'Brotherskab' tops Rome fest

Event closes solidly with attendance up from last year

ROME -- "Brotherskab" (Brotherhood), the powerful story of a secret gay love affair between two members of a gay-hating neo-Nazi group, won the top Marcus Aurelius prize at the fourth edition of the Rome International Film Festival Friday.

The festival closed solidly, with strong ticket sales and several well-regarded films screening in the final days to help shake off the memories of a difficult 2008 edition, which took place amid a shakeup in the festival's leadership.

The festival also featured strong showings from several Italian films, with "L'uomo che verra" (The Man Who Will Come) from Giorgio Diritti winning the special jury award, the audience award, and a special collateral prize for films related to young people, and Sergio Castellitto taking home the best actor prize for his role as a father struggling with the loss of his son in "Alza la Testa" (Raise the Head) from Alessandro Angelini.

Helen Mirren, meanwhile, was given the best actress honor for her portrayal of Leo Tolstoy's wife in Michael Hoffman's "The Last Station." Anita Kravos, a woman who played a male crossdresser in "Alza la Testa," won the collateral award for the best acting performance by an Italian.

This was the first year in its short history that the Rome festival saw directors come back for a second go. Angelini was one of Rome's first discoveries when his debut film "L'aria Salata" (The Salty Air) appeared in competition in Rome's inaugural edition. And Jason Reitman, who won the Marcus Aurelius award two years ago with "Juno," was back again this year with "Up in the Air," the lone American production in the 14-film main competition. Both directors said they would be pleased to return to Rome a third time.

George Clooney, in town for a day in connection with Reitman's "Up in the Air," helped add to the star power for the festival, which also saw Richard Gere, Mirren and Monica Bellucci stroll across its red carpet. But it was Meryl Streep, at the festival to promote her film "Julie & Julia" and to receive the festival's lifetime achievement award, who stole the show with massive crowds on the red carpet and a standing-room-only public workshop on the festival's penultimate day.

The festival sold a total of 102,000 tickets, lower than last year's 115,000 but an increase on a per-film basis given that the overall lineup was slimmed down to 85 films compared with 97 a year ago. Total visitors to the festival increased by around 5% to 600,000 over nine days.

There was more good news for the festival Friday, as Rome mayor Gianni Alemanno -- whose election last year sparked a series of rapid changes at the festival -- vowed from Rome's Campidoglio that the city would continue to support the festival.

Several films created a buzz in the final days, compensating for a slow start to the festival. But "Brotherskab," from Denmark, was among the most talked about. The film was the debut effort from former fashion photographer Nicolo Donato, who did have a short film appear in Cannes three years ago. The film was one of a small handful of non-Italian world premieres in Rome.