By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist September 10, 2011 at 6:20AM
Michael Fassbender Takes Best Actor, Chinese Surprise Film 'People Mountain People Sea' Wins Director
We might have abandoned the Lido a few days ago, but somehow festival organizers felt able to go on with the final awards ceremony without us this evening. With a jury led by Darren Aronofsky that also included David Byrne, Todd Haynes, Mario Martone, André Téchiné, Ejia-Liisa Ahtila and Alba Rorwacher, it was anyone's game, although for much of the week, talk had pegged Steve McQueen's "Shame" and Yorgos Lanthimos' "Alps" as potential front-runners for the big prize, the Golden Lion. However, the winner turned out to be something of a surprise, albeit one that buzz was tipped off to in the run-up to the awards.
Aleksandr Sokurov's "Faust," a retelling of Goethe's tragedy, and the final part of a four-part series about men of power, following pictures focusing on Hitler ("Moloch"), Lenin ("Taurus") and Emperor Hirohito ("The Sun"), was awarded the Golden Lion by Aronofsky a few minute ago. We had to miss the film ourselves, but word was wildly divergent, with European critics raving, but British and American ones left distinctly cooler by the project. It follows in the footsteps of last year's controversial winner "Somewhere," along with recent victors like Ang Lee's "Brokeback Mountain" and "Lust, Caution," Aronofsky's "The Wrestler," Israeli war flick "Lebanon" and Chinese film "Still Life."
Indeed, despite an English-language-heavy competition line-up, international films won the bulk of the awards. Surprise film "People Mountain People Sea," which we found rather dreary, won the Silver Lion for director Cai Shangjun, while two other Asian entries took top acting prizes; Yeanie Tip, in her first role in years, won the Coppa Volpi for Best Actress for "A Simple Life," while Shota Sometani and Fumi Nikaido shared Best Young Actor for Sion Sono's tough-watch post-tsunami drama "Himizu."
Michael Fassbender deservedly took the Coppa Volpi for Best Actor for his role in "Shame," one award that we can firmly get behind, and the start of what looks to be one of the most uphill-battle awards campaigns in recent memory, what with Fox Searchlight guaranteeing a push for the Irish/German star for the Oscars this year. Two of our favorites of the festival, Andrea Arnold's "Wuthering Heights" (read our review here) and Yorgos Lanthimos' "Alps" (and review here), also took prizes, the former for Robbie Ryan's exceptional cinematography, the latter for Lanthimos' screenplay.
Finally, Italian immigration drama "Terrafirma" won the Special Jury Prize, something of a surprise, although the film seems to have been well liked (it was another one we missed, unfortunately). There are a ton of other awards from various other organizations -- see them all over at In Contention -- but the biggest were "Là-Bas," which won the critic's week section; Shinya Tsukamoto's "Kotoko," which won top prize in the Orrizonti sidebar; and "Shame," which took the FIPRESCI award. As ever, the choices of a small jury aren't really worth getting in a fuss about, but it will hopefully help some of the smaller films like "Terrafirma" and "Himizu" gain wider worldwide audiences.