French abortion film Happening wins Venice Film Festival's top prize

VENICE A timely film about illegal abortions in 1960s France won the Venice Film Festival's Golden Lion on Saturday, capping a festival rife with female-focused themes.

Audrey Diwan's Happening arrives just as the abortion debate is raging again after new restrictions in Texas, and with the MeToo movement starting to make its mark in the film industry.

"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.

In a strong night for women film-makers, Best Director went to iconic New Zealand auteur Jane Campion for her emotionally complex Western The Power Of The Dog starring Benedict Cumberbatch, while Best Screenplay went to US actress Maggie Gyllenhaal for her directorial debut The Lost Daughter, an unflinching look at the difficulties of balancing career and motherhood starring Oscar winner Olivia Colman.

The festival roared back to life this year after a low-key event last year due to the pandemic, with Hollywood stars back in force - capped by the official red carpet appearance of Ben Affleck with his newly reunited former flame, Jennifer Lopez, to the delight of gossip mags everywhere.

The A-list couple were there for the festival's closing film The Last Duel, playing out of competition, a mediaeval jousting drama starring Matt Damon and 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 said.

Meanwhile, Edgar Wright's Last Night In Soho turned the misogyny of Swinging Sixties London into a slasher horror flick.

Kristen Stewart wowed critics with her turn as Princess Diana in Spencer.

But it was Spanish star Penelope Cruz who took home the Best Actress award in Venice for her latest collaboration with veteran auteur Pedro Almodovar.

Parallel Mothers is a surprisingly political turn for the flamboyant film-maker, exploring the trauma of the 1930s Spanish civil war alongside the tale of two mothers sharing a maternity ward.

Cruz is also starring alongside Antonio Banderas as egomaniacal film-makers in Official Competition, which rips into their own profession. The Best Actor award was less expected, going to John Arcilla from the Philippines for crime thriller On The Job: The Missing 8. - AFP