The Venice Film Festival wrapped on Saturday with a Golden Lion award to Darren Aronofsy’s The Wrestler, a film that provided a one-two punch finale for an edition that some considered lacklustre in respect to previous years. (Click here to see Screen review)

At the awards ceremony, Jury President Wim Wenders bestowed The Golden Lion on Darren Aronofsky but significantly geared his words towards actor Mickey Rourke, not Aronofsky.

‘This is for a film with a truly heartbreaking performance in every sense of the word. And if I say heartbreaking, you know I mean Mickey Rourke,’ he said.

Actor Rourke and Aronofsky came to the stage together, with Rourke giving the leading speech.

But, instead of talking about his own now-well sealed comeback, he talked about Aronofsky’s, referring to his 2006 Venice contender The Fountain. ‘He fell on his ass and had the balls to come back. He is toughest director I have worked with,’ Rourke said.

Before turning the microphone over to Aronofsky, he thanked the jury for ‘making the right decision,’ he also thanked Marco Mueller, the film’s co-producer Wild Bunch and also Lucky Red, the Italian distributor for believing in the picture.

When it was Aronofsky’s turn he simply confirmed Rourke’s centrality to the project: ‘He said it all. I need to thank Mickey Rourke for opening up his heart and soul and giving me the honor to remind the world what a great talent he is.’

After the ceremony Aronofsky said he knew he had to make The Wrestler.

‘No one wanted to make it, so it’s the old game when everyone is telling you ‘No,’ you know you are doing something right.’ He also defended The Fountain, saying it had received more applause than The Wrestler at its Venice premier.

Perhaps most unusually, Wim Wenders took to the stage to make a few comments about the tough decisions the jury faced.

‘Not everybody is full of joy this evening and that is inevitable. We would like the ‘mostra’ (the Italian word uses for the Venice Film Festival) to take a look at the fragments between its heart and mind,’ he said.

He then explained to the audience that Venice’s regulations restrict Golden Lion, Silver Lion and Jury Prize winners (the top three prizes) from overlapping with the three acting awards (Coppa Volpi for male and female performances as well as the Mastroianni award for emerging actor).

But, by presenting the Golden Lion to Aronofsky while citing Rourke’s performance, the Jury found a way to recognise both. Silvio Orlando won the Coppa Volpi for best actor for his work in Pupi Avati’s Il Papa Di Giovanna.

After the ceremony and the winner’s press conference, Wenders elaborated to a small group of reporters: ‘In a strange way the film itself (The Wrestler) did help us make the decision. The film did blow us away and of course Mickey was a fantastic performance - but we loved Silvio and we had seen him early [in the festival] and of course Mickey could have won the best actor, but we loved Silvio and it reminded us of some great performances of Italian cinema from the past. We were happy not to have to pick between the two.’

Silvio Orlando too, was at ease. ‘I felt it was possible (to win),’ he said, because of all the positive information that we got, but then the cyclone of Rourke arrived and we were not sure anymore.’

About not winning the award, Rourke himself said ‘I am fine with that because there are certain rules, and I am gonna work for the next twenty years.’ He also said the word ‘comeback’ was misleading since his own took him ‘about fifteen years.’

As for this festival’s biggest shut out, the much-tipped Marco Bechis film The Birdwatchers about land rights and the near extinction of the Guarani-Kaiowa people in Brazil, Wim Wenders said ‘I mentioned broken hearts, this is my broken heart. I will have nightmares for a long time,’ he said, adding he would speak to the director personally.

Other significant awards reflected Venice’s multi-territory feel. Russia’s Paper Soldier took a double award: The Silver Lion to director Aleksey German Jr and the best cinematography award film DPs Alisher Khamidhodjaev and Maxim Drozdov.

Haile Gerima’s Teza took a double prize as well: Venice’s Jury prize and the Osella for best screenplay.

‘I am just going with the wind,’ he said of his film. He thanked Venice for giving his film the possibility to get a greater distribution.

Ailing Werner Schroeter took the not always awarded Jury Special Award for a director’s entire body of work. Wenders said it was bestowed on Schroeter for being ‘relentlessly innovative, independent, uncompromising and producing often provocative work.’

Best actress Dominique Blanc gave an elegant tri-lingual speech for her best actress win in the film L’Autre. She beat out hotly tipped US actresses Charlize Theron (The Burning Plain) and Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married).

New-comer Jennifer Lawrence flew in from California to accept the Marcello Mastroianni award for emerging talent for her role in Guillermo Arriaga’s The Burning Plain.

The Filmauro sponsored Lion of the Future award went to Gianni Di Gregorio for his comic look at Roman life in Mid-August Lunch (Pranzo di Ferragosto). The film was produced by Matteo Garrone and distributed by Fandango. The prize includes $100,000 to be divided between director and producer plus E40,000 in Kodak film.

Biennale President Paolo Baratta closed the awards ceremony, inviting guests to return for the next edition of Venice, which he re-confirmed for September 2, 2009.


Click title to see review

Golden Lion: The Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky, director

Silver Lion award for best director Paper Soldier, Alexey German Jr.

Special Jury Prize Teza, Haile Gerima

Best Actor Silvio Orlando, Il Papa Di Giovanna

Best Actress Dominique Blanc, L’Autre

Mastroianni award for young emerging actor: Jennifer Lawrence, The Burning Plain

Best Screenplay Haile Gerima, Teza

Best Cinematography Alisher Khamidhodjaev & Maxim Drozdov, Paper Soldier

Lion of the Future Award for a first film Gianni di Gregorio for Critics Week entry Pranzo Di Ferragosto (Mid-August Lunch)

Special Lion for the whole film (not given every year but on jury decision) Werner Schroeter, Nuit de Chien

Other prizes:

Horizons: Melancholia by Lav Diaz (Philippines)
Horizons documentary: Below Sea Level Gianfranco Rosi (Italy, USA)
Special Mention: Un Lac by Philippe Grandrieux (France)
Special Mention: Women (WE) by Huang Wenhai (China, Switzerland)