Soudade Kaadan's 'Nezouh' wins prize at Venice Film Festival 2022

Syrian filmmaker takes home her second award from the event, following 'The Day I Lost My Shadow' in 2018

Soudade Kaadan won the Armani Beauty Audience Awards for 'Nezouh'. Getty Images
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Syrian filmmaker Soudade Kaadan took home the Armani Beauty Audience Awards from Venice Film Festival on Saturday for her film Nezouh.

The festival, which wrapped this weekend, handed out its top prize, the Golden Lion, to Oscar winner Laura Poitras, for her documentary All the Beauty and Bloodshed. It focuses on the US opioid crisis and artist Nan Goldin's campaign against the Sackler family, whose company created OxyContin.

The Audience Award is given to the best film in the Orizzonti Extra section, now in its second year, with the support of the festival's main sponsor, Armani Beauty.

The winner is decided by the votes cast by viewers of the nine films in this section, which was introduced in 2021 as an extension of Orizzonti, a competitive category dedicated to new trends in world cinema. The Extra section presents a selection of works with no constraints in terms of genre or target, as long as they are more than 60 minutes.

"Proud to announce for the second time, my second fiction feature film won in Venice and this time it is the audience @armanibeauty award," Kaadan wrote on Instagram. She posted a photograph of her holding her award stood in front of actress Cate Blanchett, who won her second Venice acting award for her performance as a predatory classical music conductor in Tár.

"Thanks for the fabulous cast and team for making our film Nezouh together."

Nezouh, Kaadan's second feature-length fiction film, follows Mutaz, who refuses to flee Damascus, even as bombs fall, to enter a life as a refugee. His wife, Hala, and daughter, Zeina, have to decide whether to stay or leave.

It's an allegorical tale of female liberty. Zeina, 14, gets her first taste of freedom when a young boy lowers himself with a rope through a giant hole in her family's roof, opening up possibilities for her and her mother who have an impossible choice to make.

The Arabic-language film is a co-production between the UK, Syria and France, and stars Syrian actors Samer Al Masri and Kinda Alloush, alongside newcomers Hala Zein and Nizar Alani.

"It is only after the bombing started in our neighbourhood in Damascus that I left the house with my sister," Kaadan says in a director's statement featured on Venice Film Festival's website. "Damascene society was conservative, even in liberal families. With the new wave of displacement, it became normal (for the first time) to see young Damascene women living alone and separating from their families.

"Myself, and many of my friends, started to make decisions we would never make before. Now, sadly, there is no more society, something new has occurred.

"Nezouh in Arabic is the displacement of souls, water and people; it is the displacement of light and darkness. Nezouh tries to talk about this inevitable invasion of light and hope in the midst of this chaos."

Kaadan, who was born in France and moved to Damascus when she was 8, studied theatre criticism in Syria before pursuing filmmaking at Saint Joseph University in Lebanon, according to her IMDb biography.

Her films have been seen across the world and have received international awards, including The Lion of the Future for Best Debut Film at Venice Film Festival 2018, for The Day I Lost My Shadow.

Her recent short film, Aziza, also won the Sundance Grand Jury prize in 2019.

Her debut feature-length documentary Obscure, which came out in 2017, was also highly acclaimed. It followed a Syrian boy called Ahmad, aged 6, who lives in a Lebanese refugee camp and is so traumatised by his exile and sense of loss that he can barely speak. It takes hours of coaxing by his mother to wake him up each morning, and throughout the film he denies any knowledge of where he is from.

“I wanted to pass an emotional experience to the spectator — for the spectator to have more questions at the end of the film than answers,” she told The National ahead of the film's UK premiere in 2017. “What can we do and how can we help these kids?”

Other winners in Venice include Colin Farrell, who was named Best Actor for his part in the Irish drama The Banshees of Inisherin, which also won the Best Screenplay award for writer-director Martin McDonagh, and Iran's jailed filmmaker Jafar Panahi who was awarded The Special Jury prize for No Bears. His detention was the subject of a flash mob protest on Friday on the Venice red carpet, led by jury head Julianne Moore.

Scroll through the gallery below to see more of the winners at Venice Film Festival 2022

Updated: September 11, 2022, 6:27 AM