Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere movie, hardly a unanimous critical hit (see further below), was the unanimous Golden Lion winner at the 2010 Venice Film Festival.
Coppola’s fellow Italian-American filmmaker – and former boyfriend – Quentin Tarantino headed the seven-person jury, which also included composer Danny Elfman and filmmakers Guillermo Arriaga and Arnaud Desplechin.
Partly inspired by Coppola’s travels with her father, Francis Ford Coppola, Somewhere chronicles the empty existence of a (nearly) middle-aged Hollywood star (Stephen Dorff) into booze, drugs, and women. The actor begins to question his dissolute way of life after becoming reacquainted with his 11-year-old daughter (Elle Fanning).
In her Golden Lion acceptance speech, Coppola thanked her father “for teaching me.” Francis Ford Coppola has never won a competitive Golden Lion, but he was awarded a Career Golden Lion in 1992.
For her 2003 comedy-drama Lost in Translation, Coppola, now 39, became the first American woman to receive a Best Director Oscar nomination.
Previous female winners of Venice’s Golden Lion include Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding, 2001), Agnès Varda (Sans toit ni loi / Vagabond, 1985), and Margarethe von Trotta (Die Bleierne Zeit / Marianne and Juliane, 1981).
Coppola has described Somewhere as “a portrait of today’s L.A.” Well, her L.A., perhaps; in other words, Bel Air or Holmby Hills. Los Angeles, after all, is a very, very big place where very, very few people are pampered, filthy rich movie stars.
“This film enchanted us from its first screening,” 2010 Venice Film Festival jury president Quentin Tarantino remarked at the closing ceremony on Saturday. “Yet, from that first enchanting screening, it grew and grew and grew in both our hearts, in our analysis, in our minds, and in our affections.”
Displaying a tenuous handle on tact and diplomacy, Tarantino added, “We kept coming back to it in discussions, even when talking about other films, because we found it kept illustrating what we were looking for in the winner of our Golden Lion.”
The “enchanting” film is, of course, Golden Lion winner Somewhere, an existential family drama directed by former Tarantino girlfriend Sofia Coppola that upon its Venice screening received mixed reviews.
For instance, at indieWIRE Shane Danielsen wrote that “Coppola so obviously sides with her protagonist, in his ennui and self-pity, that she never bothers to ask why he might be such the asshole that a series of anonymous text-messages suggests … a plot-point breezily dismissed by character and director alike.”
The Venice jury, which according to Tarantino selected Somewhere unanimously, had no such qualms. Obviously, neither did Tarantino.
As per Associated Press journalist Sheri Jennings, Tarantino “seemed to fight back tears” when he announced Coppola as the winner of this year’s Golden Lion. The two then “warmly hugged.”
Earlier in the festival, the director of Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds had to field questions about his being the head of a jury that would vote on films made by close friends. In addition to Coppola, filmmaker Monte Hellman, whose Road to Nowhere was in competition and who won a Special Lion “for an Overall Work,” acted as an executive producer on Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. Addendum: Alex de la Iglesia, winner of the best director and best screenplay awards for The Last Circus is reportedly another Tarantino buddy.
Following the awards ceremony, Tarantino had to once again explain himself, asserting “that wasn’t difficult at all. Being her friend didn’t affect me or make me sway the jury in any way.
“Sure, I created guidelines but she won it fair and square and unanimously.
“The other members of the Jury don’t know her at all. They just loved the film. We kept coming back to it, as one of us said, because ‘it’s a great fucking movie,’ all right?"
But had Tarantino not been the head of the 2010 Venice Film Festival, could the Golden Lion have gone to another (better-received) film, say, Abdellatif Kechiche’s Venus Noire / Black Venus, François Ozon’s Potiche, or Pablo Larraín’s Post Mortem?
The problem when such potential conflict of interests arises is that it not only tarnishes the worth of the winning films and talent, but also the credibility of the Venice Film Festival itself.
Surely festival organizers can find seven film people without close ties to the top talent involved in their 20 or 25 competing films.
Photo: Venice Film Festival
Sept. 12 update
The decision by Venice Film Festival organizers to enlist Quentin Tarantino as president of the 2010 jury and select (at least) three films made by friends of the Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds director was controversial from the get-go.
It has become more so following the Golden Lion given to Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere, the choice of Alex de la Iglesia as best director and best screenwriter for The Last Circus, and the Special Lion “for an Overall Work” for Monte Hellman, whose Road to Nowhere was screened in competition.
Coppola dated Tarantino a few years ago, de la Iglesia is referred to as a “long-time Tarantino friend” in The Hollywood Reporter, while the veteran Hellman was an executive producer on Reservoir Dogs, the feature that launched Tarantino’s film career.
Tarantino has insisted that Coppola’s Somewhere won the Golden Lion unanimously – in fact, that every choice was unanimous – adding that Monte Hellman had taught him a lesson about favoritism when Reservoir Dogs was in competition at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival:
“I actually had a friend on the jury and [Hellman] told me that a friend on the jury is your worst enemy as they would be too embarrassed to give you a prize. I wasn’t going to let anything like that affect me.”
Even so, questions have understandably arisen.
“The presidency of Quentin Tarantino at the 67th Mostra runs the risk of becoming the most blatant conflict of interest possible,” wrote Corriere della Sera chief film critic Paolo Mereghetti, “when you consider that Somewhere and Road to Nowhere, not in my view but according to the press in general, were seen as charming and interesting but nothing more.” (Via cinemagay.it.)
