Venice: Todd Phillips' 'Joker' Wins Golden Lion, Roman Polanski Wins Silver Lion

ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images
Todd Phillips (left) and Joaquin Phoenix

The 76th edition of the Venice International Film Festival closed Saturday night with the top prize going to the villain origin story starring Joaquin Phoenix.

Todd Phillips' Joker took home the Golden Lion top prize in Venice on Saturday night, while Roman Polanski won the second place Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize for An Officer and a Spy

Upon receiving the prize, Phillips thanked "Warner Bros. and DC for stepping out of their comfort zone and taking such a bold swing on me and this movie."

Regarding the film's star Joaquin Phoenix, who joined Phillips onstage, the director said, "There is no movie without Joaquin Phoenix. Joaquin is the fiercest and bravest and most open-minded lion I know. Thank you for trusting me with your insane talent."

The 76th edition of the world’s oldest film festival wrapped Saturday after 11 nights of world premieres. This year’s edition was one of the most sweltering in years, with festgoers plagued by mosquitos and heat waves. Throngs of fans still came out to wait for a glimpse of Brad Pitt and Kristen Stewart, among others. 

Among the top awards, Roy Andersson won the Silver Lion for directing for About Endlessness. He previously took home the Golden Lion in 2014 for A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence. 

Luca Marinelli won the Volpi Cup for best actor for his starring role in Martin Eden, while Ariane Ascaride won the Volpi Cup for best actress for Gloria Mundi

Hong Kong director Yonfan won best screenplay honors for his film No. 7 Cherry Lane. He gave an impassioned speech, dedicating the award to his homeland: "I hope Hong Kong will be normal again, so we can feel free again."

Despite early controversies, the event ran without a hitch, even welcoming demonstrators to the red carpet on its final day to protest against climate change. The protestors were given a shout-out by Mick Jagger and Donald Sutherland, who were in town to promote the closing-night film, Giuseppe Capotondi’s The Burnt Orange Heresy. More than one viewer wondered why the film, about an art heist gone very wrong, was not given a competition slot.

Although international press questioned the inclusion of Roman Polanski’s An Officer and a Spy in a post-#MeToo world, the film was received with a hero’s welcome in Italy. The director, who was convicted of statutory rape in the U.S. in 1978, was expelled last year from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. An Officer and a Spy, a retelling of the Dreyfus affair, was announced as the early winner of the FIPRESCI prize and received the highest average rating among Italian critics.

When jury president Lucrecia Martel previously said she cannot separate the man from his art, producers threatened to pull the film, although her words were misconstrued as she had said during the festival's opening press conference that An Officer and a Spy deserves its spot in Venice.

"I have to say that it won't be easy for me, and that's why it's certain that I will not attend Mr. Polanski's gala," said Martel at the festival's opening, although she did attend a press and industry screening of the film, "because I represent many women who are fighting in Argentina on these types of issues. And I don't want to have to stand up and clap.”

She continued, “But I think it is correct that Polanski’s film is here at this festival because it's a dialogue we won't give up on, and this is the best possible place to go deep on this type of discussion."

On the Lido, critics also gave almost universal praise to Joker and Marriage Story, although the latter went home empty-handed. In fact, Netflix, despite having both Marriage Story and The Laundromat in competition, received no love from the jury. The streamer also had The King, which played out of competition.

Martel served as president of the international jury. Mary Harron (a last-minute replacement for Jennifer Kent), Piers Handling, Stacy Martin, Rodrigo Prieto, Tsukamoto Shinya and Paolo Virzi completed the panel.

The Horizons jury, chaired by director Susanna Nicchiarelli, gave the best film prize to Atlantis by Ukrainian director Valentyn Vasyanovych.

Emir Kusturica served as president of the jury for the “Luigi De Laurentiis” Venice Award for a Debut Film – Lion of the Future, which went to You Will Die at 20 from Sudanese helmer Amjad Abu Alala.

And Laurie Anderson oversaw the jury for the Venice Virtual Reality section. The Key, directed by Celine Tricart, took home the Golden Lion for best VR film. Alia Shawkat narrated the pic.

The full list of winners is below. 

Venice 76 Awards

Golden Lion: Joker, directed by Todd Phillips
Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize: An Officer and a Spy, directed by Roman Polanski
Silver Lion Best Director: Roy Andersson, About Endlessness
Volpi Cup for Best Actress: Ariane Ascaride in Gloria Mundi
Volpi Cup for Best Actor: Luca Marinelli in Martin Eden
Best Screenplay Award: No. 7 Cherry Lane, written and directed by Yonfan
Special Jury Prize: The Mafia Is No Longer What It Used to Be, directed by Franco Maresco
Marcello Mastroianni Award for Young Actor: Toby Wallace in Babyteeth, directed by Shannon Murphy

Horizons Awards

Best Film: Atlantis, directed by Valentyn Vasyanovych
Best Director: Theo Court, Blanco en Blanco
Special Jury Prize: Verdict, directed by Raymund Ribay Gutierrez
Best Actress: Marta Nieto in Madre
Best Actor: Sami Bouajila in A Son
Best Screenplay: Revenir, written by Jessica Palud, Philippe Lioret, Diasteme and directed by Jessica Palud

Lion of the Future

Lion of the Future Luigi De Laurentiis Award for a Debut Film: You Will Die at 20, directed by Amjad Abu Alala

Venice VR

Best VR Film: The Key, directed by Celine Tricart
Best VR Experience Award: A Linha, directed by Ricardo Laganaro
Best VR Story Award: Daughters of Chibok, directed by Joel Kachi Benson

Venice Classics

Best Documentary on Cinema: Babenco: Tell Me When I Die, directed by Barbara Paz
Best Restored Film: Ectasy, directed by Gustav Machaty