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McDormand plays a widow from a collapsed Nevada mining town who finds new life on the road in Zhao’s film, based on Jessica Bruder’s 2017 nonfiction book, Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century.
With the Venice win, Nomadland has moved into pole position for the 2021 Oscar race, with Searchlight Pictures sure to throw its weight behind the film as it builds to its Dec. 4 release in North America.
Nomadland pulled off the coup of a triple-premiere on Sept. 11, debuting in competition at Venice, holding a gala premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, and celebrating its Telluride-supported U.S. premiere at drive-in screenings in Los Angeles.
While McDormand looks all-but-guaranteed to score another best actress Oscar nom for her Nomadland performance (her last win, for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, came after the film took Venice’s best screenplay honor), the actress prize in Venice this year went to Vanessa Kirby for her turn as a woman dealing with the loss of her child in Pieces of a Woman, the English-language debut of Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó (White God). Kirby’s first leading role marks the arrival of the British actress —known for her turn as Princess Margaret in Netflix series The Crown as well as in supporting roles in action films like Hobbs & Shaw and Mission: Impossible —into international cinema’s A-league.
Venice’s best actor honors went to Italian performer Pierfrancesco Favino for his starring role in Padrenosto, the story of a 10-year-old boy who witnesses an assassination attempt on his father, a largely autobiographical drama from director Claudio Noce.
New Order, Michel Franco’s depiction of a brutal, and bloody coup d’état against Mexico’s wealthy ruling class, won the runner-up Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize.
The Venice awards ceremony, like the entire festival this year, was held under the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic. Host Anna Foglietta played to a half-empty cinema of socially-distanced guests, all of whom wore masks throughout. Many of the winners accepted their prizes via video link.
Jury President Cate Blanchett handed out this year’s Golden and Silver Lion winners.
Japanese filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa took best director for Wife of a Spy, a period drama set on the eve of WW II which follows a young Japanese wife who discovers her businessman husband is intent on revealing Japan’s dirty secrets to the Americans.
Rouhallah Zamani won the Marcello Mastroianni Award for a young actor for his performance in Iranian drama Sun Children from Majid Majidi (Children of Heaven). The feature is a sharp condemnation of child labor in Iran packed into a fast-moving tale of a gang of street kids who enroll in school to dig for hidden treasure below its grounds.
Chaitanya Tamhane won best screenplay honors for The Disciple a look at a modern youth trying to excel in India’s traditional music scene.
Dear Comrades, a black-and-white recreation of a 1962 Soviet massacre of striking factory workers, directed by Russian filmmaker Andrei Konchalovsky, took the Special Jury prize.
Full list of 2020 Venice Film Festival winners:
Golden Lion: Nomadland, dir. Chloé Zhao
Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize: Michael Franco for New Order
Silver Lion Best Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa for Wife of a Spy
Volpi Cup for Best Actress: Vanessa Kirby for Pieces of a Woman
Volpi Cup for Best Actor: Pierfrancesco Favino for Padrenostro
Best Screenplay Award: Chaitanya Tamhane for The Disciple
Special Jury Prize: Dear Comrades, dir. Andrey Konchalovskiy
Marcello Mastroianni Award for Young Actor: Rouhallah Zamani for Sun Children
Best Film: The Wasteland, dir. Ahmad Bahrami
Best Director: Lav Diaz for Genus Pan
Special Jury Prize: Listen, dir. Ana Rocha de Sousa
Best Actress: Khansa Batma for Zanka Contact
Best Actor: Yahya Mahayni for The Man Who Sold His Skin
Best Screenplay: Pietro Castellitto for The Predators
Best Short Film: Entre Tu Y Milagros, dir. Mariana Saffon
Lion of the Future Luigi De Laurentiis Award for a Debut Film: Listen, dir. Ana Rocha de Sousa
Best VR Immersive Story: Killing A Superstar, dir. Fan Fan
Best VR Immersive Experience: Finding Pandora, dir. Kiira Benzing
Best VR Immersive Work: The Hangman at Home – An Immersive Single User Experience, dir. Michelle and Uri Kranot