Venice Film Festival

Latin America wins big

Director Lorenzo Vigas (centre) and actors Luis Silva (left) and Alfredo Castro (right) with the Golden Lion for Best Film for his movie From Afar.
Director Lorenzo Vigas (centre) and actors Luis Silva (left) and Alfredo Castro (right) with the Golden Lion for Best Film for his movie From Afar.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

VENICE • A sombre tale of gay love across Venezuela's social divide, From Afar, won the Golden Lion for Best Film at the Venice Film Festival last Saturday, a night to remember for Latin American cinema.

The debut feature by director Lorenzo Vigas was awarded the festival's top prize by a jury chaired by Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron.

The Silver Lion for Best Director went to Argentina's Pablo Trapero for The Clan, a crime movie based on the real-life story of a family of kidnappers in Buenos Aires, which has been a huge hit on home soil.

The runner-up Grand Jury prize went to American director Charlie Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson for Anomalisa, a stop- motion animation which features a puppet sex scene.

From Afar centres on Armando (Alfredo Castro), a middle-aged man who is sexually fascinated by young men, but does not act on his desires beyond getting boys to come to his home and paying them to undress for him. Things start to change after he meets Elder (Luis Silva), a teenage street hustler, and an unexpected intimacy between the two leads to dark secrets in Armando's past coming out into the open.

"I didn't make a film so everyone would like it," Vigas said. "I made it to make people talk about the many problems we have in Venezuela - social, economic and political - that we share with other Latin American countries."

France's Fabrice Luchini was named Best Actor for his turn as a cantankerous judge in Courted, a courtroom love story that also won Best Screenplay. Italy's Valeria Golino took the Best Actress prize as a woman married to a loan shark in For Your Love.

Best Young Actor went to Ghana's Abraham Attah for his portrayal of a child soldier in Beasts Of No Nation, the Netflix Oscar-baiting production starring Idris Elba. But there was no recognition for The Danish Girl, a pre-festival favourite starring Eddie Redmayne as a transgender artist that unexpectedly left many critics underwhelmed.

At a press conference, Cuaron - whose Gravity opened the festival two years ago - rejected suggestions he had favoured Latin American films or convinced the other eight jury members to vote his way. "I didn't have that kind of power," he said.

Jay Weissberg of trade publication Variety noted the jury had not awarded prizes to some renowned directors but said the choices made sense. "The awards in a way reflect the diversity of the selection itself, with a little bit in there for everyone."

A total of 21 films had competed for the main prizes at the festival, which opened on Sept 2 with the premiere of the 3-D mountain disaster film Everest out of competition.

Mr Six, a Chinese film starring Feng Xiaogang as an aged hooligan who regroups his old gang to rescue a son being held hostage by rich young people, closed the festival. AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2015, with the headline 'Latin America wins big'. Print Edition | Subscribe