10 Films That Won the Highest Honour at Venice International Film Festival

The oldest running film festival in the world is back again this year from August 30th to September 9th. With the Venice International Film Festival (Mostra Internazionale d’Arte Cinematografica di Venezia) now in its 74th year, here’s a look back at the winning works of the past decade.

Venice International Film Festival

To start, 2007: Lust, Caution (Sè, Jiè) by Ang Lee

Lust, Caution

The second win for Ang Lee (first being Brokeback Mountain in 2005), Lust, Caution is an espionage thriller that takes place mostly in Hong Kong and Shanghai at the time of the Second Sino-Japanese War when the Japanese occupied Shanghai. At the center of the film is an attractive young woman who is plotted by the sides of a “high-ranking special agent and recruiter of the puppet government” for assassination.

2008: The Wrestler by Darren Aronofsky

The Wrestler

An American sports drama that centers around “an aging professional wrestler (Mickey Rourke) who, despite his failing health and waning fame, continues to wrestle in an attempt to cling to the success of his 1980s heyday. He also tries to mend his relationship with his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) and to find romance with a woman who works as a stripper (Marisa Tomei).”

2009: Lebanon by Samuel Maoz


As the first Israeli-produced film to have won the Golden Lion, Lebanon takes viewers in on a realistic and immersive experience of the 1982 Lebanon War from inside a tank. After bombing from the Israeli Air Force, a tank of four Israeli soldiers was sent “to search for the hostile town.” “The crew’s window to the outside world is a gunsight. As a way of adding realism to the effect, every change in the horizontal and vertical viewing directions is accompanied by the hydraulic whine of the traversing gun turret.”
A form of interpellation, viewers can vicariously yet intimately experience warfare along with all its internal and external tension and turmoil.

2010: Somewhere by Sophia Coppola

Unanimously awarded the Golden Lion by the jury, Somewhere “tells the story of a stimulated man who lives in the luxury hotel, surrounded by parties, girls and pills. Then an 11-year-old girl, his daughter of the failed marriage, comes to his life.”

“The film follows Johnny Marco (played by Stephen Dorff), a newly famous actor, as he recuperates from a minor injury at the Chateau Marmont, a well-known Hollywood retreat. Despite money, fame and professional success, Marco is trapped in an existential crisis and has an emotionally empty daily life. When his ex-wife suffers an unexplained breakdown and goes away, she leaves Cleo (Elle Fanning), their 11-year-old daughter, in his care. They spend time together and her presence helps Marco mature and accept adult responsibility. The film explores ennui among Hollywood stars, the father–daughter relationship and offers an oblique comedy of show business, particularly Hollywood film-making and the life of a “star”.”

“French newspaper Le Monde gave the film a positive review, saying Somewhere was Coppola’s most minimalist and daring film. Coppola’s films, it said, deal with “the delicate irony of the delinquency of a universe of the happy few“, which is both to her credit and a ghost which haunts her, a loyalty ensnaring her.”


2011: Faust by Aleksandr Sokurov

Based on Goethe’s tragedy, “a despairing scholar sells his soul to Satan in exchange for one night with a beautiful young woman.”


2012: Pieta by Kim Ki-duk


“The 18th feature written and directed by Kim Ki-duk, [Pieta] depicts the mysterious relationship between a brutal man who works for loan sharks and a middle-aged woman who claims that she is his mother, mixing Christian symbolism and highly sexual content.”

2013: Sacro GRA by Gianfranco Rosi

Sacro GRA

As the first documentary to win the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, Sacro GRA (Italian for “Holy GRA” – “Grande Raccordo Anulare”) observes the intriguing lives of those who live along the highway (“two prostitutes who live in a campervan, an eel farmer, women who dance at a roadside cafe, construction workers reburying bodies, people who rent out their villas for parties, and an ambulance crew [that] whizzes eternally around the GRA”) and is, in itself, an ode to Rome.

2014: A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence by Roy Andersson

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence

In this black comedy-drama that completes the “Living” trilogy, “novelty salesmen (Holger Andersson, Nils Westblom) observe as their fellow humans drift through lives of desperation and loneliness.” But “it is a journey that unveils the beauty of single moments, the pettiness of others, life’s grandeur, and the humor and tragedy hidden within us all.”
The peculiar irony cast on the meaningful menial is perhaps what life is all about.

2015: From Afar by Lorenzo Vigas

From Afar

Chilean actor Alredo Castro gives a chilling performance as Armando, the “wealthy middle-aged” “dead-eyed prosthetist” who picks up “Élder, a young man from a street gang.” The sexual relationship developed reveals complexes and a bond forms out of the two’s own similar “fractured father-son relationships,” but whatever bond there is concedes to reality. Watch out for distinct motifs that are haunting. First-time director Lorenzo Vlgas masterly tells a “tale of desire and repression in Venezuela” that has won the Golden Lion among other accolades, including being a New York Times Critic’s Pick.

2016: The Woman Who Left by Lav Diaz

The Woman Who Left

Inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s God Sees the Truth, But Waits, the film carries “a story of forgiveness, of transcendence” as described by Charo Santos-Concio, who had just begun to act again after stepping down as President and CEO of ABS-CBN Corporation.

Similar to the novella, the female lead, Horacia Somorostro, is “imprisoned for a crime she did not commit.” After being released in 1997, she finds out that she became a widow and that her son had become missing during her time in jail. Somorostro sets out for revenge upon learning that her former wealthy lover was also the one who “framed her for a crime” and realizing that “the power and privilege of the elite remain unchanged.”

This Philippine black-and-white drama is written, produced, shot, directed, and edited by Lav Diaz, who had the insight that “life is not truly understood by anyone and that more often people abide and succumb to life’s randomness.”

2017: Find out on September 9th!

Venice International Film Festival 2017

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