Mirren, Affleck win thesp prizes

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VENICE — In a surprising choice that stunned many at the Lido, the Venice Film Festival awarded the Golden Lion to Chinese helmer Jia Zhangke’s “Still Life,” a doculike depiction of the pains of dislocation in an ancient village about to be flooded to build a giant dam.

“Still Life” was a surprise entry, added to the competish halfway through the fest. Scheduled in latenight slots, pic, shot in HD vid, had been seen by few and was not well liked by crix.

More than 1 million Chinese have been forcibly uprooted by the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, the world’s biggest hydroelectric project.

“I made this film as a testimony to daily life in China of the weaker sections of the population, which are undergoing great changes,” said the helmer, who also appeared quite astounded at his win.

The jury, headed by Catherine Deneuve, engaged in protracted deliberations that resulted in the final-hour addition of a new prize, the Silver Lion for Revelation (which should have more aptly been named “for Consolation”), won by Emanuele Crialese’s “Golden Door.” The Italo helmer’s accomplished account of Ellis Island-bound Sicilian immigrants was a festival fave that had been widely tipped for the top nod.

Italy has not nabbed the top Lion in eight years.

The Venice Biennale held an emergency meeting Saturday, just hours before the awards ceremony, to approve the one-off new prize, which is not in its charter.

The Silver Lion for director went to veteran French helmer Alain Resnais’ “Private Fears in Public Places,” a Paris-set adaptation of the Alan Ayckbourn play about characters who are lonely and alienated in sometimes amusing ways. Resnais, 84, returned to the Lido 45 years after his “Last Year at Marienbad” won the Golden Lion.

The Special Jury Prize went to African helmer Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s “Dry Season,” an incisive two-hander about reconciliation in the aftermath of the 40-year civil war in the Republic of Chad. It marked the first time a film from Chad unspooled in Venice and the first African pic competing at the Lido in 19 years.

Stephen Frears’ “The Queen,” a reconstruction of the friction between Tony Blair and Britain’s monarch after Princess Diana’s death, scooped up two statuettes: one for protag Helen Mirren, the other for screenwriter Peter Morgan. Probably the most popular pic to unspool at the Lido, “The Queen” was the only twice-prized entry.

Morgan didn’t miss the opportunity to get a dig in at the British prime minister.

“Thank you, Tony Blair, for timing your political disintegration with the release of our film,” he said onstage, prompting roars of laughter at the otherwise soporific ceremony.

The male acting prize went to Ben Affleck for his perf as the ambitious but unsatisfied 1950s TV Superman George Reeves in Allen Coulter’s “Hollywoodland,” the only nod for a Hollywood pic. “Hollywoodland” opened Stateside this weekend via Miramax.

Alfonso Cuaron’s “Children of Men,” set in a quasi-naturalistic totalitarian 2027 Blighty in which man can no longer procreate, got the photography prize. Cuaron made the trek from his home in Tuscany to collect it from jury member Cameron Crowe.

The jury also gave a Special Lion to radical helmers Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet for “These Encounters of Theirs,” an adaptation of Italian author Cesare Pavese’s “Dialoghi con Leuco.”

The Italy-based French duo had caused a stir by not coming to Venice, sending instead an incendiary statement that read: “There will never be enough terrorists in the world as long as American capitalist imperialism continues to exist.”

At Crowe’s request, the jury condemned that statement while still praising the film, which is not intended as anti-U.S. propaganda.

Besides nabbing the main Lion, China took the Horizons feature film prize with first-time helmer Liu Jie’s “Courthouse on the Horseback,” which also takes as its theme the clash between tradition and modernity, in this case in rural China’s judicial system. The helmer thanked his fiancee for allowing him to spend their wedding money to make the film.

The Horizons documentary nod went to Spike Lee’s post-Katrina disaster doc “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts,” which debuted on HBO last week.

