"Barney's Version" makes it from book to big screen

Fri Sep 10, 2010 9:05am EDT
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By Silvia Aloisi

VENICE (Reuters) - A bittersweet comedy premiering at the Venice film festival brings to the big screen the cult book "Barney's Version," the witty story of a politically incorrect Jewish man spanning four decades and three marriages.

The film, the last to screen in the main competition at the festival ahead of Saturday's awards ceremony, casts Paul Giamatti as Barney Panofsky, the irreverent hero of Canadian author Mordecai Richler's 1997 prize-winning novel.

Stung by accusations that he murdered his best friend, Barney decides to tell "the true story of my wasted life" and does so by dividing it into three parts, each corresponding to one of his wives.

Barney's caustic humor -- his TV company is called Totally Unnecessary Productions and he drinks his whisky at Grumpy's Bar -- and the candid tone of his memoir made for an entertaining end to the festival.

"Hopefully he's a jerk who is likeable," Giamatti told Reuters in an interview after a press screening of the film, a Canadian-Italian co-production.

"I don't think of him as like a Woody Allen character but (he has) the humor definitely, that kind of dark, self-deprecating, pessimistic Jewish humor which I like, which I think is great."

Producer Robert Lantos spent more than a decade turning the book, which won Canada's most prestigious literary award, into a film and struggled to find the right screenplay writer after Richler died in 2001.

"Making, at least in the English-speaking world today, any film that is not designed for teenagers is a path full of hurdles which I don't recommend to anyone," Lantos said.   Continued...

<p>Actor Paul Giamatti poses during a photocall for the movie "Barney's version" at the 67th Venice Film Festival September 10, 2010. REUTERS/Tony Gentile</p>