Rejected pic is Lion-ized

Zvyagintsev's 'The Return' nabs top prize at Venice

VENICE — Andrey Zvyagintsev’s “The Return,” a powerful father-and-son drama, took the 60th Venice Intl. Film Festival’s Golden Lion, becoming the event’s big winner after the pic from the first-time Russian director was rejected for inclusion in the fest’s Critics Week sidebar.

Zvyagintsev’s striking, eerie tale of two young brothers on a trek through the Russian wilds with their long-lost father — whom they know only from a 10-year-old photograph — also scored the $100,000 Luigi De Laurentiis Lion of the Future prize for best first work.

“The Return” had been turned down by the Venice Critics Week, a separate entity run by Italy’s film critics association.

The golden statuette was presented to Zvyagintsev by the Taviani brothers.

“For me it is a great honor to be handed this prize from the Taviani brothers, whose film ‘Padre Padrone’ I have watched countless times in the Moscow cinematheque. This is just incredible and deeply moving,” the rookie helmer said after receiving a warm ovation.

‘Kite’ flies high

The Jury Grand Prix went to Lebanese director Randa Chahal Sabbag’s “The Kite,” a lyrical romance set against the backdrop of political turmoil on the border between Lebanon and Israel.

The special director’s award went to Takeshi Kitano’s comical Samurai pastiche “Zatoichi,” which stars the cult Japanese director-actor as a blind traveling masseur and gambler who doubles as a lethal swordsman.

Marco Bellocchio’s “Good Morning, Night,” a fictional reconstruction of the 1978 terrorist abduction and murder of Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro, was awarded an outstanding individual contribution prize for Bellocchio’s screenplay.

“Good Morning, Night” resonated with Italians and had been tipped as the likely winner. Bellocchio did not attend the ceremony.

Penn top thesp

The Volpi Cup for actor went to Sean Penn for his role as a math professor with heart trouble in Mexican director Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu’s “21 Grams,” a dark tale of entangled destinies stemming from a tragic car accident.

“I am very grateful to the jury for this. Everyone who saw the film knows the ensemble that I am part of,” Penn said before going on to thank director Inarritu and the rest of the cast, which also includes Naomi Watts and Benicio Del Toro.

Acting nod is Penn’s second in Venice after copping the same cup in 1998 for “Hurlyburly.”

Germany’s Katja Riemann won actress honors for her performance in Margerethe von Trotta’s “Rosenstrasse,” a sober enactment of a Holocaust incident that demonstrated the dogged determination of two women who refused to accept their husbands’ fate.

The Marcello Mastroianni award for young performer went to Najat Benssallem for her role as an orphan in Jacques Doillon’s Morocco-set “Raja.”

‘Lemon’ floats Upstream

The San Marco Prize for best entry in Venice’s more cutting-edge Upstream competition went to “Vodka Lemon,” Kurdish director Hiner Saleem’s tale of romance between a widow and widower who meet at the cemetery. The San Marco prize carries an award of $50,000 to be equally divided between director and producer.

“While I was shooting ‘Vodka Lemon,’ I heard some news that I had been waiting for since I was a child: Saddam Hussein had toppled. It’s the start of a new era in Iraq. I dedicate this film to the Kurds but also to all the Iraqi people,” Saleem said.

The special director’s award in Upstream went to German director Michael Schorr’s “Schultze Gets the Blues.”

Upstream acting nods were presented to Japan’s Asano Tadanobu, who plays a librarian with ties to the Yakuza in Thai director Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s “Last Life in the Universe,” and to Scarlett Johansson for her role as a young American woman who finds a special kind of romance in Tokyo in Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation.”

The 18th Intl. Critics Week prize went to Italian director Salvatore Mereu’s “Ballo a tre passi” (Three Step Dance).

Venice’s 60th edition ended with an excruciatingly long ceremony that was alternately shambolic and confusing, leaving attendees wondering whether director Moritz de Hadeln — who has renewed his contract to head the fest next year — will be able to produce a better finale next time around.

(David Rooney and Deborah Young contributed to this report.)

And the winners are…

VENICE 60

Golden Lion for best film: “The Return” by Andrej Zvyagintsev, Russia

Grand Jury Prix (Silver Lion): “The Kite” by Randa Chahlal Sabbag, Lebanon

Special Director’s Award (Silver Lion): Takeshi Kitano, “Zatoichi,” Japan

Award for outstanding individual contribution: Marco Bellocchio, “Good Morning, Night,” Italy

Coppa Volpi for best actor: Sean Penn, “21 Grams”

Coppa Volpi for best actress: Katja Riemann, “Rosenstrasse”

Marcello Mastroianni Prize for best young performer: Najat Benssallem, “Raja”

Silver Lion for best short film: “Neft” (The Oil) by Murad Ibragimbekov, Russia

UIP Prize for best European short film: “The Trumouse Show” by Julio Robledo, Spain

Special Mention short: “Hochbetrieb” by Andreas Krein, Germany

UPSTREAM COMPETITION

San Marco Prize: “Vodka Lemon” by Hiner Saleem

Special Director’s Award: Michael Schorr for “Schultze Gets the Blues,” Germany

Upstream Prize for best actor: Asano Tadanobu for “Last Life in the Universe,” by Pen-ek Ratanaruang, Thailand

Upstream Prize for best actress: Scarlett Johansson, “Lost in Translation”

Lion of the Future Award: “The Return” by Andrej Zvjagintsev

Special Mention: “The Last Train” by Aleksej German, Russia

Special Mention: “Ballo a Tre Passi” by Salvatore Mereu, Italy

Golden Lion career award: Omar Sharif

San Marco career prize: Dino de Laurentiis

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