Venice: Guillermo del Toro Wins Golden Lion for 'The Shape of Water'

Guillermo del Toro - Getty - H 2017
Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

The Three Amigos have conquered Venice.

Guillermo del Toro has won the Venice Film Festival's Golden Lion for The Shape of Water, a Cold War romantic fairy tale that the director has called a portrait of hope, “an antidote to now.”

Accepting the award, which he already nicknamed "Sergio Leone," del Toro said Saturday, "If you remain pure and stay with your faith, whatever you have faith in — in my case, it's monsters — eventually things go right." He dedicated the award to young Mexican and Latin American filmmakers who are working to push the fantasy genre.

Del Toro is the first Mexican to win the Golden Lion. “I’ve been doing this for 25 years. You go up, you go down. You fly, you land, you crash. A career is an accident in slow motion. It’s not a trajectory you plan,” he said after the ceremony. “This is an airbag being deployed. What the festival is saying to me is, ‘We understand your voice in the context of film, and we’re inviting you to be a part of the conversation.’”

Shape of Water was well-received in Venice by critics. Sally Hawkins stars as a mute cleaning woman in this anti-Hollywood love story who falls in love with a sea monster being held captive by the U.S. government. Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Doug Jones and Richard Jenkins also star.

Del Toro’s fellow “Three Amigos” have all struck Oscar gold after debuting big on the Lido, with Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity (2013) taking home seven Academy Awards and Alejandro G. Inarritu’s Birdman (2014) winning four. After his Venice premiere, del Toro will attempt to complete the circle as Shape of Water continues on its awards path.

As the first female jury president in more than a decade, Annette Bening was in charge of doling out eight prizes among 21 films this year. Unlike in recent years, the panel's choices lined up with audience favorites, as each announcement was met with loud cheers.

Israeli director Samuel Maoz won the Grand Jury Prize Silver Lion for his modern-day satire Foxtrot, while the young French helmer Xavier Legrand was emotional after accepting the Silver Lion for best director, for his debut film Custody, after winning the Lion of the Future award. Martin McDonagh took best screenplay honors for his dark comedic drama Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and Australian Aboriginal director Warwick Thornton won the Special Jury Prize for his period Western Sweet Country.

Charlotte Rampling was named best actress for her lead role in Hannah, playing an abandoned woman in Andrea Pallaoro’s sophomore film on internalized grief; Kamel El Basha earned best actor honors for his part in the courtroom drama The Insult; and Charlie Plummer took the Marcello Mastroianni award for best young actor for his lauded performance in Lean on Pete.

The 74th Venice Film Festival saw its most star-studded edition in years, with many features delving deep into political topics old and new. With the last four years of the event featuring either a subsequent best picture or best director winner at the Oscars, the studios came out in full force to kick off the awards season. But while the festival debuted a slew of Oscar contenders, none have yet emerged as sure-fire bets, as was seen in the past with films like Gravity and La La Land.

Fox Searchlight emerged victorious, with top reviewed films including McDonagh's Three Billboards and del Toro's Shape of Water. Both films were praised across the board for direction, storytelling and performances and may be Venice's best shots to repeat history next March at the Academy Awards.  

While Venice awards can sometimes translate into Oscar success, with Emma Stone picking up the best actress award for La La Land here and later at the Academy Awards, this is not always the case. Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals, which won the Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize last year, was shut out at the Oscars, with only a supporting actor nom for Michael Shannon. 

For the second year in a row, a female director won the top prize in the Horizons section, with the award going to Susanna Nicchiarelli's Nico, 1988, a biopic about the Velvet Underground singer.

Venice also had its first-ever VR jury this year, led by filmmaker John Landis. With a separate exhibition space set up on an island far from the Lido, the VR works seemed to be more a part of the art Biennale this year than a part of the film festival. As directors continue to experiment with the medium, Venice has made clear they will bring the new technology front and center in future lineups.

A list of winners follows.

Venice 74 Awards

Golden Lion: The Shape of Water, dir. Guillermo del Toro
Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize: Foxtrot, dir. Samuel Maoz
Silver Lion Best Director: Custody, dir. Xavier Legrand
Volpi Cup for Best Actress: Charlotte Rampling for Hannah, dir. Andrea Pallaoro
Volpi Cup for Best Actor: Kamel El Basha for The Insult, dir. Ziad Doueiri
Best Screenplay Award: Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Special Jury Prize: Sweet Country, dir. Warwick Thornton
Marcello Mastroianni Award: Charlie Plummer for Lean on Pete, dir. Andrew Haigh

Horizons Awards

Best Film: Nico, 1988, dir. Susanna Nicchiarelli
Best Director: No Date, No Signature, dir. Vahid Jalilvand
Special Jury Prize: Caniba, dir. Verena Paravel, Lucien Castaing-Taylor
Best Actress: Lyna Khoudri, The Blessed, dir. Sofia Djama
Best Actor: Navid Mohammadzadeh for No Date, No Signature, dir. Vahid Jalilvand
Best Screenplay: Alireza Khatami, Dominique Welinski, Rene Ballesteros for Oblivion Verses, dir. Alireza Khatami

Lion of the Future

Lion of the Future Luigi De Laurentiis Award for a Debut Film: Custody, dir. Xavier Legrand

Venice Classics

Best Documentary on Cinema: The Prince and the Dybbuk, dir. Elwira Niewiera, Piotr Rosolowski
Best Restored Film: Idi i smotri, dir. Elem Klimov

Venice VR

Best VR Film: Arden's Wake, dir. Eugene YK Chung
Best VR Experience Award: La camera insabbiata, dir. Laurie Anderson and Hsin-Chien Huang
Best VR Story Award: Bloodless, dir. Gina Kim