Guillermo del Toro Wins Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion for The Shape of Water

Guillermo del Toro has won the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion for The Shape of Water, a Cold War romantic fairy tale that the director has called a portrait of hope, “an antidote to now.”

Accepting the award, which he already nicknamed “Sergio Leone,” del Toro said Saturday, “If you remain pure and stay with your faith, whatever you have faith in — in my case, it’s monsters — eventually things go right.” He dedicated the award to young Mexican and Latin American filmmakers who are working to push the fantasy genre.

Del Toro is the first Mexican to win the Golden Lion. “I’ve been doing this for 25 years. You go up, you go down. You fly, you land, you crash. A career is an accident in slow motion. It’s not a trajectory you plan,” he said after the ceremony. “This is an airbag being deployed. What the festival is saying to me is, ‘We understand your voice in the context of film, and we’re inviting you to be a part of the conversation.’”

Shape of Water was well-received in Venice by critics. Sally Hawkins stars as a mute cleaning woman in this anti-Hollywood love story who falls in love with a sea monster being held captive by the U.S. government. Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Doug Jones and Richard Jenkins also star.

Del Toro’s fellow “Three Amigos” have all struck Oscar gold after debuting big on the Lido, with Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity (2013) taking home seven Academy Awards and Alejandro G. Inarritu’s Birdman (2014) winning four. After his Venice premiere, del Toro will attempt to complete the circle as Shape of Water continues on its awards path.

As the first female jury president in more than a decade, Annette Bening was in charge of doling out eight prizes among 21 films this year. Unlike in recent years, the panel’s choices lined up with audience favorites, as each announcement was met with loud cheers.

Israeli director Samuel Maoz won the Grand Jury Prize Silver Lion for his modern-day satire Foxtrot, while the young French helmer Xavier Legrand was emotional after accepting the Silver Lion for best director, for his debut film Custody, after winning the Lion of the Future award. Martin McDonagh took best screenplay honors for his dark comedic drama Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and Australian Aboriginal director Warwick Thornton won the Special Jury Prize for his period Western Sweet Country.

Charlotte Rampling was named best actress for her lead role in Hannah, playing an abandoned woman in Andrea Pallaoro’s sophomore film on internalized grief; Kamel El Basha earned best actor honors for his part in the courtroom drama The Insult; and Charlie Plummer took the Marcello Mastroianni award for best young actor for his lauded performance in Lean on Pete.

The 74th Venice Film Festival saw its most star-studded edition in years, with many features delving deep into political topics old and new. With the last four years of the event featuring either a subsequent best picture or best director winner at the Oscars, the studios came out in full force to kick off the awards season. But while the festival debuted a slew of Oscar contenders, none have yet emerged as sure-fire bets, as was seen in the past with films like Gravity and La La Land.

Fox Searchlight emerged victorious, with top reviewed films including McDonagh’s Three Billboards and del Toro’s Shape of Water. Both films were praised across the board for direction, storytelling and performances and may be Venice’s best shots to repeat history next March at the Academy Awards.

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