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VENICE, Italy (Reuters) - - Russian film "Faust," loosely based on Goethe's classic German text, won the Golden Lion for best picture at the Venice film festival on Saturday.
The movie, directed by the revered Alexander Sokurov, divided critics at the annual cinema showcase, but had been among the favourites to scoop the coveted top prize.
"The emotion is huge," 60-year-old Sokurov told the prize ceremony on the Lido waterfront, where stars have walked the red carpet, promoted their movies and partied into the early hours for the last 11 days.
Jury head and U.S. director Darren Aronofsky, who won the Golden Lion in 2008 with "The Wrestler," said:
"There are some films that make you dream, there are some films that make you cry, there are some films that make you laugh, there are some films that change you forever after you see them one time, and this is one of those films."
Faust, the fourth and final instalment in Sokurov's series about corrupting power, won praise for conjuring a 19th century world of squalour, stench and chaos in which Faust and a mad-cap Mephistopheles play out their destinies.
But some viewers found the dialogue-heavy, German language picture that lasts well over two hours tough going.
"Taking highbrow to the edge of slapstick, Sokurov's idiosyncratic adaptation of ... Faust will intrigue some and turn off others," said Hollywood Reporter critic Deborah Young.
The big surprise on the night was that Roman Polanski's popular comedy of manners "Carnage" went away empty-handed.
The adaptation of a play set in real time in a single apartment featured Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly as two New York couples who meet when their children get into a fight.
Winslet's projectile vomit scene was one of the highlights of the Venice festival this year, where 23 movies contested awards and the likes of Madonna, Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Al Pacino and George Clooney graced the red carpet.
"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," Tomas Alfredson's adaptation of the John Le Carre spy classic, also slipped under the radar despite rave reviews.
There were no upsets in the best actor category, however, which went to Irishman Michael Fassbender for his acclaimed portrayal of a sex-obsessed young professional in "Shame."
"It's a story that is very relevant to the way we live today," the 34-year old said. "I feel humbled and privileged."
Fassbender, seen as one of the rising stars in independent cinema, also appeared in another Venice competition entry this year, David Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method."
Best actress went to China's Deanie Ip for her protrayal of an aging maid in Ann Hui's "Tao Jie" (A Simple Life).
The best director Silver Lion went to Chinese film maker Shangjun Cai for "People Mountain People Sea."
Italian immigration movie "Terraferma," directed by Emanuele Crialese, picked up the special jury award.
Outside the main competition, singer Madonna presented her second feature film as director, "W.E.," about a modern-day woman who becomes obsessed with Wallis Simpson and her love for King Edward VIII.
And Steven Soderbergh assembled an all-star cast for "Contagion," a story about the spread of disease and fear around the world featuring Paltrow, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law, Damon and Winslet.
Editing by Peter Graff