A jury headed by producer Paula Wagner gave the $100,000 Lion of the Future prize to “Khadak,” the tale of a young nomad’s travels in contemporary Mongolia, helmed by Peter Brosens of Belgium and American Jessica Woodworth.

The Marcello Mastroianni acting prize for emerging young performer went to France’s Isild Le Besco for her turn as a French actress searching for her father in India in Benoit Jacquot’s “The Untouchable.”

“A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints,” the Queens-set memoir helmed by Dito Montiel that got two nods at Sundance, won the Critics’ Week prize.

“It’s a very balanced verdict that represents the many souls of the festival,” fest topper Marco Muller told Daily Variety.

But by giving the Lion to a film that looks like such a hard sell, even on the arthouse circuit, Venice is not likely to gain points either with the local industry or internationally, at a time when the Lido is perceived as being encroached upon by the nascent RomeFilmFest.

That said, the selection at the 63rd edition was generally praised, though lacking a group of solid standout titles.

And improved prospects for a new Palazzo del Cinema, thanks to government involvement, may bode positively, if they materialize.

China’s double whammy concurred with an increase in Asian attendees, both on the media and industry side, even though the number of Asian entries was no higher than last year.

Separately, Aussie rocker Nick Cave bagged the Gucci Group Award, a nod launched by the fashion house at the fest to honor personalities outside the movie industry who recently have made an outstanding artistic contribution to film. Cave was lauded for his work as screenwriter on John Hillcoat’s Aussie outback Western “The Proposition.”

The Gucci jury comprised Muller, Jeremy Irons, pop star Moby, British fashion designer Alexander McQueen and Italian art critic Alessandra Mammi.

And the winners are…

INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION JURY

GOLDEN LION
“Still Life,” Jia Zhangke (China)

SILVER LION
“Private Fears in Public Places,” Alain Resnais (France)

SILVER LION REVELATION
“Golden Door,” Emanuele Crialese (Italy-France)

SPECIAL JURY PRIZE
“Dry Season,” Mahamat-Saleh Haroun (France-Belgium-Chad-Austria)

ACTOR
Ben Affleck, “Hollywoodland” (U.S.)

ACTRESS
Helen Mirren, “The Queen” (U.K.-France-Italy)

MARCELLO MASTROIANNI PRIZE FOR YOUNG PERFORMER
Isild Le Besco, “The Untouchable” (France)

SCREENPLAY
Peter Morgan, “The Queen” (U.K.-France-Italy)

TECHNICAL CONTRIBUTION (PHOTOGRAPHY)
Emmanuel Lubezki, “Children of Men” (U.K.)

SPECIAL LION
Jean-Marie Straub, Daniele Huillet, “These Encounters of Theirs” (Italy)

OTHER JURIES

LUIGI DE LAURENTIIS LION OF THE FUTURE
“Khadak,” Peter Brosens, Jessica Woodworth (Germany-Belgium-Netherlands)

VENICE HORIZONS
“Courthouse on the Horseback,” Liu Jie (China)

VENICE HORIZONS DOCUMENTARY
“When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts,” Spike Lee (U.S.)

CRITICS’ WEEK PRIZE
“A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints,” Dito Montiel (U.S.)

SHORT LION
“How Do You Brake Going Downhill?” Alix Delaporte (France)

UIP PRIZE FOR EUROPEAN SHORT
“The Making of Parts,” Daniel Elliott (U.K.)

UIP PRIZE SPECIAL MENTION
“Adults Only,” Yeo Joon Han (Malaysia)

LABEL EUROPA CINEMAS — VENICE DAYS 2006 PRIZE
“Dark Blue Almost Black,” Daniel Sanchez Arevalo (Spain)

FIPRESCI (INTL. CRITIC’S ASSN) COMPETITION PRIZE
“The Queen,” Stephen Frears

FIPRESCI HORIZONS AND CRITICS’ WEEK PRIZE
“When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts,” Spike Lee

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