- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 6, 2003

VENICE, Italy (AP) — An intense Russian father-and-son drama, “The Return,” won the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion for best picture yesterday, though first-time director Andrey Zvyagintsev remained shaken by the death of the 15-year-old star of the movie.

Teenage actor Vladimir Girin drowned shortly after the end of shooting in the same lake where several of the picture’s scenes were filmed.

“You see only two actors up on the stage tonight. Those who saw the film know there were three main actors,” Mr. Zvyagintsev said at the awards ceremony, clearly moved by the occasion. “The fact is that the actor … died tragically two months ago. We would like to dedicate this award to him.”

Mr. Zvyagintsev’s remarkable debut feature tells the story of two adolescents whose mysterious and overbearing father returns after a decade-long absence and imposes a harsh program to turn his boys into men. The man puts his sons through a series of grueling tasks that ultimately brings disaster.

Other winners included Sean Penn for best actor in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “21 Grams,” about three people thrown together by an accident.

“I’m very grateful to the jury for this,” Mr. Penn said. “Anyone who saw the film knows the ensemble I’m a part of.”

The best actress award went to Katja Riemann for Margarethe von Trotta’s “Rosenstrasse,” which deals with a deportation of Jews in 1943 Berlin.

The Jury Grand Prix Silver Lion went to Lebanese-born Randa Chahal Sabbag’s “The Kite,” a drama against the backdrop of the Mideast conflict. Japanese director Takeshi Kitano won best director for “Zatoichi,” about a blind swordsman in 19th century Japan.

Italian filmmaker Marco Bellocchio won the Outstanding Individual Contribution award for the script of “Good Morning, Night,” about the 1978 kidnapping and murder by leftist terrorists of politician Aldo Moro. Local reports said the director was dismayed by not receiving the top prize and wasn’t attending the awards ceremony.

In the Upstream competition for less mainstream films, the top San Marco Prize of $55,500 for best film went to Hiner Saleem’s “Vodka Lemon,” and Scarlett Johansson won the award for best actress in Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation,” a crowd favorite also starring Bill Murray.

The awards were announced officially last night at a gala ceremony.

Though prizes dominated the end of the festival, the biggest draw during the 11-day show was the stars. From Woody Allen’s stammer to George Clooney’s swagger, the event this year flooded the lagoon city with celebrities who arrived on speedboats at the Lido island and then vanished into exclusive parties and news junkets.

Among the stars who made it this year were Johnny Depp and Salma Hayek, promoting “Once Upon a Time in Mexico,” Anthony Hopkins with “The Human Stain,” Omar Sharif, who won a lifetime achievement award and promoted “Monsieur Ibrahim,” director Bernardo Bertolucci with his sexually explicit new film “The Dreamers,” and Nicolas Cage with Ridley Scott’s “Matchstick Men.”

The most remarkable was the first celebrity arrival: Woody Allen.

The 67-year-old filmmaker has a long history in Venice, but he never before attended the festival — although he was married in the city, filmed here and was bestowed awards at the show. This year, he was the guest of honor at the Aug. 27 opening night.

His latest movie, “Anything Else,” starring Jason Biggs and Christina Ricci, started the festival with a gala premiere, even if Mr. Allen — who seemed rather bemused by all the attention — didn’t stay for the film. The director explained that he never likes to watch his own work, and he dodged out of the premier only to turn up later at the after-party.

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