“Poor Things,” directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, was awarded the Golden Lion for best film at the 80th Venice International Film Festival on Saturday by a competition jury led by Damien Chazelle. The film stars Emma Stone in a virtuoso performance as a woman with an initially childlike understanding of the world who comes into her own through a sexual and philosophical journey.
Bella Baxter, the main character in the film, “wouldn’t exist without Emma Stone,” Lanthimos said. “This film is her, in front of and behind the camera.” Stone previously collaborated with Lanthimos on “The Favourite,” which won the Grand Jury Prize at the festival in 2018.
Like many other actors in films screened at the festival, Stone was not in attendance, as the strike by SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents television and movie actors, continued.
Set in a partly fantastical 19th-century Europe, “Poor Things” follows Bella (Stone) on her eye-opening adventures in Tony McNamara’s adaptation of the 1992 Alasdair Gray novel. The film also stars Willem Dafoe as Bella’s father who is a doctor, Ramy Youssef as his assistant and her suitor, and Mark Ruffalo as a lascivious lawyer.
Lanthimos said that the film took “quite a few years” to bring into being, before “the world, or our industry,” was ready for its story. The award announcement was met with a roar of applause.
The 80th edition of the festival opened with “Comandante,” a historical drama about an Italian submarine that rescued Belgian sailors during World War II. Other prominent films included “Maestro,” “Priscilla,” “The Killer,” “Ferrari,” “Hit Man,” “Origin,” “El Conde,” “Aggro Dr1ft,” “Coup de Chance,” “Dogman” and William Friedkin’s final film, “The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial.”
The latest edition received wide acclaim despite advance speculation that the SAG-AFTRA and Writers Guild of America strikes in Hollywood might affect the festival’s impact. Stars were largely absent. However, there were exceptions, including Adam Driver and Jessica Chastain, thanks to interim agreements secured with SAG-AFTRA; both actors expressed support for the strikes. But the filmmakers did not disappoint: Before the awards ceremony, crowds chanted “Yorgos! Yorgos!” when the director walked onto the red carpet.
The Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize went to “Evil Does Not Exist,” the new film from Ryusuke Hamaguchi, whose film “Drive My Car” won an Academy Award. His latest feature centers on a small town in Japan trying to fend off a planned glamping site.
Immigration was a recurring theme among the prizewinners. The Silver Lion for best director went to Matteo Garrone for the immigration drama “Me Captain.” The Special Jury Prize went to Agnieszka Holland for “Green Border,” her multifaceted look at immigration to Poland.
The Volpi Cup for best actress was awarded to Cailee Spaeny, who played the titular role in Sofia Coppola’s “Priscilla,” the story of Priscilla Presley’s relationship with Elvis Presley. The best actor award went to Peter Sarsgaard for his role as a man with dementia who is accused of past abuse in Michel Franco’s “Memory.” In his acceptance speech, Sarsgaard spoke movingly against the threat of artificial intelligence. Seydou Sarr won the Marcello Mastroianni Award, given to an outstanding emerging actor, for “Me Captain.”
The best screenplay honor was given to “El Conde,” a vampiric reimagining of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean dictator, written by Guillermo Calderón and Pablo Larraín, who also directed. “Love Is a Gun,” directed by Lee Hong-Chi, received the Lion of the Future award for best debut feature. “Thank You Very Much,” a playful look at Andy Kaufman, won the Venice Classics award for best documentary on cinema.
For the Orizzonti section, another competition slate in the festival, the top prize went to “Explanation for Everything,” an expansive work from the Hungarian director Gabor Reisz. “El Paraiso,” a mother-daughter drama, also won two awards in this section: Margarita Rosa de Francisco won for best actress, and Enrico Maria Artale won for best screenplay. Notably, a Mongolian film, “City of Wind,” was honored for best actor (Tergel Bold-Erdene).
This year’s Golden Lions for lifetime achievement went to Tony Leung Chiu-wai, a star of Hong Kong cinema, and to the director Liliana Cavani, whose film “The Order of Time” played out of competition. The Glory to the Filmmaker Award went to Wes Anderson, whose short film “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” played out of competition.