At the midpoint of Venice last year, The Master had emerged as a clear favorite and indeed went on to scoop the directing trophy and a double best actor Volpi Cup. But, due to rules designed not to favor one film too heavily, the jury was unable to give it the Golden Lion in what became something of a scandal on the Lido. In a move that could help deter such furture controversies, the festival added a Grand Jury Prize this year. Still, the regs say that no film can win more than one award — save for exceptional cases whereby a film that’s won the directing Silver Lion, the Grand Jury Prize, the Special Jury Prize or the screenplay prize can also nab an acting nod. For that to happen, it has to be done in consultation with the festival president. But, if a movie takes the Golden Lion, that’s the only prize it can win.

This year, the press and the public have embraced Philomena. That film bowed on Saturday to rapturous applause and standing ovations. The Stephen Frears-directed pic has been praised for its deft handling of a sensitive subject. The movie, based on a true story, is about a woman searching for the son she was forced to give up for adoption while slaving away in an Irish abbey for so-called fallen women. The abbey in the film certainly brings to mind the Magdalene laundries where some 30,000 women were incarcerated between 1765-1996. The asylums were the subject of Peter Mullan’s 2002 The Magdalene Sisters, which went on to win the Golden Lion here. And yet, if Philomena were to follow that path, its heavily praised star, Judi Dench, would be ineligible for the best actress Volpi Cup. There are still eight films to screen so nothing is a certainty, but it will be interesting to keep an eye on the prizes on Saturday to see how the jury juggles a strong field of films. The Weinstein Co. is giving Philomena a December 25 limited release before opening wide on January 10.

Of the 11 other films to have had their official screening, Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises has also been given a warm reception. It debuted on Sunday, at the same time that it was announced the director was retiring with this to be his last film. It’s a massive hit in Japan, still leading the box office since its release in July. The story mixes the real-life path of aircraft designer Jiro Horikoshi and the poetry of Tatsuo Hori. It’s also headed to Toronto.

Another Toronto-bound title, Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan’s Tom At The Farm, was presented yesterday and has many critics swooning. The director-actor was discovered in 2009 at the age of 19 when his I Killed My Mother played at Cannes. Tom At The Farm is based on Michel Marc Bouchard’s play about loss, grief and Stockholm Syndrome.

Other films with buzz include John Curran’s Tracks, which the Weinstein Co just acquired, and David Gordon Green’s Joe with a strong performance by Nicolas Cage. However, it’s worth remembering that by this time last year, Kim Ki-duk’s eventual Golden Lion winner, Pieta, had yet to screen. Titles that are still due this week include today’s official screenings of Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin and Amos Gitai’s Ana Arabia. Also on deck are Tsai Ming-Liang’s Stray Dogs, Merzak Allouache’s Es-Stouh, Gianni Amelio’s L’Intrepido, Philippe Garrel’s La Jalousie and two documentaries: Errol Morris’ The Unknown Known and Gianfranco Rosi’s Sacro Gra.

The jury this year is headed by Bernardo Bertolucci who also presided over the 1983 jury. That year, his panel was made up almost entirely of directors and he’s said they “could not help but award the Golden Lion to Jean-Luc Godard” for Prénom Carmen. Bertolucci’s jury this time is more of a mix with directors Andrea Arnold, Jiang Wen and Pablo Larraín; cinematographer Renato Berta; actresses Carrie Fisher, Martina Gedeck and Virginie Ledoyen; and composer Ryuichi Sakamoto.

As a footnote, there are two movies that world premiered here and left folks on the Lido scratching their heads as to why they weren’t in competition. Opening night film Gravity was hugely embraced and Tom Hardy is being hailed for his performance in yesterday’s Locke. Both are on their way to Toronto.

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