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Female Directors Sweep the Top Prizes At Venice Film Festival

Director Audrey Diwan poses with the Golden Lion for Happening at the closing ceremony of the 78th Venice International Film Festival.

The prestigious Golden Lion award for best film, which has in recent years become a surprisingly reliable tip-off for the Oscars race, this year went to the relatively unknown (prior to this week’s festival, anyway) Audrey Diwan, a French filmmaker of Lebanese origin. It makes her the sixth female director to take home the prize in its seven-decade history. Diwan received the award for her film Happening, or L'Événement, a hard-hitting drama set in 1960s France that sees a young and promising student confront the possibility of an abortion—and with it, a prison sentence. The film was acclaimed by critics not only for Diwan’s confident hand as a director and the powerful central performance by breakout star Anamaria Vartolomei, but also for its timely resonance given that the Texas Hertbeat Act came into effect on the first day of the festival. Effectively outlawing the right for women to have an abortion within the state, the law is set to become a lightning rod issue in other conservative-dominated U.S. states, with similar legislation already being drawn up across the country. It was a bumper night for female filmmakers across the board. The New Zealand director Jane Campion, who was the first woman to receive the Palme d’Or at Cannes for The Piano in 1993, was awarded the Silver Lion for Best Direction for her riveting and sinister Western The Power of the Dog, which will arrive on Netflix in December. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, and Jesse Plemons, it charts the fraying relationship between two brothers, one vicious and domineering, the other gentle and kindly, after the latter brother brings home a new wife and her son. As Campion’s first feature film in 12 years—and one that earned widespread raves from critics—it made for a firmly deserving winner.

It may be long overdue, but it was cheering not just to see female directors take the spotlight this year, but also to do so by delivering some of the week’s most celebrated and deserving films. With the progressive vision proposed by its new president Roberto Cicutto, who took up the mantle for the first time last year, Venice has been making the case for itself as one of the most forward-looking and innovative of the big European film festivals. Given the accolades dished out by Joon-Ho’s jury this year, it’s more than living up to that promise.

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