The Venice Film Festival jury has awarded its top prize to Joker, Todd Phillips’ origins story for the infamous Batman villain, previously brought to the screen by Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s Batman and later by Heath Ledger in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.
With Joaquin Phoenix now inhabiting the tragic character, Joker is an unusually commercial feature to take the prestigious Golden Lion, at a festival that is so passionate about film that it hands out an award to the Best Documentary about Cinema. Joker will be hoping to follow the previous two Golden Lion winners, Roma and The Shape of Water, onto the Best Picture Oscar short-list. A superhero film has never won that award.
But the award that’s got tongues wagging in the industry was the runner up Grand Jury Prize, which went to An Officer and a Spy – a dramatisation of France’s 1895 Dreyfus scandal – from Roman Polanski, the Oscar-winning director who’s been expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences over an historical conviction for having sex with an underage girl in the US. Polanski’s unexpected award came despite his film’s initial selection being opposed by many in the #MeToo movement and the head of the jury, Lucrecia Martel, refusing to attend its red carpet premiere. Diversity campaigners were already angry that only two of the twenty one films in the competition were directed by women. Polanski didn’t travel to Venice – either to promote the film or to collect his trophy, which was taken home by his wife – the French actress Emmanuelle Seigner, one of the stars of the film.
A safer, less controversial award for the Festival was the Silver Lion for Best Director, which went to About Endlessness, from Roy Anderson, the Swedish film-maker who took home the Golden Lion in 2014 for A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence.
China’s Yonfan won the Best Screenplay award for his animation, No 7 Cherry Lane. The French veteran Ariane Ascaride was named the Best Actress for Gloria Mundi, and Italy’s Luca Marinelli won the Best Actor prize on home turf for Martin Eden.
Here is the full list of winners from Venice 2019:
Golden Lion: “Joker,” Todd Phillips
Grand Jury Prize: “An Officer and a Spy,” Roman Polanski
Silver Lion for Best Director: Roy Andersson, “About Endlessness”
Volpi Cup for Best Actress: Ariane Ascaride, “Gloria Mundi”
Volpi Cup for Best Actor: Luca Marinelli, “Martin Eden”
Best Screenplay: “No. 7 Cherry Lane,” Yonfan
Special Jury Prize: “The Mafia Is No Longer What It Used to Be,” Franco Maresco
Marcello Mastroianni Award for Young Actor: Toby Wallace, “Babyteeth”
HORIZONS COMPETITION (ORIZZONTI)
Best Film: “Atlantis,” Valentyn Vasyanovych
Best Director: Théo Court, “White on White”
Special Jury Prize: “Verdict,” Raymund Ribas Gutierrez
Best Actress: Marta Nieto, “Madre”
Best Actor: Sami Bouajila, “A Son”
Best Screenplay: “Back Home,” Jessica Palud, Philippe Lioret and Diastème
Best Short Film: “Darling,” Saim Sadiq
LION OF THE FUTURE
Luigi de Laurentiis Award for Best Debut Feature: “You Will Die at Twenty,” Amjad Abu Alala
Best Restored Film: “Ecstasy,” Gustav Machatý
Best Documentary on Cinema: “Babenco – Alguém Tem Que Ouvir O Coração E Dizer: Parou,” Bárbara Paz
VIRTUAL REALITY COMPETITION
Best Virtual Reality: Céline Tricart, “The Key”
Best Virtual Reality Experience: “A Linha,” Ricardo Laganaro
Best Virtual Reality Story: “Daughters of Chibok,” Joel Kachi Benson