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Venice Film Festival Jury Yanks Top Prize from 'The Master' (Exclusive)

Sources say the jury was set to award the Golden Lion to the Paul Thomas Anderson-directed feature but, because of a quirk in the rules, has decided to give the award instead to Korean director Kim Ki-duk's "Pieta."

It seems the jury at the Venice Film Festival liked The Master way too much.

Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that the jury, led by American filmmaker Michael Mann, was set to award the Golden Lion, the festival's top prize, to the Paul Thomas Anderson-directed feature but, because of a quirk in the festival's rules, has decided to give the award instead to Korean director Kim Ki-duk's Pieta.

The awards are being announced Saturday in Venice.

Venice Review: The Master

Apparently during the jury's first deliberations, members decided to give The Master — a drama loosely based on the origins of Scientologythe top prize, as well as the Silver Lion directing award to Anderson and the acting award jointly to co-stars Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman. (Another international critics prize also was heaped on Master.)

But new festival rules apparently prohibit one film from garnering more than two major awards, so the jury was asked to re-deliberate to remove one of the awards. After what a source described as a heated session, the jury decided to take the Golden Lion away from Master and give it to Pieta.

PHOTOS: Venice Film Festival Day One

The last-minute shift isn't entirely surprising for the world's oldest film festival, which has a history of rewarding odd films and making peculiar decisions.

In fact, it's the second time in three years that Venice’s top awards were surrounded in controversy. In 2010, jury president Quentin Tarantino was criticized after most of the festival’s main awards went to directors he was close to, including the Golden Lion to Somewhere from Sofia Coppola, Tarantino’s former girlfriend.

Similar stories circulated in 2008 after rules made it impossible for the jury to give the Golden Lion to Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler and to also honor Mickey Rourke with the Coppa Volpi for best actor. In the end, the film was given the Golden Lion and Rourke lost out on the acting prize, which was given to Italy's Silvio Orlando for his work in Giovanna's Father.

The new two-award rule is said to have been instituted in 2009. The filmmakers were informed of the shift in Golden Lion winners last night, according to a source.

The controversy may serve to cast a shadow over the otherwise well-received festival under artistic director Alberto Barbera, who returned to Venice after a ten-year hiatus. A call to Barbera was not immediately returned.

In other awards, the special jury prize went to Ulrich Seidl for his exploration of religious faith in Paradies: Glaube (Pradise: Faith), while the Copa Volpi prize for best actress went to Hadas Yaron for her work in Lemake et Ha’Chalal from Israeli director Rama Bursthein.

The Marcello Mastroianni award for best new young actor or actress went to Fabrizio Falco, one of at least half a dozen actors who appeared in two films from the official selection. Falco appeared in both Marco Bellocchio’s Bella Addormentata (Dormant Beauty) and E’ Stato il Figlio (The Son Was Here) from Daniele Cipri. The prize to Falco was the most significant award for an Italian production in this year’s festival.

Eric J. Lyman in Rome contributed to this report.

Email: Matthew.Belloni@thr.com

Twitter: @THRMattBelloni