Lee takes home second Lion for 'Lust'

Venice win a surprise

ROME -- Ang Lee nabbed the Golden Lion on the Lido for the second time in three years, taking home the Venice Film Festival's top prize during the weekend for his romantic thriller "Lust, Caution," set in World War II-era Shanghai.

"Lust," from Focus Features and River Road Entertainment, was the first film set in Asia in seven years for the Taiwan-born Lee, who also won the top Venice prize in 2005 for "Brokeback Mountain."

The victory came as something of a surprise to some local media heavyweights: The Rome daily La Repubblica suggested the film was not even considered a favorite for one of the festival's minor awards, while Milan's Corriere della Sera paper said the film was not in the festival's top 10.

At a post-verdict news conference, jury president Zhang Yimou offered no explanation of the panel's decision to give the Golden Lion to "Lust."

Zhang sought to soothe one journalist who challenged the jury's decisions, saying that "all the force and power of heaven" would not be enough to guarantee a decision that kept everybody happy.

But the jury appeared to have bent over backward to appeal to as many tastes as possible by awarding the jury runner-up award to two films instead of one and handing Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov a special Golden Lion for his work.

The special jury prizes went to Todd Haynes' "I'm Not There" and Abdellatif Kechiche's "The Secret of the Grain" (La graine et le mulet), which also won the International Critics Award.

It's the second year in a row that an Asian film won Venice's top award, following Jia Zhangke's "Still Life," a surprise winner last year.

The finale of the storied festival Saturday was dominated by an emotional outpouring for Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci, who was honored with a special Golden Lion Award to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the inaugural Venice event in 1932.

Bertolucci, who was greeted with wild applause in the packed Palazzo del Cinema, was presented his prize by colleagues and friends Abbas Kiarostami and Jonathan Demme, already in Venice for the premiere of his Jimmy Carter documentary "Man From Plains" in the festival's Horizons sidebar.

The festival wound down during the weekend with most everybody agreeing on its exceptional lineup, which included a 23-film competition program made up entirely of world premieres for the second consecutive year.

"I think people will remember the extraordinarily strong lineup," said an Italian producer with two films in sidebars.

All told, more than two dozen feature-length films took home some kind of prize Friday and Saturday.

Brian De Palma won the Silver Lion as best director for his hard-hitting faux Iraq War documentary, HDNet Films' "Redacted," which tells the story of a group of U.S. soldiers who rape and murder a young Iraqi girl.

The best actor nod went to Brad Pitt for his role as Jesse James in Warner Bros. Pictures' "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," and Cate Blanchett won the best actress prize for her portrayal of folk icon Bob Dylan in "I'm Not There," which will be distributed in the U.S. by the Weinstein Co.

Other winners included "Suegisball" (Autumn Ball), from Estonian director Veiko Ounpuu, which took home the prize for the Horizons sidebar. Additionally, the Europa Cinema Labels Award -- which helps in the promotion and distribution of winning films -- went to Andrzej Jakimowski's "Sztuczki" (Tricks), which screened in the Venice Days sidebar for up-and-coming directors.

Two more Venice Days films -- Ed Radtke's "The Speed of Life" and "Sous les bombes" (Under the Bombs), made by Philippe Aractingi -- won significant collateral awards.

Radtke's coming-of-age story about a group of youths who steal video cameras and make a film from the pilfered tapes won the first Queer Lion Award for accurately portraying a gay character. "Bombes," meanwhile, took home two minor awards: the EIUC Human Rights Award and the ARCA Prize for Youths. The film was made during the 2006 siege of Beirut, where Aractingi worked as a television reporter.

Another Asian film, "Zui Yao Yuan de ju Li" (The Most Distant Course), won the prize in the Critics' Week sidebar.

Reuters contributed to this report.