A sexually explicit film by the former Oscar winner Ang Lee won the coveted Golden Lion top prize at the Venice film festival last night. Lust, Caution is a Mandarin language espionage thriller which has already caused a stir with very graphic sex scenes.
Lee, who won the Golden Lion with Brokeback Mountain at Venice in 2005 before it went on to take Oscars, has argued that his film is “not pornography” although he did admit that it is not suitable for children.
The high hopes of many for the British film Atonement, starring Keira Knightley, were dashed, however — it won no awards.
There was some British success, including a prize for Paul Laverty, screenwriter for the Ken Loach film It’s a Free World.
Lee’s film, based on a novella by Eileen Chang, follows a Chinese woman in Japanese-occupied Shanghai during the second world war. She finds herself at the centre of a plot to seduce and kill a married enemy collaborator.
In America, where the film opens later this month, Lust, Caution has been given the NC17 rating. This can sometimes lead to only a limited release because many American cinema chains refuse to show such adult-only films for fear of putting off families.
The film also contains some violent scenes, especially one in which students stab and bludgeon a man to death graphically. It has already been announced that some of the sex scenes will be removed for the film’s release in China.
Lee is now acknowledged as one of the best and most versatile directors in the world. His output varies from Sense and Sensibility, based on the Emma Thompson screenplay of the Jane Austen novel, to The Ice Storm, a Hollywood story of suburban sexual politics. Other Venice winners include Cate Blanchett for her role as the young Bob Dylan in I’m Not There.
Ang Lee Film Wins Golden Lion at Venice Festival
By Iain Millar
Sept. 8 (Bloomberg) -- Ang Lee's Lust, Caution, an erotic thriller set in 1940s Shanghai, won the Golden Lion top prize at the Venice Film Festival, closing the 64th competition.
I'm Not There, a U.S. movie directed by Todd Haynes and inspired by Bob Dylan, and La Graine et le Mulet, a French film by Abdellatif Kechiche, shared the Special Jury Prize.
Accepting the award, Lee paid homage to Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, who died on July 30. ``When I was in preproduction, I visited Ingmar Bergman on his island,'' Lee said. ``He touched my face liked a mother touches a child. He hugged me. Tonight, I pass that hug to you.''
Brian De Palma was voted best director for Redacted, which is about the conflict in Iraq. "Prizes are always great because it helps your film to be seen,'' De Palma said. "But critics and prizes just tell you what the fashion of the day is. We don't make movies to win prizes.''
The award for best actor went to Brad Pitt for his performance in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, directed by Andrew Dominik. Cate Blanchett won the best actress prize for her role in I'm Not There.
"Cate turned what could have been a stunt into a compelling performance,'' director Haynes said.
Paul Laverty won the award for best script for It's a Free World' by Ken Loach, and Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci was presented with a special Golden Lion for his career. The seven- member jury was headed by Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou.
In this year's festival, 23 films vied for the Golden Lion, which last year went to Still Life' by the Chinese director Jia Zhang-Ke. Veteran French filmmaker Alain Resnais won the Silver Lion for best director in 2006 for Private Fears in Private Places.
The first Venice Film Festival was held in 1932. Among the earliest prize winners were directors Rene Clair and Rouben Mamoulian and actors Frederic March and Helen Hayes.
(Iain Millar is a critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)