Audrey Diwan’s 1960s abortion drama “L’Evenement” (“Happening”) won the Golden Lion at the 78th Venice International Film Festival, while second place went to the semi-autobiographical “The hand of God” by Paolo Sorrentino.
Diwan’s film about a French student who ends up with an unwanted pregnancy was the unanimous choice of the prestigious jury which included recent Oscar winners Bong Joon Ho and Chloe Zhao.
The competition this year was solid, with popular films like “The Power of the Dog” by Jane Campion, “Parallel Mothers” by Pedro Almodóvar, “The Lost Daughter” by Maggie Gyllenhaal and “The Hand of God”. Twenty-one films were in contention for the award, which became a promising early indicator of a film’s prospects at the Oscars.
“I made this film with anger. I made the film with envy too. I did it with my belly, my guts, my heart, my head, ”Diwan said on Saturday. “I wanted ‘Happening’ to be an experience.”
Diwan is the sixth woman to have directed a Golden Lion winning film. Others include Chloe Zhao (“Nomadland”), Margarethe Von Trotta (“Marianne & Juliane”), Agnès Varda (“Vagabond”), Mira Nair (“Monsoon Wedding) and Sofia Coppola (” Somewhere “).
Sorrentino’s “The Hand of God”, based on a formative personal tragedy, won silver while Campion won the Silver Lion for Best Director for his period epic “The Power of His Dog”. This is the second time that she has won a second prize in Venice. Her first was in 1990 for “An Angel at My Table,” a Janet Frame biopic.
“It’s amazing to get an award from you,” Campion said, addressing the jury standing next to her. “You set the bar very, very high for me in movies, Bong, Chloe.”
Penélope Cruz won the Volpi Cup for Best Actress for her performance as a new mother in Almodovar’s “Parallel Mothers”. She thanked her director and frequent collaborator for “inspiring me every day with your search for the truth.”
“You’ve created magic again and I couldn’t be more grateful or proud to be a part of it,” Cruz continued. “I love you.”
Gyllenhaal won the award for best screenplay for her adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s 2008 novel “The Lost Girl,” which is both her first screenplay and her first film as a director.
“I can’t tell you how delighted I am to be here,” Gyllenhaal said. “I got married in Italy, in Puglia. I found out that I was pregnant with my second daughter in Italy. And really my life as a director and a writer and my film was born here in this theater.
Gyllenhaal said his film was “Italian in its bones” even though it was shot in Greece and in English.
“In a way, as women we were born into an agreement to keep silence and Ferrante broke that agreement,” Gyllenhaal said. “I had the same feeling seeing ‘The Piano’ when I was in high school.”
John Arcilla received the Volpi Cup for Best Actor for “On The Job: The Missing 8”.
Over the past decade, the festival has re-established itself as the preeminent launching pad for award hopefuls. Zhao’s “Nomadland” won the award last year and went on to win Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor at the Oscars. In addition to Zhao and Bong, who served as presidents, the jury also included actors Sarah Gadon and Cynthia Erivo and directors Saverio Costanzo (“My Brilliant Friend”) and Alexander Nanau (“Collective”).
Zhao’s trajectory was the second time in four years that the Golden Lion winner won the award for best picture. Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” shared a similar path. Venice winner of 2019, “Joker,” simply got 10 Oscar nominations, including one for best picture.
Failure to win the top prize in Venice, however, doesn’t end an Oscar campaign before it begins. Many eventual winners simply made their festival premiere, and not always even in competition before winning Best Film (“Birdman” and “Spotlight”) or Best Director (Damien Chazelle for “La La Land”, Alfonso Cuarón for “Gravity” and “Roma”, del Toro for “The Shape of Water” and Alejandro G. Iñarritu for “Birdman”).
Some of this year’s biggest premieres weren’t in the competition, including “The Last Duel” by Ridley Scott, “Dune” by Denis Villeneuve and “Last Night in Soho” by Edgar Wright.
In the Horizons section, which highlights emerging filmmakers, Laurynas Bareisa’s “Pilgrims” won the award for best film. The actor award went to Piseth Chhun for “White Building” and the actress to Laure Calamy for “Full Time,” which also won the Best Director award for Eric Gravel.
The awards ceremony wraps up the first major film festival of the fall season which so far appears to be a smash success, despite the delta variant. COVID security protocols were strict and the films strong.
But Venice also managed to bring the glamor back to a red carpet that was perhaps less crowded than usual but offset by viral moments, from a tenderly teasing embrace between co-stars Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain in the debut on Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck’s red carpet, though it should perhaps be called a first remake as the two rekindled a romance that ended 18 years ago.
Follow AP film writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr