Some people are still parsing Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, but it’s emerging as a favorite among festgoers and the press here in Venice. Of 8 films that have officially screened, Anderson’s lush post-war relationship opus, set against the backdrop of a religion that resembles Scientology, has received the best score in a festival poll of over 20 critics. An industry exec told me they still felt “haunted” by it 24 hours after viewing. The Master debuts in Toronto on Friday and the Golden Lion awards here are on Saturday. So, should it prevail, it will be interesting to see if anyone from the film returns to the Lido.

Still, Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise: Faith, an absurdist look at religion, has its fans as do Russian infidelity story Betrayal by Kirill Serebrennikov and Israeli family drama Fill The Void by Rama Burshtein. Carlos director Olivier Assayas’ Something In The Air screened this morning for press and has so far generated encouraging, if not overwhelming, notices. And then there’s Terrence Malick’s To The Wonder, which polarized audiences and critics after its Sunday bow here.

A fest-circuit vet opines jury president Michael Mann is “very down to earth” and thinks he leans towards “mainstream” movies, “I can’t see him going for the Malick.” But, the same person says it’s not always up to the president. Regardless, To The Wonder shouldn’t be counted out. One watcher tells me that the “strong personalities” of some on the jury this year mean any disagreement could lead to a long, dragged out deliberation.

Competition titles yet to screen include Brian De Palma’s Passion, Marco Bellocchio’s Bella Addormentata, Kim Ki-Duk’s Pieta and Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers. I’ve particularly heard a fair amount of buzz on that last movie which stars James Franco and Selena Gomez and is said to mark a linear departure for Korine, the director of such far out films as Trash Humpers and Gummo.

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