Venice: Alfonso Cuaron Wins Golden Lion for 'Roma'

Courtesy of Venice Film Festival

Cuaron previously conquered Venice after launching 'Gravity' on the Lido in 2013, which went on to win seven Academy Awards.

Alfonso Cuaron is riding high in Venice once again, taking home the Golden Lion for his critically acclaimed Roma. The prize was given to the filmmaker Saturday by jury president and friend Guillermo del Toro, who joked that he wasn't sure if he could pronounce his name. Cuaron previously conquered the Lido in 2013 with Gravity, which opened the festival out of competition and went on to win seven Academy Awards. 

The Three Amigos, as del Toro, Cuaron and Alejandro G. Inarritu are known, have been essentially unstoppable at the Italian festival. Last year, del Toro took home the Golden Lion for The Shape of Water before going on to win best picture at the Academy Awards. And Inarritu premiered Birdman in Venice in 2014 before going on to the win best picture Oscar. Inarritu, who has been in the Venice competition lineup twice, is now the lone amigo without a Lion. 

Roma, co-produced by Participant Media and Esperanto Filmoj, is a semi-autobiographical black-and-white film about Cuaron's early upbringing in 1970s Mexico City, seen through the eyes of his housekeeper, Cleo. Cuaron thanked Roma's stars Yalitza Aparicio, Marina De Tavira, and Nancy Garcia for their "courage, generosity and immense respect in portraying the women who raised me." While Netflix has not yet committed to a theatrical release before it hits the streamer, this prize will certainly put weight behind an Oscar campaign for the film. 

Fox Searchlight also has a serious Oscar contender on its hands with its grand jury prize winner, Yorgos Lanthimos' The Favourite, a period drama about the politic and romantic inner workings of a royal court. Olivia Colman also won the Volpi Cup for best actress for her turn as Queen Anne in the film. 

Willem Dafoe won the Volpi Cup for best actor for the role of tormented artist Vincent van Gogh in Julien Schnabel's non-traditional biopic At Eternity's Gate, which is also generating considerable Oscar buzz for Dafoe in what many critics are calling the best performance of his career. 

Joel and Ethan Coen received best screenplay honors for The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Star Tim Blake Nelson accepted the award on their behalf, calling them "two of the most decent and generous people I know" in addition to great filmmakers.

Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale, the only female-directed film in competition, took home the fest's special jury prize. It stars Aisling Franciosi as a young Irish convict who hunts the man who wronged her with the help of an aboriginal tracker played by Baykali Ganambarr.

"I would also like to say to all those women out there wanting to make films, please go and do it. We need you. The feminine force is the most powerful and healing force on the planet," said Kent upon accepting the award. "I'm confident next year and the year after we'll see more and more women inhabiting this space."

Ganambarr also won the Marcello Mastroianni Award for best new talent and thanked the film "for not sugarcoating our past."

"It is only through confronting pain," he said, "that we heal the hurt."

While previous juries have often highlighted films that may not have received much love after their festival circuit, the lineup this year was weighted with Oscar favorites, so it's no surprise that the winners aligned with critical favorites. Among the Italian and foreign press, the best reviewed film was Roma, followed by Jacques Audiard's The Sisters Brothers and The Favourite. The Mountain, from Rick Alverson, received the lowest average reviewed score among critics.

Venice also held its second-ever VR jury this year, led by director Susanne Bier. While other fests are quickly establishing VR competitions, Venice was one of the first to make a large investment in the medium, and the technology from the first year to the second is already progressing in leaps and bounds.

Tapped as best VR film, Spheres — an experience that takes viewers into outer space to explore the sounds of the cosmos — is the first VR film acquired at a festival in a seven-figure deal. “In virtual reality, the possibilities of storytelling are infinite, like the darkest edges of the universe,” Spheres creator McNitt told The Hollywood Reporter after receiving the award. “This is just the beginning of the possibilities this new form of storytelling offers.”

The world's oldest film fest concluded its 75th anniversary edition Saturday, but not without controversy.

After Cannes had shut out Netflix this year, Venice debuted a record six titles from the streamer, with three in the main competition and one in Horizons. Italian exhibitors were less than thrilled with the move, and the International Confederation of Art Cinemas (CICAE) issued a strongly worded letter to the fest to reserve competition slots for films that will be exhibited in cinemas internationally, rather than simultaneously released in 190 countries. 

But the larger controversy was once again festival chief Alberto Barbera choosing only one film directed by a woman, The Nightingale by Jennifer Kent, in competition, after being widely criticized last year for making the same decision. Barbera maintained that quality was his only factor in choosing films, but topic was brought up throughout the festival, including by del Toro and Sisters Brothers director Jacques Audiard, who made pleas for diversity, and by the media, who questioned if there might be an unspoken bias in the way films were chosen this year.

Venice chiefs signed a festival charter for gender parity, but did so only after making a big show of saying that it was barely necessary as they already hire a majority of women and are open about their submissions and selection panels. They committed to holding a panel at next year's festival to analyze data, but doubled down on the idea that the issue lies more with problems of access to filmmakers, without addressing any kind of unconscious bias. Sexist incidents — including a man wearing a "Weinstein is Innocent" T-shirt being allowed to walk the Suspiria red carpet for paparazzi and a blogger yelling misogynist obscenities during a press screening of Kent's film — did not help the festival in making its case as a welcome platform for women. 

The full list of winners is below. 

Venice 75 Awards

Golden Lion: Roma, dir. Alfonso Cuaron
Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize: The Favourite, dir. Yorgos Lanthimos
Silver Lion Best Director: The Sisters Brothers, dir. Jacques Audiard
Volpi Cup for Best Actress: Olivia Colman in The Favourite
Volpi Cup for Best Actor: Willem Dafoe in At Eternity's Gate
Best Screenplay Award: Joel & Ethan Coen, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Special Jury Prize: The Nightingale, dir. Jennifer Kent
Marcello Mastroianni Award: Baykali Ganambarr for The Nightingale

Horizons Awards

Best Film: Kraben Rahu, dir Phuttiphong Aroonpheng
Best Director: Ozen, dir. Emir Baigazin
Special Jury Prize: Anons, dir. Mahmut Fazil Coskun
Best Actress: Natalya Kudryashova in The Man Who Surprised Everyone
Best Actor: Kais Nashif in Tel Aviv on Fire
Best Screenplay: Pema Tseden, Jinpa

Lion of the Future

Lion of the Future Luigi De Laurentiis Award for a Debut Film: The Day I Lost My Shadow, dir. Soudade Kaadan

Venice Classics

Best Documentary on Cinema: The Great Buster: A Celebration, dir. Peter Bogdanovich 
Best Restored Film: The Night of the Shooting Stars, dir. Paolo and Vittorio Taviani

Venice VR

Best VR Film: Spheres, dir. Eliza McNitt
Best VR Experience Award: Buddy VR, dir. Chuck Chae
Best VR Story Award: I'iIe des morts, dir. Benjamin Nuel

Queer Lion

Jose, Li Cheng