Rather than dwelling on Venice 65, the festival's artistic director Marco Mueller was keen to emphasise that things will be different for Venice 66. This year he 'chose to gamble on innovation and invention rather than repeat what has been successful in recent years'.

But, he admitted, 'two elements were missing from the festival - the Hollywood majors and spectacular films which can entertain. Those we had were perhaps not as entertaining as they should have been.'

Behind those words lay a roller-coaster 10 days on the Lido; from the starry opening highs of Burn After Reading and The Burning Plain to a lengthy series of misfires, and back up again to the closing three days capped by Darren Aronofsky's Golden Lion winner The Wrestler, which quickly flew over to a Toronto bidding war.

Did its $4m sale to Fox Searchlight banish memories of the poor competition line-up and an eerily low-key Venice, though' Not quite.

Mueller's end-fest scheduling of crowd-pleasers such as Agnes Varda's charmer Les Plages d'Agnes (out of competition), Jonathan Demme's Rachel Getting Married and Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker (in competition), not to mention the festival finally presenting a decent Italian film in Pranzo Di Ferragosto (Critics Week), certainly muted the cries of outrage.

The Italian press had been vocally at odds with Muller's selection, and the international press corps was similarly unhappy about his decision to 'underline expressive diversity in world cinema' (which tends not to bring any star power with it).

Ticket sales were down 15%, there was a 20% drop in hotel occupancy on the Lido and Mueller was starting to look like a whipping boy as disappointment after disappointment took to the screen (Plastic City, Inju, Nuit De Chien, Paper Soldier - awarded, but baffling - and A Perfect Day).

Good films were there (Claire Denis' 35 Rhums, Barmak Akram's Kabuli Kid, Ramin Bahrani's Goodbye Solo) but they played outside competition and whatever noise they made was lost in the din of disapproval. The old game of pointing to Toronto for titles Mueller 'should have had' restarted in earnest, but as Toronto plays out it seems he made sensible decisions in certain areas.

He was firm on two issues, however. 'I don't see any absence in our line-up,' he pointedly said. And he added: 'We presented the best of international cinema completed in the second half of the year.' In other words, don't shoot the messenger.

What is also very clear in Mueller's fifth year (and the first of his second contract) is that he has a very pure vision as Venice's artistic director. Whether he would be happy for a film like The Da Vinci Code to open Venice (as it did Cannes) is uncertain; will the poor reception for this year's programme and its absence of star power lead him to compromise' For many festivals, an out-of-competition slot is often used as a bargaining tool; not for Muller.

With prices remaining high on the Lido, it would be hard for Venice to maintain its stature if this year's low-key line-up was to be a regular affair - especially in the light of such stiff competition for world premieres from Toronto.

But Mueller and Biennale president Paolo Baratta are already on the offensive. Baratta countered hoteliers' criticism of the 2008 schedule by encouraging them to review their prices. Muller and Baratta announced a contentious date change which would see Venice always opening on the first Wednesday of September and eventually conflicting directly with Toronto.

And Mueller said he was already confident about the 2009 line-up. 'We have started discussions with our natural partners - directors, producers - over original and specific films,' he said. '[A festival line-up is] like mayonnaise. Too much oil or yolk and it will not bind. We are already confident next year's binding is secure.'

Additional reporting by Lee Marshall