THE BLOG

Venice Jury Disturb The Peace

15/09/2015 17:00 BST | Updated 13/09/2016 10:12 BST

A distinguished jury, headed by director Alfonso Cuarón and including the UK film-maker Lynne Ramsay, gave the attendant press corps some considerable shocks at the conclusion of the 72nd Venice Festival. There weren't any boos but quite a few swallowed swear words.

The biggest shock was to bestow the coveted Golden Lion for best film to From Afar, a Venezuelan debut by Lorenzo Vigas about a middle-aged gay man who gets involved with a potentially violent street kid. This was a brave and well-made movie but hardly the best in the competition.

Another surprise was the awarding of Best Director to Argentinian Pablo Trapero for The Clan, a well-regarded thriller about a Latin-American gangster family. This again was a good film, commercially very successful in its own country but nowhere near the most distinctive in the competition.

Many decided that Alfonso Cuarón, the Mexican director of Gravity and chairman of the jury, had some influence on the results and was determined to note the re-emergence of the Latin-American cinema.

He denied this, and could at least point to the Grand Jury Prize going to Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson's Anomalisa, the outstanding film at Venice this year, both as a brilliant piece of stop motion animation and shrewd character study.

There was little controversy about the Best Actor awards to Abraham Attah, as the brutalised boy soldier in Cary Fukunaga's horrific Beasts of No Nation and to Fabrice Luchini for his part in Courted, a French film about a judge who finds a former lover on the jury of a case he is trying. Valerie Golino won best actress for her role in For Your Sake, an Italian film directed by Giuseppe Gaudino. It was the only Italian prize.

Maybe the jury decided to ignore films, mostly American, which gave us stars and stories that might have been made by Hollywood. But it was a shock that movies like A Bigger Splash, starring Ralph Fiennes and Tilda Swinton, Tom McCarthy's investigative drama Spotlight, the Johnny Depp starring thriller Black Mass and Laurie Anderson's charming Heart of a Dog got nothing.

Also missing from the prize list was Israeli director Amos Gitai's Rabin, the Last Day, a forensic docu-drama about the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. It was his best for some time. And Russian auteur Aleksandr Sokurov provided Francofonia, a film about the treasures of the Louvre spirited away during the wartime occupation which another jury might well have prized.

In all, it wasn't at all a bad festival even if the jury hardly distinguished itself though nowadays opinions about films are so fractured that you never know what the chap in the next seat is going to think. Sadly, half the critics decamped to Toronto as soon as they could to taste all the newest biggies. But beautiful Venice should survive the competition just because it is where it is.

For the record, my three best films were Kaufman and Johnson's superb Anomalisa, Sokurov's Francophonia and veteran Fred Wiseman's impressive new documentary In Jackson Heights, examining the multi-cultural area of New York now in danger from developers. This was not in competition. Why on earth not?