Todd Phillips’ dark comic book film Joker won the Golden Lion Award at the 76th Venice International Film Festival on Saturday and cemented its place as a legitimate contender for the rest of the awards season.
Jury president Lucretia Martel announced the winners of the prestigious award during a ceremony on the Lido. The Golden Lion previously put a spotlight on films that went on to be major awards season players, such as Roma and the film academy’s 2018 best picture winner, The Shape of Water.
“I want to thank Warner Bros. and DC for stepping out of their comfort zone and taking such a bold swing on me and this movie," Phillips said with star Joaquin Phoenix by his side on stage.
Phoenix did not win the best actor prize — it went to Italian actor Luca Marinelli for the Jack London adaptation Martin Eden — but the director of Joker dedicated much of his speech to the talents of his leading man.
In the film, he transforms from struggling stand-up comedian Arthur Fleck into Batman’s classic nemesis.
“Thank you for trusting me with your insane talents," Phillips said to Phoenix.
Roman Polanski’s Dreyfus affair film, An Officer and a Spy, won the grand jury prize, which recognizes other strong contenders for the Golden Lion.
Polanski, who fled the US after pleading guilty to unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl and has been a fugitive for over 40 years, was not at the ceremony to accept the award.
The inclusion of An Officer and a Spy among the 21 films competing for the Golden Lion was widely criticized, although it was welcomed warmly by Venice Film Festival audiences. Jury president Martel issued a statement saying that while she does not “separate the art from the artist," she bore no prejudice toward Polanski’s film.
Roy Andersson won best director for About Endlessness, although hip complications prevented him from accepting the award in person.
Actress Ariane Ascaride took the best actress prize for the French domestic drama Gloria Mundi. Olivia Colman won best actress in Venice last year for The Favorite, and went on to win the best actress Oscar.
Best screenplay went to Yonfan for the animated film No. 7 Cherry Lane, about Hong Kong in 1967. He thanked Hong Kong for giving him the freedom to create.
Toby Wallace won best new talent award for his work in Shannon Murphy’s Babyteeth.
“We can’t believe we’re here in general, so anything extra is super nice," Wallace said.
He thanked co-stars Eliza Scanlen and Ben Mendelsohn, as well as Murphy, his director. She was one of only two female directors in the main competition.
“(Murphy) led us into this project with so much honesty," Wallace said.
Adapted from Rita Kalnejais’ comedic stage play, Babyteeth is about an ill teenage girl who falls in love with a small-time drug dealer.
The jury that chose the winner of the Golden Lion and other top awards was headed by Martel, an Argentine director, and included director Mary Harron, actress Stacy Martin, cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto and Toronto International Film Festival executive director Piers Handling.
Notable films in the main competition leaving the Lido empty-handed include the Brad Pitt space epic Ad Astra, Steven Soderbergh’s Meryl Streep-led Panama Papers comedy The Laundromat; and Noah Baumbach’s divorce drama Marriage Story," with Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver.