Barney's Version on Venice red carpet

Producer Robert Lantos hailed late Canadian writer Mordecai Richler's satirical voice Friday, as the film version of Barney's Version premiered in Venice.

Producer Robert Lantos hailed late Canadian writer Mordecai Richler's satirical voice Friday as the film version of Barney's Version premiered in Venice.

Barney's Version is one of Richler's most beloved books, and Barney Panofsky, played by Paul Giamatti in the film, is a comic masterpiece, Lantos said.

Lantos, who was friends with Richler, said the Montreal-based author was never really accepted because was unabashedly politically incorrect.

"He was the enfant terrible of the Jewish community in Canada because he made fun of them," Lantos told reporters at the Venice International Film Festival on Friday.

"He perfected the art of satirical wit, but he is making fun of them with a soft glove."

Difficult screenplay

Richler had begun work on a screenplay based on his 400-page novel when he died in 2001. It took Lantos another 10 years — and four screenwriters — to bring the book to the screen, he said.

Richard J. Lewis, best known for the feature film Whale Music, said the sprawling novel has been "crystallized into a love story" for film.

"The book was quite beautifully written, very literary, but not particularly cinematic," the director said at the Venice news conference. "This is the story of an anti-hero, a man full of flaws and warts who's his own worst enemy."

Giamatti said he followed the script and tried not to get in the way of the essential Barney Panofsky as created by Richler.

"His drive, his obsession, makes him sweet and also makes him a bastard and a pain in the ass," Giamatti said.

Cast gets great reviews

Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman as his father and Rosamund Pike as Barney's third wife and the woman who knocks off some of his rough edges are all getting acclaim from international critics.

"Not since Richard Dreyfuss so capably inhabited the title role in 1974's The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz has a Richler … lead character been brought to life as effectively as Giamatti's irascible, rumpled Barney Panofsky," trade publication the Hollywood Reporter said in its early review.

Variety praised both Giamatti and Hoffman. "Hoffman is charming as the elder Panofsky, a boisterous presence who embarrasses himself at every social occasion but retains a core of human decency," it said in its review.

Challenging role

Pike said the challenge of the role was that it spanned such a long time period. 

"I might have women of three generations recognize me," she said. "I could use my imagination to a degree, but I needed to ask advice and help from women who have been through it to give my role some authenticity … I wish I had so much dignity in my own life."

Later Friday, Barney's Version was named winner of the Leoncino d'Oro Award — or "golden lion cub," a play on the name of the main Venice prize, the Golden Lion. The honour is voted upon by a group of local school children and has, at times, been an indicator of further honours in Venice.

The Venice festival wraps up Saturday.Barney's Version screens Sunday at the Toronto International Film Festival and will also be shown later at festivals in Vancouver and Halifax.


  • Robert Lantos, not John Landis, produced Barney's Version. Incorrect information appeared in an earlier version of this story.
    Sep 10, 2010 8:35 PM ET

With files from The Associated Press