VENICE: A timely film about illegal abortions in 1960s France won the Venice Film Festival's Golden Lion on Saturday, capping a strong night for women including Penelope Cruz and Jane Campion.
Audrey Diwan's "Happening" arrives just as the abortion debate is raging again over new restrictions in Texas and its decriminalisation in Mexico.
"I did this movie with anger, with desire, with my belly, my guts, my heart and my head," said Diwan, accepting the top prize for her delicately rendered, yet gut-punching drama.
It was great year for female filmmakers, with best director going to iconic New Zealand auteur Jane Campion for her emotionally complex Western "The Power of the Dog", starring Benedict Cumberbatch.
And best screenplay went to Maggie Gyllenhaal for her directorial debut "The Lost Daughter", an unflinching look at the difficulties of balancing career and motherhood starring British Oscar-winner Olivia Colman.
"There is a change in the air," Campion said, regarding the MeToo movement and its effect on film.
"It's like the Berlin Wall coming down for women. It was like the end of Apartheid. There's a new feeling for what women are thinking, what they're saying, what they're doing."
With a plethora of stars and high-calibre selection of films, the glitzy festival on Venice's beachfront Lido roared back to life this year after the pandemic sucked the glamour out of the 2020 edition.
The second-place Silver Lion went to beloved Italian director Paolo Sorrentino for his strikingly personal "The Hand of God" about his youth in the gritty southern city of Naples, which also earned the newcomer award for young star Filippo Scotti.
But gender issues felt dominant.
The festival closed with "The Last Duel", playing out of competition, a medieval jousting drama starring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck that went heavy on its message of historical injustice towards women.
"I think any reasonable humane, empathetic, conscionable person would have to be a feminist," Affleck told AFP in an interview.
Edgar Wright's "Last Night in Soho", meanwhile, turned the misogyny of Swinging Sixties London into a slasher horror flick.
One woman who seems destined to grab the headlines in the coming months is Kristen Stewart, who picked up Oscar buzz with her turn as Princess Diana in "Spencer".
But it was Spanish megastar Penelope Cruz who took home the best actress award for her latest collaboration with veteran auteur Pedro Almodovar.
"Parallel Mothers" is a surprisingly political turn for the flamboyant filmmaker, exploring the trauma of the 1930s Spanish civil war alongside the tale of two mothers sharing a maternity ward.
"Thank you Pedro. This is 100 percent yours. Thanks for once again trusting me, for inspiring me every day with your search for truth, outside and inside," Cruz said, accepting the award.
The best actor gong was less expected, going to Philippines star John Arcilla for crime thriller "On the Job: The Missing 8".
The Golden Lion was selected by a jury led by "Parasite" director Bong Joon-Ho.
Success at Venice has become a key launchpad for Academy Award campaigns in recent years.
The last four winners -- "Nomadland", "Joker", "Roma" and "The Shape of Water" -- have all gone on to Oscar success.
Pandemic precautions -- including mandatory masks, vaccine passes and 50-percent capacity in the cinemas -- continued to take some of the shine off this year's festival.
But the glamour was certainly back, with a dazzling Hollywood guest list capped by the appearance of Affleck with his old/new girlfriend Jennifer Lopez to the delight of gossip mags everywhere.
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