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In a move that could be seen as a strong message for women’s rights, and for the right of female filmmakers to be celebrated, the 2021 Venice Film Festival gave its top honor, the Golden Lion for best film, to Audrey Diwan’s French abortion drama Happening.
“I feel heard tonight!” a near-ecstatic Diwan said as accepted her historic award.
Happening, an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Annie Ernaux, tells the story of a bright college student in early-1960s France who sees her emancipation threatened when she gets pregnant. With no legal options available, she tries to find a way to illegally abort.
Given the current climate in the United States, following the restrictive new anti-abortion laws passed in Texas, the Venice Jury, headed by South Korean director Bong Joon Ho, appears to have sent a clear pro-choice message with its Golden Lion pick.
The best director honor, the Silver Lion, went to Jane Campion for her Netflix neo-Western The Power of the Dog. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Kirsten Dunst, the film is Campion’s first feature in 12 years.
Italian director Pablo Sorrentino won the grand jury prize for his well-received autobiographical drama The Hand of God, with the film’s star, Filippo Scotti, taking the Best Young Actor honor.
Spanish star Penélope Cruz has won Venice’s best actress honor for her performance in Pedro Almodovar’s new melodrama Parallel Mothers.
Maggie Gyllenhaal won best screenplay honors for her directorial debut The Lost Daughter. Noting that she married and had her first child in Italy, Gyllenhaal said “my life as a director and writer was born here, in this theater,” referencing Venice’s Sala Grande. Gyllenhaal’s drama, starring Olivia Coleman, is based on the novel by Italian writer Elena Ferrante.
“This film is Italian in its bones!” Gyllenhaal said.
John Arcilla won best actor honors for his performance in On The Job: The Missing 8.
Il Buco, Michelangelo Frammartino’s cinematic exploration of one of the world’s deepest caves, won a special jury prize.
Imaculat, from Romanian directors Monica Stan and George Chiper-Lillemark, a look at a young women who goes into drug rehab, took the Lion of the Future honor, the Luigi de Laurentis award, for best first feature.
The first prize of the evening, the Audience Award Armani beauty, a new prize for Venice’s new Horizons Extra sidebar, went to Teemu Nikki’s The Blind Man Who Didn’t Want to See Titanic.
In the Horizons section, Lithuanian crime drama Pilgrims from director Laurynas Bareisa took the best film honor. Eric Gravel’s French drama Full Time won two Horizons prizes: best director for Gravel and best actress for Laure Calamy. Piseth Chhun won best actor in the Horizons section for his starring performance in Kavich Neang’s Cambodian drama White Building.
Ukraine director Peter Kerekes and co-screenwriter Ivan Ostrochovsky took best screenplay in the Horizons section for 107 Mothers, while Chilean film Los huesos, from directors Cristobal Leon and Joaquin Cocina, won for Best Short.
Bolivian director Kiro Russo’s The Great Movement won a special jury honor.
David Adler’s End of Night took the Best VR Story prize in Venice’s VR Expanded section, while the Best VR Experience honor was won by Le bal de Paris from director Blanca Lee.
“I love you! I’m so happy,” screamed an obviously delighted Lee as she hoisted her trophy on stage.
Goliath Playing with Reality, from directors Barry Gene Murphy and May Abdalla, won the Grand Jury Prize for Best VR Work.
Venice has become a harbinger for the Academy Awards. The last four Golden Lion winners — Nomadland, Joker, Roma, and The Shape of Water — all used their triumph on the Lido as a launchpad to Oscar success.
Full List of Venice 2021 Winners
Golden Lion for Best Film
Happening, dir. Audrey Diwan
Grand Jury Prize
The Hand of God, dir. Paolo Sorrentino
Jane Campion, for The Power of the Dog
John Arcilla for On The Job: The Missing 8
Penelope Cruz for Parallel Mothers
Maggie Gyllenhaal for The Lost Daughter
Best Young Actor
Filippo Scotti for The Hand of God
Special Jury Prize
Il Buco, dir. Michelangelo Frammartino
Lion of the Future for Best Debut Film
Imaculat, dirs. Monica Stan, George Chiper-Lillemark
Pilgrims, dir. Laurynas Bareisa
Eric Gravel for Full Time
Special Jury Prize
The Great Movement dir. Kiro Russo
Piseth Chhun for White Building
Laure Calamy for Full Time
Peter Kerekes, Ivan Ostrochovsky for 107 Mothers
Best Short Film
Los huesos, dirs. Cristobal Leon, Joaquin Cocina
Audience Award Armani beauty
The Blind Man Who Didn’t Want to See Titanic, dir. Teemu Nikki
Venice VR Expanded
Best VR Story
End of Night, dir. David Adler
Best VR Experience
Le bal de Paris, dir. Blanca Lee.
Best VR Work
Goliath Playing with Reality, dirs. Barry Gene Murphy, May Abdalla
A previous version of this story misidentified director Audrey Diwan as the first female director to win Venice’s Golden Lion since Sofia Coppola in 2010. It is Chloe Zhao, who won in 2020.
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