For all the glamorous seaside partying at the Venice film festival, there is a distinct air of austerity at this year's edition for an industry questioning its economic future.
The festival line-up has been slimmed and the star wattage toned down, while even some of the movie plot lines reflect various forms of fallout from the financial crisis - from family and relationships to faith and spiritual values.
"The main recurring theme is the crisis. The economic crisis, which is having devastating social effects, but also the crisis of values," said Alberto Barbera, the director of what is the world's oldest international film festival.
In the South Korean director's Kim Ki-duk's Pieta, a loan shark lives a ruthless existence until a woman claiming to be his mother comes into his life.
"People today are obsessed with a fantasy that money can solve anything," said Kim.
In Daniele Cipri's È stato il figlio (The Son Did It), the crisis in Italian society is explored through the Ciraulo family, supported by a father selling scrap iron from disused ships, until one day his daughter is killed by a stray bullet. The family, which gets itself into dire financial straits, eventually gets compensation for Mafia victims and ends up buying a Mercedes.
"The symbol of the Mercedes has a tragic, grotesque tone which fits with the times in which we live," said Toni Servillo, who plays the father. "The behaviour is dictated by an alienating consumerism. It tells us about something interesting from a social point of view but through cinema."
The festival itself is feeling the pinch this year and hoteliers on the Lido have been complaining they are not booked out as in previous years, when rooms would be reserved months in advance by cinema crowds from around the world.
Industry professionals attending Venice said the effects of internet piracy and the contraction of advertising revenues have slashed budgets for filmmaking, with independent directors particularly hard hit.
Perhaps making a virtue of a necessity given the constraints on funds, the industry is increasingly opening up to and promoting "micro-budget" films.
Venice organisers said they were setting up a Cinema College to encourage up-and-coming low-budget directors. This year's festival also hosted a global competition for shorts submitted via YouTube called Your Film Festival. - AFP