Venice 2012: De Palma’s ‘Passion,’ Comencini’s ‘A Special Day’ Premiere on Festival’s Penultimate Day

 TIFF

VENICE – The last full day of the 69th edition of the Venice Film Festival was a study in contrasts, after back-to-back in-competition Sala Grande screenings of thriller Passion from Brian De Palma, which recounts the story of a ferocious female rivalry, and Francesca Comencini’s cerebral Un Giorno Speciale (A Special Day), about the difficult journey from Rome’s periphery to the city center for two young children determined to make something of their lives.

Meanwhile, the first of the collateral prizes from the festival started to trickle in, with a pair of films from the well-regarded Venice Days sidebar winning honors: Crawl, a romance set in the U.K. from France’s Herve Lasgouttes, which won the award from Europa Cinemas Label, and The Weight from Korean director Jeon Kyu-hwan, who took home the Queer Lion honor.

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Passion and Un Giorno Speciale differed not only in their storylines, but also in the way they were received during the daytime screenings for journalists and industry figures, with De Palma’s effort sparking extreme responses -- both positive and negative -- from moviegoers, while the reaction to Un Giorno Speciale, one of only three Italian films in the main competition, was muted.

It was the second consecutive Venice festival in which a Comencini sparked a less-than-stellar response for an in-competition film: last year, Francesca’s sister Cristina Comencini famously earned boos at the press screening of her drama Quando la notte (When the Night). The two Comencinis are daughters of famed director Luigi Comencini, a three-time nominee for the Cannes Palme d’Or and the winner of Venice’s career Golden Lion in 1987.

Passion is De Palma’s remake of Crime d’amour (Love Crime), the 2010 film from French director Alain Corneau that starred Kristin Scott Thomas and Ludivine Sagnier in the main roles. De Palma opted for Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace, respectively, in the story about a revenge plot between an executive assistant and her boss who steals her idea. De Palma said he saw the film as a “sexy murder mystery.”

The Hollywood Reporter critic Neil Young was more harsh in his take on the film, calling it a “convoluted Euro-thriller [that] represents a disappointingly anemic stab at a comeback from Brian De Palma.”

The film is sure to earn some attention for its lesbian subplot. Rapace said the steamier scenes with McAdams were mostly improvised. "I think it was something that we talked about and kind of discovered and tried out on the day rather than something that was written on the page," she said.

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De Palma, who won Venice’s Silver Lion as Best Director for his previous film, Redacted, in 2007, showed up at the press briefing for Passion with little apparent desire to take questions seriously, dismissing one question with a hand wave and the word “phooey,” and in regard to another question he pretended not to know who thriller maestro Alfred Hitchcock was.

The film was the second Venice in-competition selection to feature McAdams, who also had a role in Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder, which screened to mixed reactions earlier in the festival.

De Palma said he thought the film, which was nominated for the Gay Lion prize, could take home that honor. But it was won instead by Jeon’s The Weight, a drama about a hunchback loner who works in a morgue. The Gay Lion is awarded each year to the best film from the official selection or one of the three main sidebars that “accurately portrays lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender characters.”

De Palma also predicted his film could vie for Venice’s Golden Lion, “if they allow thrillers to win it.” That prize, Venice’s top award, will be announced Saturday.

Meanwhile, Crawl, a coming-of-age story centered on a budding romance between a small-time thug and a serious competitive swimmer, won the Europa Cinemas Label honor for Best European Film. By winning the award, Lasgouttesand Crawl will benefit from promotional support from the Europa Cinemas network.

The jury said it decided on Crawl for the prize because of the film’s “great narrative ability that strongly evokes the working class atmosphere in Britain during a difficult economic period.”

The festival wraps up Saturday, highlighted by the main prize ceremony. 

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