Audrey Diwan’s L’Evenement, or Happening, a film about illegal abortions in 1960s France, has won the Venice Film Festival’s top prize, the Golden Lion.
The gut-punching drama impressed viewers with its portrayal of a young woman desperate to arrange a termination, at a time when it could mean a prison term or death, to continue with her studies.
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“I did this movie with anger, with desire, with my belly, my guts, my heart and my head,” Diwan said on Saturday as she accepted the award.
L’Evenement is the second French film to win a major festival since Julia Ducournau’s serial-killer movie Titane scooped the Palme D’Or in Cannes in July.
In a strong night for women filmmakers, the best director went to famed New Zealand auteur Jane Campion for her emotionally complex Western The Power of the Dog, starring Benedict Cumberbatch.
And the best screenplay award went to Maggie Gyllenhaal for her directorial debut The Lost Daughter, an unflinching look at the difficulties of balancing career and motherhood starring British Oscar-winner Olivia Colman.
The glitzy festival on Venice’s beachfront Lido roared back to life this year after a low-key event in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, with stars back in force and a strong lineup of international films.
The second-place Silver Lion went to beloved Italian director Paolo Sorrentino for his strikingly personal The Hand of God about his youth in the gritty southern city of Naples, which also earned the newcomer award for young star Filippo Scotti.
But it was hard to ignore the gender theme across many films.
The festival closed with The Last Duel, playing out of competition, a medieval jousting drama starring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck that went heavy on its message of historical injustice towards women.
Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho, meanwhile, turned the misogyny of Swinging Sixties London into a slasher horror flick.
One woman who seems destined to grab the headlines in the coming months is Kristen Stewart, who wowed critics with her turn as Princess Diana in Spencer.
But it was Spanish megastar Penelope Cruz who took home the best actress award in Venice for her latest collaboration with veteran auteur Pedro Almodovar.
Parallel Mothers is a surprisingly political turn for the flamboyant filmmaker, exploring the trauma of the 1930s Spanish civil war alongside the tale of two mothers sharing a maternity ward.
Cruz had a busy festival, also starring alongside Antonio Banderas as egomaniacal filmmakers in Official Competition, which mercilessly ripped into their own profession.
The best actor award was less expected, going to Philippines star John Arcilla for the crime thriller On the Job: The Missing 8.