Filipino epic wins Venice film award

The Woman Who Left. Source: YouTube

A film lasting almost four hours about a schoolteacher’s fight for revenge and process of forgiveness after 30 years in jail for a crime she did not commit has won the Venice Film Festival’s top prize, the Golden Lion.

Director Lav Diaz, 57, said Ang Babaeng Humayo (The Woman Who Left in English) was an analogy to the struggles of the archipelago after centuries of colonial rule by Spain and the USA.

“This is for my country, for the Filipino people, for our struggle, for the struggle of humanity,” he said as he accepted the award for his black-and-white film.

Diaz, who at the Berlin Film Festival in February premiered a film that had a running time in excess of eight hours, said he hoped the prize would create more appreciation for longer films.

“Cinema is still very young, you can still push it,” Diaz said. Inspired by a Tolstoy story, the film follows a woman who adapts to a new world after being released from jail. At 228 minutes, the film is relatively snappy for Diaz. Guy Lodge of Variety argued:

“The film’s deliberately rambling heft evokes the lingering, far-reaching sorrow of an entire nation. That doesn’t entirely quell the sense of strong material being over-extended, particularly in a murky middle stretch, but this occasionally transcendent opus finds Diaz’s formal powers, not least his own incisive monochrome lensing, at full strength.”

Twenty movies were in competition at the world’s oldest film festival, which is in its 73rd year. The event is widely seen as a launching pad for the award season, which culminates with the Oscars.

The awards went to directors who demonstrated a “lack of compromise, imagination, original vision, daring and a kind of pure identity”, said Sam Mendes, American Beauty director, who headed the jury. “It’s taken me out of my comfort zone.”

Mendes said he hoped the awards would help the movies get a wider distribution.

The runner-up Grand Jury prize went to Tom Ford’s “Nocturnal Animals”, the second movie by the fashion designer.

Noah Oppenheim won best screenplay for his work on Pablo Larrain’s “Jackie”, about Jacqueline Kennedy after the 1963 assassination of her husband, John Kennedy.