One day after premiering and receiving the most rapturous reviews of any film in competition, U.S.-based Chinese director Chloé Zhao has won the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival for her film “Nomadland,” a documentary-influenced road movie starring Frances McDormand as an itinerant widow traveling across America.
The lineup had seemed unpredictably competitive until yesterday, when roaring applause and acclaim established the Searchlight release as the one to beat. Blanchett’s jury did not resist.
The win makes Zhao the first female filmmaker to take Venice’s top prize since Sofia Coppola triumphed with “Somewhere” in 2010, and the first woman of color to lift the trophy since Mira Nair in 2001. In a year featuring a record eight female directors in competition — nearly half the lineup — there was widespread speculation that Blanchett’s jury would reward one of them.
High expectations were heaped on Zhao, who broke through with her Cannes-premiered 2017 film “The Rider,” and “Nomadland,” which combines deep emotional force with innovative form, delivered, wowing both in Venice and at its simultaneous Toronto premiere. Variety‘s Peter Debruge was among its admirers, describing it as a “rich and resonant celebration of the American West [straddling] the border between fact and fiction.”
Zhao and McDormand, who were not able to travel to Europe for the festival, accepted remotely from the Rose Bowl in Los Angeles. “Thank you for letting us attend your festival in this weird, weird way. See you down the road,” McDormand quipped.
The win will be seen as a boost to the film’s already much-fancied prospects in the upcoming, postponed Academy Awards season, where hopes are high for Zhao to become the first woman of color to land a best director nomination. Searchlight’s 2017 release “The Shape of Water” also won the Golden Lion en route to its Oscar triumph, while the last two Venice victors, “Roma” and “Joker,” also landed in the best picture race. Searchlight will release the film on Dec. 4.
The runner-up Grand Jury Prize went to Mexican provocateur Michel Franco for his urgent, dystopian social thriller “New Order,” while Japanese veteran Kiyoshi Kurosawa was named best director for “Wife of a Spy,” a cool, restrained drama of wartime espionage.
Most critics agreed in the course of the festival that the best actress contest was looking rather more competitive than its masculine counterpart, with a number of the films in the selection driven by tour-de-force female leads. Blanchett acknowledged as much, claiming the jury had “so many extraordinary performances to choose from,” before handing the prize, as widely predicted, to British actor Vanessa Kirby for her devastating turn as a woman coming to terms with a recent stillbirth in Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó’s “Pieces of a Woman.”
Kirby, hitherto best known for her Emmy-nominated work in “The Crown,” was heralded early on as the breakout star of the festival: In addition to her work in “Pieces of a Woman,” she impressed as a 19th-century farm wife who falls for a female neighbor in another competition title, Mona Fastvold’s “The World to Come.”
Kirby thanked the teams behind both films in a lengthy, emotive acceptance speech, dedicating her award to “all the mothers who have lost children and haven’t had their stories told,” and thanking her co-star Shia LaBeouf, for being “the greatest ally, friend and creative dance partner I could ever hope for.”
Italian star Pierfrancesco Favino, meanwhile, took best actor for Claudio Noce’s true-life terrorist thriller “Padrenostro.” Indian writer-director Chaitanya Tamhane won best screenplay for “The Disciple,” a ruminative, music-driven drama that yesterday landed the FIPRESCI critics’ prize for best film in competition.
Russian master Andrei Konchalovsky, a Venice regular, took the Special Jury Prize for his Soviet historical drama “Dear Comrades,” while Iranian teen Rouhollah Zamani won the Marcello Mastroianni Award for best young actor for his turn in “Sun Children,” the latest from Majid Majidi, a director much celebrated for his facility with child performers.
In the festival’s secondary Horizons competition, jury president Claire Denis handed the top prize to Iranian director Ahmed Bahrami’s “The Wasteland,” a study of worker tensions at a rural brick factory, while Filipino festival favorite Lav Diaz, a Golden Lion winner four years ago for “The Woman Who Left,” was named best director for his solemn, ambiguous moral allegory “Genus Pan.”
Complete list of winners below:
Golden Lion: “Nomadland,” Chloé Zhao
Grand Jury Prize: “New Order,” Michel Franco
Silver Lion for best director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa, “Wife of a Spy”
Best actress: Vanessa Kirby, “Pieces of a Woman”
Best actor: Pierfrancesco Favino, “Padrenostro”
Best screenplay: “The Disciple,” Chaitanya Tamhane
Special Jury Prize: “Dear Comrades,” Andrei Konchalovsky
Marcello Mastroianni Award for best young actor: Rouhollah Zamani, “Sun Children”
Best film: “The Wasteland,” Ahmad Bahrami
Best director: “Genus Pan,” Lav Diaz
Special Jury Prize: “Listen,” Ana Rocha de Sousa
Best actress: Khansa Batma, “Zanka Contact”
Best actor: Yahya Mahayni, “The Man Who Sold His Skin”
Best screenplay: “I Predatori,” Pietro Castellitto
Best short film: “Entre tú y milagros,” Mariana Safron
LION OF THE FUTURE
Luigi De Laurentiis Award for best debut film: “Listen,” Ana Rocha de Sousa
VIRTUAL REALITY COMPETITION
Best VR: “The Hangman at Home: An Immersive Single User Experience,” Michelle and Uri Kranot
Best VR experience: “Finding Pandora X,” Kiira Benzing
Best VR story: “Killing a Superstar,” Fan Fan