On a strong night for female filmmakers and Netflix releases, the Venice Film Festival has come to a close with a curveball, as breakout French director Audrey Diwan’s powerful abortion drama “Happening” beat big-name competition to the Golden Lion for best film. Diwan received the award from a jury presided over by Oscar-winning filmmaker Bong Joon-ho.
Also on the jury, significantly, was last year’s Golden Lion champ, “Nomadland” director Chloé Zhao. Diwan is only the sixth woman ever to take the festival’s top award; never before has the prize gone to female directors two years in a row. Coming on the heels of her compatriot Julia Ducournau’s groundbreaking Palme d’Or win at Cannes for “Titane,” Diwan’s triumph further points to an exciting new generation of female auteurs seizing the spotlight.
Among the films Diwan’s film beat to the punch were Netflix’s three big hopefuls from the competition, all of which came away with handsome consolation prizes. Italian director Paolo Sorrentino’s semi-autobiographical coming-of-age drama “The Hand of God” was a two-time winner, taking the runner-up grand jury prize as well as the Marcello Mastroianni Award for best young actor for its 21-year-old Filippo Scotti.
Jane Campion, many pundits’ favorite for the top prize, took best director for her first feature film in 12 years, the hard-edged, Benedict Cumberbatch-starring western “The Power of the Dog.” Less expectedly, actor-turned-director Maggie Gyllenhaal won the best screenplay award for her debut feature “The Lost Daughter,” a skillful adaptation of novelist Elena Ferrante’s dark meditation on motherhood.
Campion’s, Sorrentino’s and Gyllenhaal’s films were among the high-profile titles — along with Pablo Larrain’s “Spencer” and Paul Schrader’s “The Card Counter,” both unrewarded by the jury — that premiered in Venice’s opening days, consuming all the festival oxygen between them. Another early critics’ darling, Pedro Almodóvar’s festival-opening melodrama “Parallel Mothers,” was recognized with the Best Actress award for Penélope Cruz’s bravura turn as a single mother tangled in a spiraling maternity crisis.
Yet once the glitzy excitement over these titles had subsided, Diwan’s quietly devastating period piece wowed critics at the festival’s midway point, announcing itself as a potential dark horse to upend the big guns. (Its victory was foreshadowed last night when the FIPRESCI critics’ jury also named it best in show.)
Following a young college student’s battle to secure an abortion in early-1960s France, at a time when the taboo practice carried severe legal consequences, Diwan’s film prompts comparisons to such landmark films on the subject as Eliza Hittman’s “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” and Cristian Mungiu’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.” Yet its blend of provocative visual candor and delicate character study feels distinctive — and, despite its period setting, all too topical in the wake of Texas’s recent controversial law change. This critic praised it for “powerfully [essaying] the risks of refusing women control over their bodies.” A U.S. distributor has yet to be confirmed.
Among the other prizewinners, Filipino actor John Arcilla won Best Actor for his turn in director Erik Matti’s epic three-and-a-half-hour crime saga “On the Job: The Missing 8,” while Italian experimental filmmaker Michelangelo Frammartino received the Special Jury Prize for his meditative drama-documentary hybrid “Il Buco.”
In the festival’s secondary Orizzonti competition, Lithuanian filmmaker Laurynas Bareisa’s drama “Pilgrims” landed the top prize, while “Call My Agent” star Laure Calamy was a popular winner of the Best Actress prize for the race-against-time social drama “Full Time.”
The full list of winners:
Golden Lion for Best Film: “Happening,” Audrey Diwan
Grand Jury Prize: “The Hand of God,” Paolo Sorrentino
Best Director: “The Power of the Dog,” Jane Campion
Best Actress: “Parallel Mothers,” Penélope Cruz
Best Actor: “On the Job: The Missing 8,” John Arcilla
Best Screenplay: “The Lost Daughter,” Maggie Gyllenhaal
Special Jury Prize: “Il Buco,” Michelangelo Frammartino
Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actor: “The Hand of God,” Filippo Scotti
Best Film: “Pilgrims,” Laurynas Bareisa
Best Director: “Full Time,” Eric Gravel
Special Jury Prize: “El Gran Movimiento,” Kiro Russo
Best Actress: “Full Time,” Laure Calamy
Best Actor: “White Building,” Piseth Chhun
Best Screenplay: “107 Mothers,” Ivan Ostrochovský, Peter Kerekes
Best Short Film: “Los Huesos,” Cristóbal León, Joaquín Cociña
LUIGI DE LAURENTIIS AWARD
Best First Feature: “Imaculat,” Monica Stan, George Chiper-Lillemark
VENICE VR EXPANDED AWARDS
Grand Jury Prize for Best VR Work: “Goliath: Playing With Reality,” Barry Gene Murphy, May Abdalla
Best VR Experience: “Le Bal de Paris de Blanca Li,” Blanca Li
Best VR Story: “End of Night,” David Adler
Armani Beauty Audience Award: “The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic,” Teemu Nikki