American Director Wins in Venice

The Circle, a dark Iranian movie about the oppression of women, won the Golden Lion award for best film at the Venice Film Festival on Saturday.

The movie, directed by Jafar Panahi, emerged as a clear critics’ favorite after its screening earlier this week.

It tells the story of the daily lives of eight women in a country where they are not allowed to smoke in public, stay in a hotel on their own, or ride in a car driven by a man who isn’t a relative.

“Obviously the film met with a few problems as we were making it,” Panahi told a news conference after he accepted the prize. “It was born after a long labor and I wouldn’t want to go through it again. But I’m happy to have given birth to this film.”

It starts in a delivery room, where the birth of a daughter is greeted with disappointment by relatives, and ends in prison where the paths of the eight women finally cross.

“I got the idea for the film from a story in a newspaper about a woman who killed her two daughters and then committed suicide,” the director said this week.

“There was nothing about the reasons for the crime. Perhaps the newspaper did not see the need … since the freedom of women is so limited it seems as if they are in a big prison.”

The film was made with money from Italian and French backers and partly financed by Panahi himself.

Julian Schnabel Director Kudos U.S. painter and director Julian Schnabel took home the Jury Grand Prix for best director for Before Night Falls, a movie tracking the life of gay Cuban novelist and poet Reinaldo Arenas, a victim of Cuban censors.

“This is unbelievable for me, I’m speechless — and that’s very rare for me,” Schnabel joked as he accepted the award, wearing a sarong and a sports jacket over an open-necked shirt.

“I’m a painter, so it’s an honor for me to share the stage with these great directors.”

The film, which will be released in the United States by year’s end, also picked up the Volpi Cup for best male acting performance for Spanish actor Javier Bardem’s intense portrayal of Arenas.

The Special Director’s Award went to Indian director Buddhadeb Dasgupta for his film The Wrestlers, a lyrical portrayal of the devastating impact of violence on a small town in rural India.

Australian Rose Byrne won the award for best actress in the Australian film The Goddess of 1967 by Clara Law. She plays a blind 17-year-old girl who leads a Japanese man on a strange and erotic journey through the Australian countryside in search of the seller of a 1967 Citroen.

Critics Favorite Snubbed French movie La Faute A Voltaire (It’s Voltaire’s Fault), by Tunisian-born Abdel Kechiche, won the $100,000 prize for best directorial debut for his tale of a Tunisian illegal immigrant navigating the ins and outs of Paris.

Italy’s The Hundred Steps, a true story about a courageous anti-Mafia crusader in 1960s Sicily, won top prize for best script for a screenplay, written by director Marco Tullio Giordana, Claudio Fava and Monica Zapelli.

Another critics’ favorite, Chinese director Jia Zhangke’s Platform, went empty handed. The film is a sensitively related story about rebellious youths growing up in China’s provinces in the 1980s as popular culture began to seep into local life.

Some of the most popular films were screened outside the main competition, such as U.S. scriptwriter Kenneth Lonergan’s first feature film You Can Count on Me.

The world’s oldest film festival last week honored U.S. actor and director Clint Eastwood with a Golden Lion for career achievement, and his latest film Space Cowboys kicked off the festival on Aug. 30 with a star-studded European premiere.

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