The Venice Awards

by Daniele Heymann

In a ceremony marked with "simpatico" snafus and rushed because of the tight time-slot allotted by European television for the live transmission, France may well have emerged the winner. Despite, no doubt, some behind-the-scenes arm-twisting, the competing American films (and actors) left Venice empty-handed, save for honorary Golden Lions to directors Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese. Isabelle Huppert and Sandrine Bonnaire shared the Best Actress Award, and the Best Film awardee was co-produced by France, as were several of the films in competition.

Traditionally, there are two types of trinkets given in Venice: the "Lions" (Gold or Silver) go to the major categories; the lesser awards are granted an "Osella", named after the oldest Venitian coin.

The Golden Lion for Best Film went to Franco-Vietnamese co-production "Cyclo", by Ahan Hung Tran. The director of last year's international sleeper, "The Scent of the Green Papaya", Tran, born 32 years ago in Vietnam, came to France at the age of 12. Unable to shoot "Papaya" in Saigon, because the Vietnamese government would not authorize it, he recreated his birth country near Paris. He did go back to Vietnam for "Cyclo", and it would be fascinating to study the difference between Vietnam as dreamt from afar ("Papaya") and the real Vietnam as perceived--rediscovered--after twenty years in exile. Receiving his Golden Lion, Tran said that "[he] wanted to make a film that would be a combination of [Vittorio de Sica's"] 'Bicycle Thief', [Robert Bresson's] 'Pickpocket' and"--turning to Martin Scorsese--"your 'Taxi Driver'. I haven't succeeded, by far, but that's my lifelong ambition."

Replacing (who knows why) the Silver Lion, the "Grand Special Jury Prize"--a tie-- went to "A Comedia De Deus", by Joao Cesar Monteiro, from Portugal, and "L'Uomo Delle Stelle", by "Cinema Paradiso" director Giuseppe Tornatore, "two films" according to the jury, "that treat reality in two entirely different modes, one recreating it, the other interpreting it." Moments later, Marco Tullio Giordana's "Pasolini: Un Delitto Italiano" ("Pasolini: An Italian Crime") received the President of the Italian Senate's Gold Medal, traditionally given to "a film that emphasizes civic progress and human solidarity".

After Georg Goetz was named Best Actor for his harrowing portrayal of a serial killer in Romuald Karmakar's "The Deathmaker" (Germany), a hint of burlesque crept into the proceedings when the Best Actress Lion went to the "inseparable performances" of French femme-thesps Isabelle Huppert and Sandrine Bonnaire in Claude Chabrol's "The Ceremony". As if they had never thought there might, just might, be a tie, the organizers had only one statuette. To add incompetence to ignorance, the presenter kept confusing the two actresses. "Non, moi, c'est Isabelle," Huppert would say when he called her "Sandrine"; "No, moi, c'est Sandrine", said Bonnaire when she was addressed to as "Isabelle". Dazzlingly beautiful and, mercifully, in a smashingly good mood, the two actresses giggled through it all as if it were a high school prank.

Burlesque came full-blown when, despite previous It's-gonna-be-much-tighter-this-year rumors, not three, but EIGHT Golden Lions for Lifetime Achievement were awarded to a whole assortment of film luminaries lined up on stage. As usual, Woody Allen's chair remained empty. Accepting the award in his stead, cinematographer Carlo Di Palma said, "For the last three years, I've been collecting so many awards for Woody Allen that it's become a full-time job. I still hope, I mean, I'm sure some day he'll show up."

"In 1948, when I was still a kid," said Martin Scorsese, holding his Golden Lion, "the first films I saw on television, with my family, were 'Roma Citty´ Aperta' ('Open City'), 'Ladro di Bicicletta' ('Bicycle Thief'), 'Sciuscia' and 'Paisa'. Ever since I became a director, I've tried to make films that would be worthy of them." With a smile of wonderment tinged with irony, Alain Resnais, the director of such classics as "Hiroshima mon amour" and "Last Year in Marienbad" said that "to get an award when you don't have a film in competition is the epitome of cultural luxury."

At which point, Festival director Gillo Pontecorvo and Gian-Luigi Rondi, the Venice Biennale head honcho, walked onto the stage and with total Italian casualness, announced that, since 1995 marked the hundredth anniversary of Cinema, they had decided to honor the contributions of Italy's greatest. And so five special Golden Lions were given to composer Ennio Morricone, looking every inch like a certified accountant; to scriptwriter Giuseppe de Santis (who wrote De Sica's "Bitter Rice"); to Goffredo Lombardo, who produced Luchino Visconti's "The Leopard", among other masterpieces; and to actor (read: idol) Alberto Sordi. Receiving the fifth and last Golden Lion, actress Monica Vitti said, "Don't think you're going to get rid of me so easily. I've worked since the age of 14 and plan to do so till I'm 95. But thanks anyway for this mid-run award."

There was no scandal this year; the program, I mean, the ceremony, went at a fast clip. The only standing ovation, which the emcee couldn't stop in spite of his "Ragazzi, we're on live and we're running late" admonitions, happened when a group representing Greenpeace Italy got on the stage and unfurled a banner in protest to France's nuclear tests in Mururoa. When the eight jurors stood up and joined the audience in the applause, the emcee shut up, totally lost.

Back to the Venice Festival 1995

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