnam-era U.S. defense secretary Robert S. McNamara, hadn't deserved to win.

"This is very much a disappointing film and the music so much overwhelms that it winds up being annoying rather than being engaged," he said.

"BOLD MOVE"

He said the award to "Sacro GRA" was "a bold move by the jury to give a prize for a documentary and I think that it's indicative of the rise of documentaries in the last few years".

The Silver Lion for best director among the 20 entries in the main competition went to Greece's Alexandros Avranas for "Miss Violence", about a family where the father pimps out his children and grandchildren.

The cup for best actor was awarded to Themis Panou for his performance as the abusive father in "Miss Violence" while the best actress award went to Elena Cotta of Italy for her role in director Emma Dante's "Via Castellana Bandiera", about a stand-off between women drivers in Palermo, Sicily.

"Philomena", the Judi Dench and Steve Coogan two-hander about an elderly Irishwoman searching for the son that nuns had forced her to give up for adoption, was a festival favourite but won only a best screenplay for Coogan and co-writer Jeff Pope.

Tye Sheridan, the American actor who plays a young boy from a violent background in the southern U.S. film "Joe" starring Nicolas Cage, said after winning an award for best new actor that his idol was James Dean.

Festival director Alberto Barbera had said the line-up of films in the competition emphasised a dark and violent reality, stemming in part from the global economic crisis.

"Sacro GRA" includes shots of sex workers along the ring road, but other films at Venice focused on themes such as incest, family violence, child prostitution and even necrophilia in the Franco movie adapted from a Cormac McCarthy novella.

Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-liang, a former Golden Lion winner, landed a Grand Jury Prize for his film "Stray Dogs" about a man and his two children living on the fringes of society in the Taiwanese capital.

Toronto, whose film festival overlaps Venice, screens more than 350 films, while Venice had 20 in competition for the Golden Lion and some 40 more in other festival tracks.

"I think that Toronto casts a very wide net and Venice has no interest and no space to compete with that," said Eric J. Lyman, correspondent in Italy for trade publication The Hollywood Reporter.

But he said the Venice award can give a boost even to big-budget productions, like Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron's space disaster drama "Gravity" starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock which kicked off the festival last week with a bang.

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Matches

MORE TOP STORIES TODAY

T20 test for Che Pujara

T20 test for Che Pujara

The class act from Saurashtra may have to rethink his approach to the manner-less format. More »

Punjab pull off another big chase

Punjab pull off another big chase

GAME 7, SHARJAH—Maxwell, Miller, Pujara chase down Rajasthan's 192. More »

Shastri in proposed IPL probe panel

Shastri in proposed IPL probe panel

Some members stressed on the need for proposing names with an "impeccable record and clean image". More »

[INTERVIEW] Lankan veterans grateful for 'unwavering' fans

[INTERVIEW] Lankan veterans grateful for 'unwavering' fans

Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara go over their World T20 win, and feel grateful to have fans whose support remains unwavering in victory and de… More »

Kemar Roach escapes car crash

Kemar Roach escapes car crash

The West Indies fast bowler lost control of his BMW sedan due to slippery road conditions in his native Barbados on Saturday. More »

Cook relieved after period in limbo

Cook relieved after period in limbo

The England captain is looking forward to a fresh start after a dispiriting Ashes defeat last year. More »

Chaos threatens to engulf SL again

Chaos threatens to engulf SL again

As Lanka's head coach decides to jump ship, euphoria over winning an ICC tournament has dissipated into fuistration. More »

Repose faith in Indian coaches

Repose faith in Indian coaches

All of them cost plenty of dollars which I feel is unnecessary for a two- month tournament, says former cricketer Yajurvindra Singh. More »

Jayasuriya unhappy at Farbrace conduct

Jayasuriya unhappy at Farbrace conduct

Sri Lanka's chief selector is upset at news of head coach Paul Farbrace's possible move to England. More »

Panel can help clean mess: Raghavan

Panel can help clean mess: Raghavan

The former CBI Director is one of three candidates proposed by the BCCI to head the enquiry into the IPL betting and spot-fixing scandal. More »

Have nothing to prove to anybody — Sehwag

Have nothing to prove to anybody — Sehwag

The Nawab of Najafgarh says a good run in IPL could help his chances of a comeback on India's tour to England in June. More »

Duminy steals first win for Delhi

Duminy steals first win for Delhi

Furious fifties by Duminy and Dinesh Karthik end a long losing streak for the Daredevils. More »

Five things England must do to bounce back

Five things England must do to bounce back

England have appointed a new head coach in Peter Moores. More »

AB, Parthiv seal Bangalore's second win

AB, Parthiv seal Bangalore's second win

Royal Challengers overcame a stutter to cruise to the small target they were set by Mumbai Indians. More »

‘Felt like helpless minority’

‘Felt like helpless minority’

Former BCCI treasurer Ajay Shirke says emotions got the better of Srinivasan and he tried to oversimplify things by calling Meiyappan an “enthusiast.” More »

Royal test for Kings

Royal test for Kings

Preview — Clash of philosophies between Australia-centric teams More »

No way back for Pietersen: ECB

No way back for Pietersen: ECB

Kevin Pietersen's hopes of reviving his international career appeared to end Saturday when ECB managing director Paul Downton said there was 'no way back'… More »

The world record that nearly wasn't

The world record that nearly wasn't

Twenty years ago this week, Brian Lara became Test cricket's highest scorer, but he almost didn't make it. More »

Srinivasan can attend BCCI meeting

Srinivasan can attend BCCI meeting

His status as president of TNCA makes him eligible to attend the Working Committee meeting on Sunday. More »

Maxwell carves his parallel universe

Maxwell carves his parallel universe

Glenn Maxwell seems to project an icy disdain when at the crease. Match situations rarely faze him and the bubble in which he plays excludes everyone … More »

Moores gets second stint as coach

Moores gets second stint as coach

In a two-year spell from 2007 to 2009, the 51-year-old Moores led England in seven Test series. More »

Bangladesh senior players to see shrink

Bangladesh senior players to see shrink

Bangladesh's senior players will have three sessions with a psychological skill development coach later this month More »

BCCI is not anybody’s property — Dalmiya

BCCI is not anybody’s property — Dalmiya

Dalmiya feels that Srinivasan’s ‘power hungry’ attitude isn’t helping matters. More »

Tough for bowlers: Saeed Ajmal

Tough for bowlers: Saeed Ajmal

The 36-year-old believes the T20 format and rule changes in 50-over matches have made a real difference. More »