Penelope Cruz and Filipino actor John Arcilla win big at Venice Film Festival

French drama 'L'Evenement' by Audrey Diwan won the Golden Lion for Best Film

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Penelope Cruz took home the award for Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival on Saturday, the latest success for the all-conquering queen of Spanish cinema.

Cruz won for her starring role in Parallel Mothers, her latest collaboration with Spanish director Pedro Almodovar.

It was a surprisingly political turn for the flamboyant filmmaker, exploring the trauma of Spain's civil war alongside the tale of two mothers sharing a maternity ward.

It marks a departure into dark historical territory for the director, while still focusing on the themes of motherhood and female relationships that have been central to many of his films.

Cruz 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,” she said. “I adore you.”

The Best Actor award was less expected, going to Filipino star John Arcilla for crime thriller On The Job: The Missing 8. Arcilla plays a radio host forced to rethink his support for the government after a series of assassinations.

The film, by Erik Matti, is a sequel to the 2013 acclaimed film On The Job. Matti accepted the award on behalf of Arcilla at the ceremony on Saturday.

Director Erik Matti accepts the Best Actor award on behalf of John Arcilla for 'On The Job: The Missing 8'. Getty

The coveted Golden Lion for Best Film went to a hard-hitting French drama about illegal abortion in the 1960s.

Audrey Diwan’s L’Evenement (Happening), about a French college student who finds herself with an unwanted pregnancy, was the unanimous choice from a prestigious jury that included recent Oscar winners Bong Joon-ho and Chloe Zhao.

Director Audrey Diwan poses with the Golden Lion for 'L’Evenement' at the Venice International Film Festival. Getty

“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,” Diwan said. “I wanted Happening to be an experience.”

Diwan is the sixth woman to have directed a Golden Lion-winning film, following Zhao (Nomadland), Margarethe Von Trotta (Marianne & Juliane), Agnes Varda (Vagabond), Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding) and Sofia Coppola (Somewhere).

Paolo Sorrentino’s The Hand of God, based on a formative personal tragedy, took the Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize while Jane Campion won the Silver Lion for Best Director for her period epic The Power of the Dog. It’s her second time winning a runner-up prize at Venice. Her first was in 1990 for An Angel at My Table, a Janet Frame biopic.

Italian director Paolo Sorrentino holds the Silver Lion - Grand Jury Prize for his movie 'E stato la mano di Dio' (The Hand of God). EPA

“It’s amazing to get an award from you people,” Campion said, talking to the jury standing beside her. “You’ve made the bar very, very high for me in cinema, Bong, Chloe.”

Maggie 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.”

Gyllenhaal said her film is “Italian in its bones” even though it was shot in Greece and in the English language.

“In a way as women we have been born into an agreement to be silent and Ferrante broke that agreement,” Gyllenhaal said. “I had the same feeling seeing The Piano when I was in high school.”

Maggie Gyllenhaal with her award for Best Screenplay for 'The Lost Daughter'. EPA

The Venice Film Festival has in the past decade re-established itself as the pre-eminent launchpad for awards hopefuls. Zhao’s Nomadland won the top prize at Venice last year and went on to win Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor at the Oscars. In addition to Zhao and Bong, who served as president, the jury also included actors Sarah Gadon and Cynthia Erivo and directors Saverio Costanzo (My Brilliant Friend) and Alexander Nanau (Collective).

With Nomadland, it was the second time in four years that the Golden Lion winner had won Best Picture. Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water shared a similar path. Venice’s 2019 winner, Joker, went on to receive 10 Oscar nods, including one for Best Picture.

Not winning the top prize at Venice doesn’t end an Oscar campaign before it starts, though. Many eventual winners simply had their premiere at the festival, and not always even in the competition, before winning best picture (Birdman and Spotlight) or best director (Damien Chazelle for La La Land, Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity and Roma, del Toro for The Shape of Water and Alejandro G Inarritu for Birdman).

Some of this year’s biggest premieres were not part of the competition, including Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune and Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho.

In the Horizons section, which spotlights emerging filmmakers, Pilgrims by Laurynas Bareisa won Best Picture. The actor award went to Piseth Chhun of White Building and actress to Laure Calamy for A plein temps (Full Time), which also won best director for Eric Gravel.

The awards ceremony brings to a close the first major film festival of the autumn season which thus far has appeared to be a resounding success, despite the Delta variant. The Covid safety protocols were strict and the films strong.

But Venice also successfully brought the glamour back to a red carpet that may have been less crowded than usual but made up for in viral moments, from a teasingly tender embrace between co-stars Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain to the red carpet debut of Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck – although perhaps it should be called a debut redo since the two rekindled a romance that ended 18 years ago.

Full list of winners of the Venice Film Festival 2021:

Main competition

- Best Actress: Penelope Cruz for Parallel Mothers

- Best Actor: John Arcilla for On the Job: Missing 8

- Best Young Actor: Filippo Scotti for The Hand of God

- Golden Lion for Best Director: Audrey Diwan for L’Evenement (Happening)

- Silver Lion for Best Director: Jane Campion for The Power of the Dog

- Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize: Paolo Sorrentino for The Hand of God

- Best Screenplay: Maggie Gyllenhaal for The Lost Daughter

- Special Jury Prize: Michelangelo Frammartino for Il Buco

Virtual Reality

- Best VR Story: David Adler for End of Night

- Best VR Experience: Blanca Li for Le bal de Paris de Blanca Li

- Best VR Grand Jury Prize: Barry Gene Murphy and May Abdalla for Goliath: Playing with Reality

- Lion of the Future: Monica Stan and George Chiper-Lillemark for Imaculat


- Best Film: Pilgrims by Laurynas Bareisa

- Best Director: Eric Gravel for A Plein Temps

- Best Actor: Piseth Chhun for White Building

- Best Actress: Laure Calamy for A Plein Temps

- Orrizonti Audience Award: Teemu Nikki for The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic

- Best Short Film: Cristobal Leon and Joaquin Cocina for Los Huesos

- Best Screenplay: Peter Kerekes and Ivan Ostrochovsky for 107 Mothers

- Special Jury Prize: Kiro Russo for El Grand Movimiento

– Additional reporting by AFP, AP and Reuters

Updated: September 12, 2021, 5:43 AM