Venice 2012: 'Something in the Air,' 'Pieta' Premiere; Austrian Film Blasted by Catholic Group

 

VENICE – Apres Mai (Something in the Air), a 1970s-era coming-of-age story about a would-be militant from French director Olivier Assayas and Pieta, a drama about a loan shark’s relationship with a woman who claims to be his mother from Korea’s Kim ki-duk were among the highlights Monday in a relatively low-key day on the Venice Lido.

Both films, which screened in competition, attracted healthy crowds. But they failed to generate the back-to-back-to-back weekend buzz generated by the world premieres of Spike Lee’s Michael Jackson documentary Bad 25 on Friday, followed by Paul Thomas Anderson’s fictional take on the founding of a Scientology-like religion, The Master, on Saturday, and finally Terrence Malick’s dreamy and confusing To the Wonder Sunday.

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Meanwhile, Henry-Alex Rubin’s technology thriller Disconnect premiered out of competition, Venice organizers unveiled some of the structural changes the festival will undergo going forward, and Austrian director Ulrich Seidl, whose film Paradies: Glaube (Paradise: Faith) premiered in competition last week, stayed in the headlines when he earned the ire of a Catholic group that called his film “blasphemous.”

The first-ever Venice Film Market also concluded Monday, as most of the buyers and sellers stated to leave the Lido for the Toronto Film Festival, which starts Thursday. Most market participants gave the five-day market positive reviews, while Venice organizers said they would release statistical information about the event on Tuesday.

Apres Mai and Pieta are both considered dark-horse contenders for Venice’s Golden Lion, and were mostly well received by critics. In a press conference Monday, Assayas, who said his film was partially autobiographical, said the early 1970s were an important period to explore through film.

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“It was a difficult period,” he said. “There was doubt about certain kinds of artistic expression and a kind of cultural distrust that was addressed through experimental film, documentaries, and fiction.”

Disconnect, Rubin’s first feature film, explored the nature of human relationships during amid the rise of technology. The Hollywood Reporter critic David Rooney said the film was “sleekly assembled and propelled by some strong performances,” but said it “says little that hasn’t been said many times before.”

Venice organizers detailed the next steps of the ongoing renovation project started earlier this year. All told, the five-year plan will add 850 new seats to the festival venues, bringing the total up to around 5,500 -- more, according to Venice Biennale President Paolo Baratta, than the “core” seating available at either the Berlin or Cannes Film Festivals, though he noted Venice remained at a disadvantage because Venice lacks the metropolitan area those festivals have to help absorb festival-related activities. Around 500 of the additional seats will come from building a new cinema in the Venice Lido’s Casino structure, exactly above the current Sala Perla, which will most likely be completed in 2015 or 2016.

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The planned updates to Venice’s physical plant are the most ambitious since the festival abandoned plans to build a new Palazzo del Cinema near the current structures after asbestos and other toxic substances were found on the site.

“Once the new plans are completed, the extra seating and updated structures, combined with the smaller number of films under artistic director Alberto Barbera will help to rectify a lot of the issues we have had regarding seating for films,” Baratta said.

Barbera also detailed plans for the new Biennale College, a new initiative that startng this year will host 15 up-and-coming filmmakers in Venice in order to help them with their projects over a two- to three-week period working with the festival’s experts. Organizers will select three projects from the group and help fund the projects to the tune of €150,000 ($185,000) each, with a spot in the lineup for each at the following year’s festival.

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Seidl’s Paradies: Glaube was controversial when it first screened, attracting criticism in the Italian press for anti-religious imagery. But it was not formally attacked by any religious organizations -- until Monday. That is when the conservative Catholic group No194 called for a boycott of the film, blasting it for a scene in which protagonist Maria Hofstätter masturbates using using a cross. In a statement, the organization’s founder Pietro Guerini said that Catholics must do better at defending their traditions.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Seidl was asked how he felt about the Italian press controversy that swirled around the screening of his film. The provocative Seidl answered with one word: “Satisfied.”

Alexandra Zawia contributed to this report

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