Much like Cannes in May, when the Palm d Ór went to the critics' favourite, Japan's Shoplifters, in a rare occurrence when the jury and journalists saw eye-to-eye, the Venice Film Festival jury, headed by Guillermo Del Toro, awarded the Golden Lion to the Spanish-language Mexican movie, Roma. Although, Del Toro (whose The Shape of Water clinched the Golden Lion last year and went on to win four Oscars, including those for Best Picture and Best Director) is himself Mexican, there were really no murmurs of dissent. Obviously so, because Roma was everybody's favourite, including the hard-to-please tribe of critics. It vied with 20 other titles in a year which is being seen as having had one of the Festival's strongest lineups.
Alfonso Cuaron's Roma is his most personal film, and he tells the story in black-and-white images of two domestic workers of Mexican heritage who take good care of a family of husband, wife and children living in one of Rome's middle-class localities. A Netflix original, Roma, was one of the several movies at Venice from the streaming giant that found a platform after being rejected by Cannes, where French cinemas insisted on following a theatres-first rule.
Cuaron was last in Venice with his Gravity (2013), an odyssey in which George Clooney and Sandra Bullock play astronauts who get lost in space. The film garnered seven Oscars. And hopefully Roma will have as accomplished a journey in the coming awards season with Venice fast growing into a launch pad for the Oscars.
The Favourite by Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos scored a double whammy. It got the Jury Prize, the second most favourite award, plus the Best Actress Coppa Volpi for Olivia Colman – who essayed the gout-stricken 18th century Queen of England. It was a hilarious role, and one was fascinated by Colman's performance as she moved about the palace in a wheelchair trying to sort out terrible court intrigues.
The Nightingale, the only movie by a woman helmer (Australia's Jennifer Kent), also clinched two trophies. About the travails of a young Irish woman convict and an Aboriginal tracker (Baykali Ganambarr) who pursue a British army officer guilty of harming her family, The Nightingale was given the Special Jury Prize and the Marcello Mastroianni nod for the Best Young Actor (Ganambarr).
French auteur Jacques Audiard was adjudged Best Director for his witty, Western drama about two siblings in The Sisters Brothers in which two killers, played by Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly, are hired to bump off a man.
Willem Dafoe was honoured with the Best Actor Coppa Volpi for his hauntingly memorable part as the post-impressionist Dutch painter, Vincent Van Gogh, living out his last years in the south of France – a period that was extremely turbulent for him as well wonderfully productive.
Brothers Joel and Ethan Coen won the Best Screenplay for their Western The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, originally conceived as a television series, also from Netflix.
The streaming giant is becoming a huge presence in the world of entertainment with six films in the Festival. In fact, Venice was the first Festival launch pad for Netflix: in 2016, its The Birth of a Nation, about a slave rebellion in North America, premiered there.
(Author, commentator and movie critic Gautaman Bhaskaran has covered the Venice Film Festival for over 15 years)