Todd Phillips' dark tale, Joker, who hides a villainous streak behind his bright paint and grease, bagged the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival on Saturday from a jury headed by Argentine auteur Lucrecia Martel. Joaquin Phoenix plays the title character, a man who has been pushed into becoming an epitome of evil by an unfeeling society. A brilliant performance that did not, though, fetch him the best actor prize, which went to the Italian actor, Pietro Marcello – who essays a downtrodden man aspiring to be a writer and win a higher status in society.
Martel, who refused to attend a red carpet event for Roman Polanski's An Officer and a Spy, said later that she would look at the movie with an open mind. And she did that rewarding Polanski -- who has been a fugitive from American law since the late 1970s never stepping into the country, where he raped a 13-year-old girl (who though has since forgiven him and has asked the authorities to drop the charges against the director) – with the runner-up Grand Jury Prize.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, many have boycotted Polanski – and this includes the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences expelling him from its ranks last year, 15 years after honouring him with an Oscar for The Pianist.
Much like Joker, Polanski's work on the late 1800s Dreyfus affair will lend itself to months of intense debate – both though for different reasons. While “Variety chief critic Owen Gleiberman was among Joker's many champions, acclaiming it as a neo-Taxi Driver knockout: the rare comic-book film that expresses what’s happening in the real world, some other critics voiced their concern over Joker's graphic violence. “
None of the two female directors in competition won any huge recognition. Saudi Arabia's first woman helmer, Haifaa Al-Mansour, went home empty-handed after her work, The Perfect Candidate, failed to impress the jury. However, the other woman auteur, Shannon Murphy, clinched the Marcello Mastroianni Young Actor prize for Babyteeth.
Veteran French character actress Ariane Ascaride took the Best Actress honours for Robert Guediguian’s bittersweet ensemble piece, Gloria Mundi, in which young parents have to reconnect with the girl's ex-convict grandfather to tide over their financial crisis.
Finally, Swedish veteran Roy Andersson, a Golden Lion winner in 2014 for A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, took the Best Director prize for About Endlessness, another abstract work with his signature deadpan style. The best screenplay prize went to Yonfan, for his first animated movie, No. 7 Cherry Lane.
(Author, commentator and movie critic Gautaman Bhaskaran has been covering the Venice Film Festival for over 18 years)
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