Venice Film Festival: The Shape of Water wins the Golden Lion

A film about a mute cleaning lady who falls in love with a merman has won the Golden Lion at the Venice International Film Festival.

The Shape of Water, the new film from the Pan’s Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro, was presented with the festival’s top prize by a jury led by the actress Annette Bening earlier tonight.

Del Toro’s film – a 1960s-set melodrama with an amphibious twist – premiered to near-blanket rave reviews at Venice last week. It has since been widely tipped as a frontrunner in the coming Oscar season, as has its star, the British actress Sally Hawkins – and the Golden Lion, one of the greatest accolades in world cinema next to Cannes’ Palme d’Or and Berlin’s Golden Bear, can only help.

For a Hollywood production to win Venice’s top award is, these days, something of a rare occurrence. Over the last decade, as the festival has become an increasingly attractive launchpad for limelight-hogging Oscar contenders, its juries have tended to honour far lower-profile, more esoteric work. Last year’s Golden Lion, for instance, went to Lan Diaz’s The Woman Who Left, a near-four-hour, black and white Filipino film about a wrongfully convicted woman reacquainting herself with the outside world after 30 years in prison.

But Bening and her eight fellow jurors, among whom were the actress Rebecca Hall and the director Edgar Wright, chose a selection of winners that struck a careful balance between the arthouse and the (relatively) mainstream.

The festival’s Grand Jury Prize – effectively, its second place medal – was awarded to Samuel Maoz's Foxtrot, an Israeli film about two parents coming to terms with the death of their adult son during active military service. The Special Jury Prize was presented to Sweet Country, a hard-bitten outback western from the Australian director Warwick Thornton.

Charlotte Rampling won Best Actress for her performance as the wife of a man held on mysterious charges in Andrea Pallaoro’s Hannah, while Best Actor was given to Kamel El Basha for his work in The Insult, by the Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri. The Silver Lion for best direction was presented to Xavier Legrand for his film Custody, and Best Screenplay went to Martin McDonagh for his scalding black comedy Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

The Marcello Mastroianni Award, which recognises the year’s most promising emerging actor or actress, was given to Charlie Plummer, the 18-year-old American star of Lean on Pete, a coming-of-age drama set in the world of horse-racing from Britain’s Andrew Haigh.

Jane Fonda and Robert Redford received the 2017 Golden Lion for lifetime achievement, after the actor and actress were reunited on screen at the festival for the first time since 1979 in Ritesh Batra’s Our Souls at Night. The Jaeger-LeCoultre Glory to the Filmmaker award was presented to Stephen Frears, the director of The Queen and Philomena, whose latest film, the royal comic drama Victoria & Abdul, also screened out of competition at the festival.

By Robbie Collin, Film Critic 9 SEPTEMBER 2017 • 8:04PM www.telegraph.co.uk