In his piece, Mereghetti also remarked on the “predictable tendentiousness” of this year’s jury president – Tarantino had previously badmouthed Italian cinema; hence no Italian movies came out victorious – and on the danger of having a jury much too identified with their president, “a mistake Venice seems to make more often than other festivals.”
Additionally, in a post-ceremony article Mereghetti wrote that at a follow-up press conference Tarantino responded to catcalls by way of a “vulgar gesture,” adding that despite Somewhere‘s Golden Lion victory the public remained unconvinced of the film’s qualities. Following a paid screening Saturday night, the family drama received catcalls and “some boos.”
‘Somewhere’ tepid reviews
Sofia Coppola’s psychological family drama Somewhere hasn’t been greeted by what one would call stellar reviews. Screened at the 2010 Venice Film Festival a couple of days ago, Somewhere chronicles the relationship between a pampered movie star (Stephen Dorff) and his pre-teen daughter (Elle Fanning).
Written and directed by Coppola, among whose previous directorial credits are Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette, Somewhere also features Benicio Del Toro, Michelle Monaghan, Laura Ramsey, and Robert Schwartzman.
Weirdly, the movie looks like an acidly satirical comedy about LA celebrity but with all the acidly satirical comedy removed, so that all that is left is a skeleton outline, a series of scenes and locations - hotel rooms, lobbies, swimming pools, luxury automobile interiors - in which essentially gentle, forgiving dialogue takes place.
Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian.
After her foray into historical costumers with “Marie Antoinette,” Sofia Coppola makes a happy return to “Lost in Translation” territory in the cutback charmer “Somewhere,” which illuminates the emptiness of a movie star’s life in Los Angeles through close observation and gentle irony.
Deborah Young in The Hollywood Reporter.
A cloying sense of déjà vu radiates from ‘Somewhere’, Sofia Coppola’s long-gestating follow-up to her divisive postmodern historical biopic ‘Marie Antoinette’ (2006). That’s not to dismiss the movie as a failure, it just forces viewers to make a judgement call as to whether her ongoing concerns regarding the alienation suffered by the pampered, beautiful elite (a world she obviously knows very well) coalesce into a satisfying body of work or whether she’s simply making variations on the same movie. So lets chalk this one up as existing in that peculiar space between ‘La Dolce Vita’ and ‘Entourage’.
David Jenkins in Time Out London.
On the evidence provided in “Somewhere,” the room to book at the Chateau Marmont is 59, which comes with blond pole-dancing twins. Then again, maybe you have to be a rich, good-looking movie star to merit such treatment, and the focus on undeserved privilege is one of the few points of real interest in Sofia Coppola’s first feature since “Marie Antoinette.” This junior league Antonioniesque study of dislocation and aimlessness is attractive but parched in the manner of its dominant Los Angeles setting, and it’s a toss-up as to whether the film is about vacuity or is simply vacuous itself.
Todd McCarthy at indieWIRE.
Alex de la Iglesia & Vincent Gallo: More Venice Winners
At the 2010 Venice Film Festival, the Silver Lion for best director and the Osella for best screenplay went to Spaniard Alex de la Iglesia for Balada triste de trompeta / The Last Circus, a dark comedy-drama about a psycho love triangle set in a circus in 1937 Spain, then in the throes of a psycho civil war.
De la Iglesia called The Last Circus “a love story, a crazy, ruthless, wild kind of love. The anxiety and the search for revenge lead to the destruction of the object of love.”
The Special Jury Prize went to Jerzy Skolimowski’s Essential Killing, about a suspected Taliban fighter captured by American forces and sent to a Polish prison, from where he escapes.
The film’ star, Vincent Gallo, was named the – surprising – best actor for his wordless performance as the suspected Taliban whose struggle for survival becomes so desperate that at one point he attacks a peasant breastfeeding her baby and gulps down her milk.
At Venice, Gallo, who had also directed a film in competition, Promises Written in Water, played the role of elusive celebrity, refusing to attend press conferences, pose for pictures, or meet the press.
“Vincent! Come on, are you here?” asked Skolimowski, who accepted the Coppa Volpi for best actor in Gallo’s place.
In The Guardian, Jason Solomons elaborates:
Having earned, with his last feature The Brown Bunny (2003), the dubious honour of the worst film ever to appear at Cannes, Gallo has now done the double, with the worst film ever shown in competition at Venice. Promises Written in Water … has its moments of tenderness, but mostly it’s flatulent and indulgent and so, so boring, a film made by someone who’s just seen like this really awesome new French movie called Breathless by this dude Godard.
Ariane Labed was another surprise winner, nabbing the Coppa Volpi for best actress for her role as a woman repelled by human nature while obsessed with David Attenborough’s documentaries in Athina Rachel Tsangari’s Greek comedy Attenberg (the title reflects the heroine’s mispronunciation of Attenborough’s name).
Mikhail Krichman won the Osella for best cinematography for Aleksei Fedorchenko’s Russian drama Silent Souls, about a man who drives thousands of miles to bury his wife in a sacred lake.
“This director is both a great cinematic artist and a minimalist poet,” Venice jury head Quentin Tarantino said about Hellman, an executive producer in Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. “His work was an inspiration to this jury and it is our honor to honor him.”
John Woo took home the 2010 Honorary Golden Lion.
Photos: Venice Film Festival
Photo: Focus Features