Entertainment Movies The big winners of the 78th annual Venice Film Festival
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The big winners of the 78th annual Venice Film Festival

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French-Lebanese filmmaker Audrey Diwan has become the sixth female director to win the top prize at the Venice Film Festival, as Netflix took home four of the competition’s major awards.

Considered the world’s oldest film festival and where newcomers often get their big break, the two-week festival came to a close over the weekend with Diwan’s abortion drama, L’Evènement, winning the Golden Lion for best film.

The competition in 2021 was robust, with 21 films vying for the top prize, including well-received films such as Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog, Pedro Almodovar’s Parallel Mothers, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter and Paolo Sorrentino’s The Hand of God.

Diwan’s film, known as Happening in English, is about a French college student with an unwanted pregnancy on a search for an abortion.

Venice Film Festival winners
Audrey Diwan’s L’Evenement won the Golden Lion at the 78th Venice Film Festival. Photo: Getty

The movie is based on Annie Ernaux’s novel L’Evènement about her experience as a 23-year-old trying to get an illegal abortion in the 1960s.

Diwan’s adaptation was nominated unanimously as the winner by the prestigious 78-person jury that included recent Oscar winners Bong Joon Ho (Parasite) and Chloe Zhao (Nomadland).

“I did this movie with anger. I did it with desire, also my heart and my head. I wanted Happening to be an experience, a journey in the skin of this young woman,” Diwan said on Saturday night (local time).

“I wanted Happening to be an experience.”

Other women to win the top prize in the past include Zhao, Margarethe von Trotta (Marianne & Juliane or The German Sisters), Agnes Varda (Vagabond), Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding) and Sofia Coppola (Somewhere).

Diwan’s success capped off a strong night for female filmmakers, with Campion and Gyllenhaal receiving awards in their respective categories.

Venice Film Festival winners
Campion’s 1920s frontier film was filmed in New Zealand last year. Photo: Getty

New Zealand’s Campion won the Silver Lion prize for best director for her Netflix period epic The Power of the Dog, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Kirsten Dunst.

The film is Campion’s first feature in 12 years.

Meanwhile, Gyllenhaal won best screenplay honours in her directorial debut in Netflix film The Lost Daughter.

The adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s 2008 novel The Lost Daughter was Gyllenhaal’s first screenplay and film as a director.

“I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to be here,” Gyllenhaal said on Saturday.

“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.”

She thanked Campion for being an inspiration.

Venice Film Festival winners
Maggie Gyllenhaal receives the award for best screenplay during the Venice Film Festival closing ceremony. Photo: Getty

Italian director Sorrentino won the grand jury prize, the Silver Lion, for his semi-autobiographical drama The Hand of God for Netflix.

Filippo Scotti won the Marcello Mastroianni Award for best new young actor or actress for playing Fabietto in Sorrentino’s film.

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 said.

John Arcilla won the Volpi Cup for best actor for his performance in the Philippine crime thriller On the Job 2: The Missing 8.

Arcilla plays a corrupt reporter working for a local newspaper.