“Poor Things,” directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, was awarded the Golden Lion for best film at the 80th Venice International Film Festival on Saturday by a competition jury led by Damien Chazelle. In the film, Emma Stone plays a virtuoso role as a woman with an initially childlike understanding of the world that comes into its own through a sexual and philosophical journey.
Bella Baxter, the main character in the film, “wouldn’t exist without Emma Stone,” Lanthimos said. “This film is her, in front of and behind the camera.” Stone previously collaborated with Lanthimos on ‘The Favorite’, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the festival in 2018.
Like many other actors in films shown at the festival, Stone was not present as the strike by SAG-AFTRA, the union representing television and film actors, continued.
Set in a partly fantastical 19th-century Europe, “Poor Things” follows Bella (Stone) on her thrilling adventures in Tony McNamara’s adaptation of the 1992 novel Alasdair Gray. The film also stars Willem Dafoe as Bella’s doctor father is, Ramy Youssef as his assistant and her suitor, and Mark Ruffalo as a voluptuous lawyer.
Lanthimos said it took “quite a few years” for the film to come together, for “the world, or our industry” to be ready for his story. The announcement of the award was received with thunderous applause.
The 80th edition of the festival opened with ‘Comandante’, a historical drama about an Italian submarine that saved Belgian sailors during the Second World War. Other prominent films included ‘Maestro’, ‘Priscilla’, ‘The Killer’, ‘Ferrari’, ‘Hit Man’, ‘Origin’, ‘El Conde’, ‘Aggro Dr1ft’, ‘Coup de Chance’, ‘Dogman ‘ and William Friedkin’s last film, “The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial.”
The latest edition received widespread acclaim, despite prior speculation that the SAG-AFTRA and Writers Guild of America strikes in Hollywood could impact the festival’s impact. Stars were largely absent. However, there were exceptions, including Adam Driver and Jessica Chastain, thanks to interim agreements with SAG-AFTRA; both actors expressed support for the strikes. But the filmmakers did not disappoint: before the awards ceremony, the audience chanted “Yorgos! Yorgos!” as the director walked onto the red carpet.
The Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize went to ‘Evil Does Not Exist’, the new film by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, whose film ‘Drive My Car’ won an Academy Award. His latest feature film is about a small town in Japan that tries to fend off a planned glamping.
Immigration was a recurring theme among the prize winners. The Silver Lion for best director went to Matteo Garrone for the immigration drama ‘Me Captain’. The Special Jury Prize went to Agnieszka Holland for ‘Green Border’, her versatile view on immigration to Poland.
The Volpi Cup for best actress was awarded to Cailee Spaeny, who played the title role in Sofia Coppola’s ‘Priscilla’, the story of Priscilla Presley’s relationship with Elvis Presley. The best actor award went to Peter Sarsgaard for his role as a man with dementia accused of past abuse in Michel Franco’s “Memory.” In his acceptance speech, Sarsgaard movingly spoke out against the threat of artificial intelligence. Seydou Sarr won the Marcello Mastroianni Award, given to an outstanding emerging actor, for ‘Me Captain’.
The award for best screenplay went to “El Conde,” a vampiric retelling of General Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean dictator, written by Guillermo Calderón and Pablo Larraín, who also directed. “Love Is a Gun,” directed by Lee Hong-Chi, received the Lion of the Future Award for Best Feature Debut. “Thank You Very Much,” a playful look at Andy Kaufman, won the Venice Classics award for best documentary on cinema.
For the Orizzonti section, another competition part of the festival, the top prize went to ‘Explanation for Everything’, an extensive work by Hungarian director Gabor Reisz. “El Paraiso,” a mother-daughter drama, also won two awards in this section: Margarita Rosa de Francisco won for best actress and Enrico Maria Artale won for best screenplay. In particular, a Mongolian film, ‘City of Wind’, was honored for best actor (Tergel Bold-Erdene).
This year’s Golden Lions for Lifetime achievement went to Tony Leung Chiu-wai, a star of Hong Kong cinema, and director Liliana Cavani, whose film “The Order of Time” was played out of competition. The Glory to the Filmmaker Award went to Wes Anderson, whose short film “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” played out of competition.