Americans cause hoopla at Venice

In a noted moment of chutzpah the Italian press, led by Paolo Mereghetti (pictured), has been up in arms about the American raid on the most consequential awards at the Venice Biennale with Sofia Coppola winning for “Somewhere” and Monte Hellman for “Road to nowhere.”

I admit, I knew that neither film was a shoo-in for the top nods, especially with the wealth of prime cinema on the Lido this year. Coppola, who was previously in a relationship with jury president Quentin Tarantino, makes watchable movies but is often afraid of scratching beyond the surface; characters sometimes appear smaller under her microscope. Monte Hellman was an early mentor of Tarantino’s (video store geekdom oblige) whose place in cinema history next to Roger Corman is secure–as a cult-movies director. “Road to Somewhere” is Hellman’s first film in twenty years, not even the film’s cast understood it. And he won a career award, one with a gaspingly-long twenty-year drought in the middle of it. But who are we to criticize Tarantino? I personally wouldn’t recognize the word “career” if it hit me in the face.

Let’s face it, the way through which some people give awards to others is awkward at best, and mildly perverted at worse. Isabelle Huppert gave Michael Haneke the Palme D’Or in Cannes in 2009, the same Haneke with whom she has had career-defining professional collaborations. Was there a little bristling among the crowd of cinephiles during that ceremony? “Das Weisse Band” was a superior picture but shouldn’t Tarantino, that same Tarantino who is now vilified by Mereghetti, win hands down for “Inglourious Basterds”? The Palme D’Or also could’ve gone to Jacques Audiard’s “A prophet” and deservedly so. Our own critic Saïdeh Pakravan (sidebar: “100 Years of Must-see Films”) has hailed it as the best film of the last ten years.

“The presidency of Quentin Tarantino,” Mereghetti said, ”runs the risk of turning into the most obvious conflict of interest possible if you remember that ‘Somewhere’ and ‘Road to Nowhere’ were charming and interesting in their own ways, but nothing more than that.” The Corriere Della Serra critic is right, but am I missing something, Paolo? The universe is connected and headlining festivals will always need their star jury presidents. Who happen to know everyone. So what’s the problem?

Mereghetti’s roar was also heard on home turf; according to the legendary critic Film Biennale head honcho Marco Mueller’s days are numbered after this latest edition which was poorly received by the domestic press. Mueller is accused of allowing a schism to occur in this year’s programming, with a Biennale severed in two and motivated by differing programming philosophies. Some people who live near the Lido could hear the sound of one hundred lashes being administered to Mueller. Was Mereghetti directly involved in meting out the punishment? We will never know.

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