Venice Awards 2016: A big prize for a long film

Do Film festival awards mean anything anymore? Some doubt it if the successful film is American and full of stars. That sort of movie will find its way with or without prizes at Berlin, Cannes and Venice, the three major competitive jamborees. But the non-English speaking nations would disagree. To win a major festival can make a director’s reputation and send his or her film round the world.

So the Venice jury might just have known what they were doing when, despite the presence of several hot new American films, accompanied by their stars, the 73rd Venice Festival’s international jury, presided over by British director Sam Mendes, gave its Golden Lion to A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery, a 226-minute Pilipino film by Dav Diaz. The film, about a woman incarcerated wrongly for 30 years after her best friend gave evidence against her, is based on a Tolstoy short story and is one of the shortest of the 59-year-old independent director’s recent works. He won the Silver Bear at Berlin earlier this year for a four-hour drama and a few years ago made a movie is that lasted 593 minutes and is reckoned to be the longest feature ever made. Clearly, the jury had infinite patience since many critics avoided the new film because of its length within a crowded programme.

America, however, came into the reckoning with Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals, a psychological thriller about a woman, sent a new novel by her ex-husband which describes in gory detail her rape and death by marauding low-lives. This rightly won the main Jury Prize, effectively the second best award of the Festival. Another American winner was Emma Stone who won the Best actress Lion for her performance in The popular La La Land, a musical romance that has already been called a masterpiece by The Guardian and might well have a leading role in next year’s Academy Awards. A further Hollywood triumph was Jackie, the story of Jackie Kennedy’s life after the assassination of JFK before she married Onassis. This excellent film, for which Natalie Portman might well have won an award as Jackie, got the Best Screenplay nod for Noah Oppenheimer.

Strangely, the film most critics judged one of the worst in the competition, Ana Lily Amirpour’s impenetrable existential Western The Bad Batch won the minor jury prize. One of the best, however, was Russian veteran Andrei Konchalovsky’s Paradise, an original and moving take on the Holocaust. This won him a Best Director Lion, shared with Amat Escalante for La región salvaje.

So the oldest film festival, programmed by Alberto Barbera, but with several other sections which were often just as good, or as bad, as the main competition, wound its way past ten days in wonderful weather, leaving the hundreds of press a bit sad to see it go but much gladder to avoid the prices on the Lido which comfortably beat those of Cannes.