VENICE • Mexican director Guillermo del Toro's The Shape Of Water, a dark fairy tale in which a mute cleaning woman falls in love with an aquatic creature, won the Golden Lion for Best Film at the Venice Film Festival last Saturday.
The film beat contenders, including George Clooney's Suburbicon and Alexander Payne's Downsizing, at the end of a 10-day, high-quality and star-studded movie marathon that critics said showed Venice was now on an equal footing with Cannes Film Festival.
"As a Mexican, I want to say this is a first for a Mexican storyteller so I want to dedicate and give the prize to every young Mexican or Latin American film-maker that is dreaming to do something in the fantastic genre, as a fairy tale, as a parable, and is faced with a lot of people saying it can't be done. It can," del Toro said.
The runner-up Grand Jury prize went to the family tragedy Foxtrot by Israel's Samuel Maoz, while France's Xavier Legrand was picked as Best Director for his divorce drama Jusqu'a la Garde (Custody).
Britain's Charlotte Rampling received the Best Actress award for the Italian film Hannah, about a woman unhinged by her husband being sent to prison.
Palestine's Kamel El Basha took the Best Actor prize for The Insult, a tale of a spat that escalates and lands a Lebanese Christian and Palestinian refugee in court.
Best Screenplay went to British-Irish playwright and director Martin McDonagh for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The film, a portrayal of vengeance in small-town America, had been acclaimed by critics in Venice as a prime Oscar contender.
The award ceremony brings down the curtain on the Venice festival, the world's oldest, which is seen as a launching pad for the industry's award season.
The 2016 musical La La Land, the 2015 clergy sex-abuse drama Spotlight, the 2014 backstage comedy Birdman and the 2013 space movie Gravity all won Academy Awards after premiering in Venice.
"This is an incredible day for Mexican film, for Mexican storytellers. The three amigos have now conquered the Lido, with Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity) and Alejandro Inarritu (Birdman) both going on to Oscar gold after dominating Venice," said Ariston Anderson, a film critic at Hollywood Reporter.
"While there's no sure bet at this stage, there couldn't be a better start for del Toro's road to Oscar gold.
"And it will be very interesting to see what happens in March at the Academy Awards if he can continue the trend of Venice picking Oscar winners."
For the first time, the festival included virtual-reality films in the competition. The Best VR Award went to American Eugene Y.K. Chung for the animation Arden's Wake (Expanded).
Venice's other high-profile selections included First Reformed, starring Ethan Hawke as a chaplain consumed by personal loss; and Loving Pablo, starring Javier Bardem as drug lord Pablo Escobar.
Hong Kong director John Woo's thriller Manhunt, starring South Korean actress Ha Ji Won, was screened in Venice last Friday.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE