Rome 2012: Larry Clark's Drama 'Marfa Girl' Wins Top Honors (Updated)

Marfa Girl - film still

Italian films have a strong but controversial showing, taking home the Jury Prize, Best Director honor, and one of the main acting awards

ROME – Larry Clark’s small-town drama Marfa Girl won the Marcus Aurelius Award for Best Film at seventh edition of the International Rome Film Festival Saturday, while Italian films had a strong -- and controversial -- showing after taking home several major awards.

The first edition of the festival under the artistic director of former Venice head Marco Mueller had been criticized locally for the quality of films in the lineup and the relative lack of star power. But the festival finished on a mostly high note, with such a packed house for the closing ceremony in the festival’s largest venue, the Sala Sinopoli, that organizers had to organize a direct feed in an adjacent cinema for the overflow.

Film Review: Marfa Girl

Mueller said he was “thrilled” with the festival, which got underway Nov. 9, and he vowed to start work on the 2013 edition Monday morning. “This [edition] was a great first step,” Mueller said.

"Many producers and directors who have been on the red carpet have told me they felt embraced by the Roman public," Mueller added.

Clark’s Marfa Girl had drawn mixed responses from critics, with The Hollywood Reporter’s Jordan Mintzer calling it a “crude take of teenage malaise” but predicting it would resonate with fans of Clark’s earlier films. But it made an impression on the jury, headed by director and screenwriter Jeff Nichols, which picked the film over the 14 other in-competition films including A Glimpse Into the Mind of Charles Swan III from Roman Coppola, hailed by the Italian media as the odds-on favorite to win the main award but which went home empty handed.

Clark has chosen an unusual distribution model for Marfa Girl, which may have had its only big screen appearances in Rome. Clark said the film would go directly to pay-per-view via his personal web site for $6, starting on Tuesday. “This model is the future and the future is now,” Clark said.

Film Review: A Glimpse Into the Mind of Charles Swan III

The success of Italian films among the award winners was notable, particularly after the complaints about a lack of hardware for domestic productions at the venerable Venice Film Festival, which took place in September. But it also stirred some controversy.

In Rome, Claudio Giovannesi’s small-time crime drama Ali ha gli occhi azzuri (Ali Has Blue Eyes) won both the jury prize and the award for Best Debut or Second Film, which was selected by a special jury selected for that award and headed by actor Matthew Modine. That jury also gave a special mention to another Italian film, Razza Bastarda, a drama directed, co-written, and starring Alessandro Gassman. It was the sophomore directorial effort -- coming 30 years after his first -- for Gassman, the son of iconic Italian actor Vittorio Gassman.

The controversy came after the Best Director prize went to Paolo Franchi for E la chiamano estate (And They Call it Summer), whose female lead Isabella Ferrari won the Best Actress prize. The film, which is co-produced by Nicoletta Mantovani, the widow of opera legend Luciano Pavarotti, screened to whistles and boos in at least one of its Rome screenings. And on Saturday, the announcement that Ferrari won the acting prize prompted loud shouts of “Vergogna! Vergogna!” (Shame! Shame!) from the crowd. Both the prizes the film won and it's less-than-stellar reception will be fresh in movie goers’ minds when the film opens in Italy on Thursday.

Film Review: Bullet to the Head

Among other main awards, Jérémie Elkaïm was given the Best Actor prize for his work in Valérie Donzelli’s musical Main dan la main (Hand in the Hand), in which he was also co-writer. The prize for Best emerging Actor or Actress was given to Marilyne Fontaine for her work in Jacques Doillon’s Un enfant de toi (A Child With You), and the award for Best Technical Contribution went to Arnau Valls Colomer for the cinematography work in Mai morire (Never Die).

The Motel Life from Gabe and Alan Polsky won two awards -- the only U.S.-made film besides Marfa Girl to win a major prize in Rome -- taking home the audience award and also a collateral prize for editing, which went to Hughes Winborne and Fabbienne Rawley.

In the CinemaXXI competition, hosted by the Maxxi Museum of XXI Century Art, the award for the Best Feature Length Film went to Avanti Popolo from Michael Wahrmann, while Laila Pakalnina’s Picas won the CinemaXXI Jury Prize. The Prospettive Italia sidebar for Italian films was won by Cosimo e Nicole, a drama from Francesco Amato, which opens in Italy Nov. 29. The film's star, Paolo Sassanello, won a collatoral proze from L.A.R.A., an Italian artists group, as the festival's Best Italian Actor. 

Earlier in the day, the festival announced some secondary awards, including for the Alice in the City sidebar for young viewers, which awarded the prize for the Best Young Adult Film to Meu pe de Laranja Lima (My Sweet Orange Tree), a story about the imaginary friend of a 7-year-old son of a factory worker, from Brazilain director Marco Bernstein. The Alice in the City jury prize went to Pulce non c’e’, the tale of a young girl taken from her family, from Italy’s Giuseppe Bonitos.

The sidebar, which this year had its own temporary venue constructed halfway between the festival’s two main venues at Auditorium Parco della Musica and the Maxxi Museum, was highlightedby the international premiere of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2.

Among the collateral prizes, the A.I.C. Award for Best Cinematography wet to Lü Yue for Back to 1942, while the film’s director Feng Xiaogang won the Golden Butterfly Award voted on by students.

The festival took place amid criticism from the local media about ticket sales, the quality of the films in the lineup, the relative lack of star power, and even speculation that Mueller -- who is likely to be without his two main political allies, Rome mayor Gianni Alemanno and regional president Renata Polverini by the time next year’s festival rolls around -- could leave the event after just one year on the job.

Mueller quashed the speculation about his possible departure in an afternoon press briefing, telling reporters that “I’d have to be crazy to be working so hard on next year’s festival if I had plans to leave.”

The festival’s lack of red carpet stars problem was worsened when Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, which had been rumored to premiere at the festival since early in the year, was not finished in time. Mueller continues to say Rome is likely to have some roll in the launch of the film, which is a homage to the Italian-made Spaghetti Western genre. But he said Saturday that the details would depend on Tarantino.

As it was Sylvester Stallone, who was the toast of the town during his stay in connection with Walter Hill’s thriller Bullet to the Head, and James Franco, whose tribute to poet C.K. Williams, Tar, screened in the CinemaXXI sidebar and was directed by a dozen New York University film students, who were the festival’s big draws. Jude Law and Andrien Brody both came to Rome, though for very brief periods, while Bill Murray and Charlie Sheen, who had been expected in connection with Coppola’s A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III, backed out at the last moment.

Ticket sales were down compared to last year, by about 15 percent based on figures from festival organizers, though there was some confusion about whether organizers were using the correct comparison figures from the 2011 edition. But festival president Paolo Ferrari (no relation to actress Isabelle Ferrari, mentioned above) also noted that the number of media credentials was up by about 17 percent compared to last year -- and 50 percent higher among international media -- and organizers said that overall, they were pleased with international coverage of the event, something Mueller said before the festival began would be an essential part of setting the stage for a successful follow up edition in 2013.