Venice 2011: ‘Faust’ wins Golden Lion

The gongs have been distributed at this year’s Venice Film Festival and the winner of the coveted Golden Lion is Aleksandr Sokurov‘s Faust, starring Hanna Schygulla, Isolda Dychauk, Georg Friedrich and Maxim Mehmet. The film looks remarkable, with cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel employing all sorts of distortion from fairground mirrors to fuzzy lenses, creating a world which is credibly off-kilter. In other news, Shangjun Cai was awarded the Silver Lion (Best Director) and Michael Fassbender won Best Actor for his role in Steve McQueen’s Shame.

Although not originally based on a play, Faust’s literary source was in keeping with Venice’s celebration of the written word, as witnessed by the startling number of films based on stage plays (Carnage, A Dangerous Method, Wilde Salome, The Ides of March and Killer Joe) or novels (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Wuthering Heights, Love and Bruises and Almayer’s Folly). Sokurov‘s Golden Lion win marks VFF’s return to promoting more artistically-credible cinema following last year’s horrifically dull Best Film winner, Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere (2010).

Personally, Faust was not my favourite film at this year’s Venice Film Festival. There were many films that were perhaps more deserving of the Golden Lion (Shame, Killer Joe, Carnage, Alps, Himizu and Dark Horse), yet Faust was the only film that some viewers had returned to watch a second time, something extremely rare in a festival context with a packed programme. It will certainly be a very popular choice, and should go someway to restoring Venice’s artistic international status.

This year’s Venice programme has been exceptionally strong, with a mixture of high profile Hollywood efforts alongside more difficult and innovative artistic work. Pleasant surprise came in the form of Johnnie To’s Life Without Principle and Shion Sono’s Himizu, both mature and understated works that engaged with both the current economic crisis and the aftermath of March’s Japanese tsunami.

In addition, Killer Joe marked a return to form for director William Friedkin and Todd Soldonz’s Dark Horse didn’t have any paedophiles in it (shock horror). The only real let-downs of the festival were French language relationship dramas: Philippe Garrel’s Un été brûlant and Ye Lou’s brutally misogynistic Love and Bruises.

The Special Jury Prize for Crialese’ Terraferma appeared to be a nod to Italy as festival host rather than for merit alone (Killer Joe and Carnage being glaringly absent from the winners’ table), though it was certainly the strongest of the three Italian contenders in competition.

Marco Mueller ends his mandate as Director of the festival, though we will hear in November whether he and the Biennale decide to prolong his tenure. There is no doubt that he has done much to promote filmmakers from Asia (in particular, his beloved China) and the awards to Chinese and Japanese films were merited. He also appears to have got the intellectual/entertaining mix just right. Inevitably, films we loved were shunned (Chicken with Plums and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) whilst less popular films got the gongs, but that’s the way of all festivals.

All in all, this was a successful and entertaining Venice Film Festival, and maybe having Mueller back for Venice 69 would be a wise move.

Award Winners

Golden Lion for Best Film
Faust – dir. Aleksander Sokurov (Russia)

Silver Lion for Best Director
Shangjun Cai for People Mountain People Sea (China)

Special Jury Prize
Terraferma – dir. Emanuele Crialese (Italy)

Best First Feature
Là-Bas – dir. Guido Lombardi (Italy)

Best Actress
Deanie Yip for A Simple Life (Hong Kong)

Best Actor
Michael Fassbender for Shame (UK)

Emerging Performer
Shota Sometani and Fumi Nikaido for Himizu (Japan)

Best Screenplay
Alps (Alpeis) by Yorgos Lanthimos (Greece)

Best Cinematography

Robbie Ryan for Wuthering Heights – dir. Andrea Arnold (UK)

For more Venice Film Festival 2011 coverage, simply follow this link.

John Bleasdale and Jo-Ann Titmarsh