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Mike Leigh's Vera Drake wins Golden Lion

Mike Leigh's "Vera Drake" won the coveted "Leone d’Oro" - Golden Lion - at the 61st Venice International Film Festival, presided over by John Boorman, jury president. The awards were announced at the closing ceremony September 11.
Imelda Staunton who plays Vera Drake, a midwife in the 1950's prosecuted for "helping young girls and women in trouble" won the Coppa Volpi, best actress award. There is an irony in the award of the Golden Lion to Mike Leigh's "Vera Drake". Tod Solondz "Palindromes" competed in the same section, a film about the 12 year old Avida that wants to have a baby, confronted with prochoice and prolife mom(s) and dad(s) -and a pedophile. Solondz claims "he has no agenda" with the film. Mike Leigh's film that treats a woman who induces home remedy abortions outside the medical establishment has a different tune regarding directorial culpability. "It is not for me to explain Vera Drake. The moral dilemmas my film seeks to pose are not easy to resolve, and it is for each of us to confront these issues with an open mind, and without losing our firm grip on reality". The UK director says that his flms surrounds parents and childen. Leigh sets the tale in the 1950's where abortion laws stem from 1814 in order to not "engage in crude propaganda". Abortion is now legal in the UK but Leigh stresses that it is still a highly debatable global issue such as in the US where conservative factions are keen on repealing the prochoice constitutional amendment and adding others such as banning gay marriages. So indeed the film is a timely one. "Thank you on behalf of my producers and all my comrades who made the film", said Leigh at the closing ceremony. "We thank you profusely and profoundly. It's a great honour. In a cynical world, it is a wonderful thing when serious, committed independent European films are recognized, encouraged and helped to reach their audience." The UK director also thanked the Cannes Film Festival for rejecting the film in May .

The Coppa Mastroianni - "Marcello Mastroianni Award" went to Marco Luisi and Tommaso Ramenghi for the film "Lavorare con lentezza - Radio Alice 100.6 Mhz" by Guido Chiesa. The multi-layered film concerns a student radio station in Bologna in 1976. Luisi and Ramenghi play two young people in the Bologna slums who in the process of digging a tunnel inadvertantly hear Radio Alice. The station becomes an inroad for their political awareness.

Javier Bardem's performance of Ramon Sampedro, a man who loses the use of his arms and legs in his 20's after a diving accident in Alejandro Amenabar's "Mar Adentro" (Out to the Sea) took home the Coppa Volpi best actor award. The film rests on the acting performance of Bardem, his strongest role to date, where he plays a 50 year old man who has been bedridden for 30 years. Makeup took five hours every day. Amenabar won the "Leone d’Argento Gran Premio della Giuria" (Jury Grand Prize). The Spanish director said that the film is dependent on acting performances where the world is seen from Sampedro's bedroom. He read "Letters from Hell" published in 1996, a powerful plea for euthenasia and decided on the project a few years ago.

Studio Ghibli was awarded a special prize for best technical achievement for Hayao Miyazaki "Howl's Moving Castle" which many critics felt was a strong contender for the Golden Lion. Kim Ki-duk won the best directors award for "Binjip" (3-Iron), a contemplative film with only two lines of dialogue spoken by the main protagonists about a man who breaks into and lives in people's homes while they are away. One day he meets a young woman who is physically abused by her husband. "Binjip", in South Korean "The Empty House" was also considered a major contender for the top prize

Other awards in the festival sections:

Leone del futuro - "Luigi De Laurentiis" Award for a First Feature Film to "Le grand voyage" by Ismaël Ferroukhi. Special Mention to "Saimir" by Francesco Munzi

In the Horizon section , the "Venezia Orizzonti" Award went to "Les petits fils" by Ilan Duran Cohen. Special Mention by the Jury went to "Vento di terra" by Vincenzo Marra

In the Cinema Digitale section, the Venezia Cinema Digitale Award went to "20 Angosht" by Mania Akbari. Special Mention by the Jury went to "La vita è breve ma la giornata è lunghissima" by Lucio Pellegrini and Gianni Zanasi.

In the Short film section, the Leone d'Argento Citroën Corto Cortissimo award went to "Signe d'appartenence" by Kamel Cherif. Special Mention went to "The Carpenter and His Clumsy Wife" by Peter Foott.

Moira Sullivan

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