VENICE (Reuters) - Swedish director Roy Andersson’s offbeat comedy “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence” won the Golden Lion award for best film at the 71st Venice Film Festival on Saturday, with the jury snubbing Hollywood and festival opener “Birdman”.
The world’s oldest film festival effectively shut out the American feature films in its main competition, also failing to give awards to the drone pilot drama “Good Kill”, Al Pacino’s portrayal of a grumpy old man in “Manglehorn” and the Florida house repossession drama “99 Homes”.
Scott Roxborough, European film critic for The Hollywood Reporter, said that in rejecting “Birdman” the festival had stayed true to form, supporting “the grand tradition of European art house cinema”.
Andersson, whose films have won a cult following in Europe, endeared himself to the Italian audience for the awards ceremony in the Palace of the Cinema by saying he had been inspired by Italian director Vittorio De Sica, particularly his “Bicycle Thieves” of 1948.
“It’s so full of empathy and it’s so humanistic and I think that’s what movies should be, in the service of humanism,” he said as he accepted the award.
“So I will go further and try to work and make as good movies as Vittorio De Sica.”
Noting at a press conference later that the top prize “goes to Sweden”, he praised the festival saying it had “such a kindly atmosphere, friendly atmosphere, and I know that in Italy you have very good taste”.
Andersson’s film, the third in a trilogy, is a series of surreal vignettes, including at the outset “three meetings with death” and later a cavalry parade by Sweden’s 17th-century military King Charles XII set in a bleak modern landscape.
The award for best director went to 77-year-old Andrei Konchalovsky for his film “The Postman’s White Nights”, which is set in a lakeside village in the Russian countryside and follows the lives of local people, sometimes filmed through hidden cameras.
Konchalovsky, who has made films in Hollywood as well as in Russia, and whose film in Venice won raves but also lukewarm reviews, mostly for its lack of a discernible plot, said it was a “strange sensation” to receive the award.
“I will tell you I think in all of us artists who are doing some film there is still a kid hiding somewhere inside of us,” he said. “Thank you very much and tomorrow we go and pretend we are adults.”
He said it was not the first time he had filmed ordinary people, some of whom had said if they’d known he was shooting “I would have used makeup or I would at least be sober”.
American director Joshua Oppenheimer’s “The Look of Silence”, a documentary about confronting the perpetrators of massacres in Indonesia in the 1960s following a failed coup, got the Jury Prize for best film.
The Italian film “Hungry Hearts”, directed by Saverio Costanzo who said he made the film for under 1 million euros($1.30 million), took the best actor and best actress awards.
They went to Adam Driver, who will be in the next “Star Wars” sagas, and Alba Rohrwacher in the story of a New York wife obsessed with cleanliness when her baby is born.
The best young actor award went to Romain Paul for his performance in French director Alix Delaporte’s “Le Dernier Coup de Marteau” (The Last Blow of the Hammer) as a young boy torn between remaining faithful to the dying mother who has raised him or going to live with the father he has never known.
He said working in the film had been a thrill and that winning the award was “a great honor but it’s stressful”.
Iranian director Rakhshan Bani-Etemad’s “Ghesseha” (Tales), chronicling the hardships of life in Tehran, won the award for best screenplay while the Turkish film “Sivas”, about a fighting dog and his child owner, took the Special Jury Prize.
Jay Weissberg, reviewer for the trade publication Variety, said he thought the movie by Andersson, whose quirky films have won over audiences in Europe but have not had much traction in the United States, would be “a popular choice”.
“I think everyone is quite pleased with that,” Weissberg said.
But Weissberg said the fact that the festival’s critically acclaimed opening film “Birdman”, starring Michael Keaton as a former movie superhero trying to make a comeback on Broadway, was shut out of the awards “might be a bit of a danger” for the festival’s efforts to get big-budget Hollywood films in future.
British actor and jury member Tim Roth also said he had thought “Birdman” was among the best movies shown at the festival and that his opinion had not been changed by any reviews “because I never read them”.
“‘Birdman’ stayed with us and some other films came out and kicked us in the butt. It was and is beautifully part of a very strange and quite wonderful selection” of films, he said.
Reporting by Michael Roddy; Editing by Stephen Powell and Sonya Hepinstall