Italians Lose Out at Venice Film Festival

Italian media grumbled Sunday over the failure of a hometown film to win big prizes at the Venice Film Festival, where the British movie "Vera Drake" by director Mike Leigh (search) grabbed the best-picture award.

Such complaints have become an almost annual rite here, and are a sign of ambivalent Italian feelings toward the festival. Organizers say they want a world-class show, but face controversy whenever a locally touted Italian film doesn't win.

"Venice disappoints our cinema," Rome's La Repubblica newspaper said in a front-page headline, noting that the jury didn't give a single prize to "Le Chiavi di Casa" ("The House Keys") by Italy's Gianni Amelio (search).

Twenty-two films from around the world were in competition for the Golden Lion (search) awards handed out Saturday night.

"Vera Drake" won for best picture and in the best actress category for Imelda Staunton (search). The runner-up — Spanish film "Mar Adentro" ("The Sea Within") by Alejandro Amenabar — took home both the Silver Lion Jury Grand Prix and best actor award for Javier Bardem.

The only award that went to an Italian film this year was for best young actor, presented jointly to Tommaso Ramenghi and Marco Luisi for "Lavorare con Lentezza" ("Working Slowly"), directed by Guido Chiesa.

Leading film critic Tullio Kezich wrote in Milan's Corriere della Sera that it was "difficult to justify in any way the exclusion of Gianni Amelio."

Noting that the jury had seven major prizes to award, he asked why they "did not want to throw light on the poetic values and the strong humanitarian message of the film by Amelio, which were recognized by both the first viewers and by journalists with rare unanimity."

Amelio, however, was calm about not winning for his "Le Chiavi di Casa," an emotional depiction of a man's relationship with his disabled son. The director was behind the last Italian-language film to win the Golden Lion for best picture, in 1998, for "Cosi Ridevano" ("The Way We Laughed").

"Frankly, I don't feel defeated, and I don't see why I ought to say I'm the victim of an injustice," he told La Repubblica. "Mike Leigh won the Golden Lion, not just some nobody." Leigh's previous films include "Secrets and Lies" (1996) and "Naked" (1992).

Festival director Marco Mueller said Venice would adjust its prize-giving rules, the ANSA news agency reported. A new system could help Italian and other movies pick up something even if not the favorites.

"The regulations of the festival will certainly be changed along the lines of those of Cannes to avoid having the main prizes concentrated on the same films," Mueller said, according to ANSA.

The nine-person jury was headed by British director John Boorman and included filmmaker Spike Lee and actresses Scarlett Johansson and Helen Mirren, as well as two Italians.