French abortion drama Happening has won the Golden Lion at the 78th Venice International Film Festival.
Audrey Diwan’s film about a French college student’s unwanted pregnancy was the unanimous choice for the festival’s top prize by the prestigious jury, which included recent Oscar winners Bong Joon Ho and Chloe Zhao.
The traditional honour for second place, the Grand Jury Prize, went to Paolo Sorrentino’s The Hand Of God.
The competition for the Golden Lion this year was robust, also including well-received films like Jane Campion’s The Power Of The Dog, Pedro Almodovar’s Parallel Mothers and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter.
Twenty-one films were vying for the prize, which has become a promising early indicator of a film’s Oscars prospects.
Diwan said: “I did this movie with anger. I did the movie with desire also. I did it with my belly, my guts, my heart, my head. I wanted Happening to be an experience.”
She is the sixth woman to have directed a Golden Lion-winning film. Others include Chloe Zhao (who directed this year’s best picture Oscar winner Nomadland), Margarethe Von Trotta (Marianne & Juliane), Agnes Varda (Vagabond), Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding) and Sofia Coppola (Somewhere).
Sorrentino took the runner-up prize for his semi-autobiographical The Hand Of God, while Campion won the Silver Lion for best director for her period epic The Power Of The Dog.
It marks Campion’s second honour at Venice. Her first, the Grand Jury prize, came in 1990 for An Angel At My Table, a Janet Frame biopic.
“It’s amazing to get an award from you people,” Campion said, addressing the jury.
“You’ve made the bar very, very high for me in cinema – Bong, Chloe.”
Penelope Cruz won the Volpi Cup for best actress for her performance as a new mother in Almodovar’s Parallel Mothers.
She thanked her director and frequent collaborator for “inspiring me every day with your search for truth”.
“You have created magic again and I could not be more grateful or proud to be part of it,” Cruz continued. “I adore you.”
John Arcilla was awarded the Volpi Cup for best actor for On The Job: The Missing 8.
Gyllenhaal won best screenplay for her adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s 2008 novel The Lost Daughter, which is both her first screenplay and film as a director.
“I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to be here,” Gyllenhaal said.
“I was married in Italy, in Puglia. I found out I was pregnant with my second daughter in Italy. And really my life as a director and writer and my film was born here in this theatre.”