VENICE, Italy - The Venice Film Festival wrapped up in controversy on Sunday, September 9, after Kim Ki-duk took the Golden Lion with his Korean morality tale "Pieta" amidst reports the jury had wanted a different winner.
The Hollywood Reporter said that the jury had been prevented from choosing US director Paul Thomas Anderson for the Scientology-inspired "The Master" because the film was already picking up the best director and best actor awards.
Festival rules state that no one film can win more than two awards, and the reports said the jury was therefore forced to consult again and settled on Kim's "Pieta," a gut-wrenching condemnation of money-grabbing capitalism.
In an unusual career with no film training that has taken him from being a manual laborer, street artist and trainee preacher to art house master, Kim said he was elated after becoming the first Korean to win the festival.
"I am not trying to earn money with my films. I shot 'Pieta' with the equivalent of US$100,000 (78,000 euros)," said the pony-tailed Kim, who is known for shooting quickly and on low budgets. "Pieta" is his 18th film.
"My aim is to take the temperature of the world from time to time," he said.
Kim also explained the significance of the Korean folk song "Arirang" that he unexpectedly belted out from the stage after collecting his award to the delight of an audience used to predictable thank-you speeches from winners.
"We Koreans sing it when we feel lonely or abandoned but also when we are happy. It symbolizes the many hills we have to cross — from sadness to joy — the meanders of life," said Kim, speaking in Korean with English translation.
The South Korean's film is a bleak story about a brutal loan shark who preys on the clapped-out workshops of a district of Seoul that is quickly being redeveloped, until a woman claiming to be his mother suddenly appears in his life.
The character's gradual struggle for redemption is played out in an emotional crescendo of violence and revenge as well as unhealthy Oedipal tie between hero and heroine that concludes with an almost religious ending.
Italian newspapers meanwhile homed in on a major gaffe at the ceremony in which organizers at first confused the winners of the best director and special jury prizes, leading to an embarrassing handover of prizes on stage.
The reports also commented on the fact that few stars were present, with Philip Seymour Hoffman having to pick up the best director award for Anderson and the best actor prize he jointly won with Joaquin Phoenix for "The Master."
There was also some of the usual soul-searching in the Italian press about why — yet again — no Italian film managed to win any major award even though three out of the 18 films in the competition were Italian.
"The Italian Fast" read the headline of an editorial in La Repubblica daily.
Italian film critics had high hopes for Marco Bellocchio's "Bella Addormentata" ("Dormant Beauty") — a nuanced, artistic portrayal of the furore surrounding a high-profile euthanasia case in 2009 that divided Italians.
But one jury member was quoted by La Repubblica as saying, "You Italians are always looking at your navels, you are closed in your own stories, your own events, your films are self-referential — only you can understand them."
No Italian film has won the festival since Gianni Amelio with "Cosi Ridevano" ("The Way We Laughed") in 1998.
Italy's top-selling daily Corriere della Sera said "Pieta" was "debatable."
"A disturbing story is told with a storyline that has no real soul. The director never really lets the story grow," the paper's film critic Paolo Mereghetti wrote under the headline: "A verdict as confused as the jury." - Dario Thuburn, Agence France-Presse