Venice Film Festival makes edgy choice for best picture

'The Magdalene Sisters' casts unflattering light on convent

— Director Peter Mullan's scathing depiction of an abusive Catholic convent "The Magdalene Sisters" won the Golden Lion for best picture Sunday at the Venice Film Festival, with American actress Julianne Moore taking best actress for "Far From Heaven."

Best-actor award went to Stefano Accorsi, for his role as an early 20th century Italian poet in "A Journey Called Love," while Korean filmmaker Lee Chang-dong won best director for "Oasis."

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AP Photo

Chinese actress Gong-Li, president of the jury at the 59th Venice Film Festival, left, presents Scottish movie director Peter Mullan the "Golden Lion" prize for best picture. The film festival ended its 10-day run on Sunday.

The Scottish Mullan clambered onto the Venice stage late Sunday, sporting a kilt and raising the Golden Lion to the blinding flicker of flashbulbs. His film tells the story of a brutal Magdalene convent run by nuns in Ireland and it drew a denunciation in the Vatican newspaper this week.

"As regards the film," Mullan told the gala audience, "it's not just about the Catholic Church and how they oppressed young women in Ireland. It's about all faiths, all fundamentalist faiths, that believe they have the right to oppress young women."

According to Mullan's film, young women were imprisoned and tormented in the convents for often absurd and cruel reasons, such as having been raped. The Vatican's Osservatore Romano newspaper called the movie an "angry and rancorous provocation."

Moore, who couldn't attend the awards ceremony, sent a message that sounded a lighter tone.

"As an American actor, to receive this award from such an esteemed international festival is an incredible honor," her message said. "I'm so thrilled."

In Todd Haynes' "Far From Heaven," Moore gives a compelling performance as a loving blonde-bouffant, Doris Day-style housewife in the 1950s whose seemingly ideal suburban life falls apart.

Other awards included: a jury prize of special recognition for "House of Fools," by Russian Andrej Konchalovsky; best young actor for Moon So-ri in "Oasis"; and a prize for "Far From Heaven" cinematographer Edward Lachman. The Upstream prize for the best innovative film was won by "Springtime in a Small Town," by Chinese director Tian Zhuang Zhuang.

The awards ceremony topped off a 10-day festival of movies, some grand, some forgettable, some simply bizarre.

This year's edition of the world's oldest film festival wasn't short on range, with more than 75 features, dozens of short films and an ample supply of stars to make the paparazzi squeal.

The show also managed to unveil a number of highly praised works, among them Swedish director Lukas Moodysson's "Lilja 4-Ever"; "Dirty Pretty Things" by English director Stephen Frears; and "The Man from the Train," by French director Patrice Leconte.

For real scathing remarks, though, they had only to wait for the feature debut by Sophia Loren's son Edoardo Ponti. His movie "Between Strangers," a heavy tale of three women � including Loren � dealing with their pasts, received whistles at the press screening, and drew accusations that mom's influence helped get the film made.

There was further controversy with the screening of a French-backed movie on Sept. 11. "11'09 '01" consists of 11 short films by different international directors, including Sean Penn, Ken Loach and Mira Nair.

The picture, which has been accused of being anti-American, was controversially applauded during screenings here. The filmmakers insisted that the film was an artistic exploration of a tragedy.

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