Happening: Audrey Diwan’s French Abortion Drama Wins Top Award at Venice Film Fest (Women/Film)

In a move that could be seen as a strong message for women’s rights, and for the right of female filmmakers to be celebrated, the 2021 Venice Film Fest gave its top honor, the Golden Lion for best film, to Audrey Diwan’s French abortion drama Happening.


“I feel heard tonight!” the enthusiastic Diwan said as she accepted her historic award.

Happening, an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Annie Ernaux, tells the story of a bright college student in early-1960s France who sees her emancipation threatened when she gets pregnant. With no legal options available, she tries to find a way to illegally abort.


Courtesy of Wild Bunch

It was an impressive night for female filmmakers and Netflix releases, when the Venice jury awarded the top award to breakout French director Audrey Diwan’s powerful abortion drama Happening, beating big-name competition.

Diwan received the award from a jury presided over by Oscar-winning filmmaker Bong Joon-ho.

Given the current climate in the US, following the restrictive new anti-abortion laws passed in Texas, the Venice Jury, headed by South Korean director Bong Joon Ho, appears to have sent a clear pro-choice message with its Golden Lion pick.

Jane Campion

The best director honor, the Silver Lion, went to Jane Campion for her Netflix neo-Western The Power of the Dog. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Kirsten Dunst, the film is Campion’s first feature in 12 years.

Sorrentimo’s The Hand of God

Italian director Pablo Sorrentino won the grand jury prize for his well-received autobiographical drama The Hand of God, with the film’s star, Filippo Scotti, taking the Best Young Actor honor.

Penelope Cruz

Spanish star Penelope Cruz has won Venice’s best actress honor for her performance in Pedro Almodovar’s melodrama Parallel Mothers.

Almodovar is the subject of my new book:

Gay Directors, Gay Films? By Emanuel Levy (Columbia University Press)

Maggie Gyllenhaal won best screenplay honors for her directorial debut The Lost Daughter. Noting that she married and had her first child in Italy, Gyllenhaal said “my life as a director and writer was born here, in this theater,” referencing Venice’s Sala Grande.

Gyllenhaal’s drama, starring Olivia Coleman, is based on the novel by Italian writer Elena Ferrante.

“This film is Italian in its bones!” Gyllenhaal said.

John Arcilla won best actor honors for his performance in On The Job: The Missing 8.

Il Buco, Michelangelo Frammartino’s cinematic exploration of one of the world’s deepest caves, won a special jury prize.

Imaculat, from Romanian directors Monica Stan and George Chiper-Lillemark, a look at a young women who goes into drug rehab, took the Lion of the Future honor, the Luigi de Laurentis award, for best first feature.

The first prize of the evening, the Audience Award Armani beauty, a new prize for Venice’s new Horizons Extra sidebar, went to Teemu Nikki’s The Blind Man Who Didn’t Want to See Titanic.

In the Horizons section, Lithuanian crime drama Pilgrims from director Laurynas Bareisa took the best film honor.

Eric Gravel’s French drama Full Time won two Horizons prizes: best director for Gravel and best actress for Laure Calamy.

Piseth Chhun won best actor in the Horizons section for his starring performance in Kavich Neang’s Cambodian drama White Building.

Ukraine director Peter Kerekes and co-screenwriter Ivan Ostrochovsky took best screenplay in the Horizons section for 107 Mothers.

Chilean film Los huesos, from directors Cristobal Leon and Joaquin Cocina, won for Best Short.

Bolivian director Kiro Russo’s The Great Movement won a special jury honor.

David Adler’s End of Night took the Best VR Story prize in Venice’s VR Expanded section, while the Best VR Experience honor was won by Le bal de Paris from director Blanca Lee.

“I love you! I’m so happy,” screamed an obviously delighted Lee as she hoisted her trophy on stage.

Goliath Playing with Reality, from directors Barry Gene Murphy and May Abdalla, won the Grand Jury Prize for Best VR Work.

Venice has become a harbinger for the Oscar Awards.

The last four Golden Lion winners — NomadlandJokerRoma, and The Shape of Water — all used their triumph on the Lido as a launchpad to Oscar success.

It remains to be seen if France will submit Happening as its entry for the Best International Film Oscar.

List of Venice Winners

Golden Lion for Best Film

Happening, dir. Audrey Diwan

Grand Jury Prize

The Hand of God, dir. Paolo Sorrentino

Best Director

Jane Campion, for The Power of the Dog

Best Actor

John Arcilla for On The Job: The Missing 8

Best Actress

Penelope Cruz for Parallel Mothers

Best Screenplay

Maggie Gyllenhaal for The Lost Daughter

Best Young Actor

Filippo Scotti for The Hand of God

Special Jury Prize

Il Buco, dir. Michelangelo Frammartino

Lion of the Future for Best Debut Film

Imaculat, dirs. Monica Stan, George Chiper-Lillemark

Horizons Sidebar

Best Film

Pilgrims, dir. Laurynas Bareisa

Best Director

Eric Gravel for Full Time

Special Jury Prize

The Great Movement dir. Kiro Russo

Best Actor

Piseth Chhun for White Building

Best Actress

Laure Calamy for Full Time

Best Screenplay

Peter Kerekes, Ivan Ostrochovsky for 107 Mothers

Best Short Film

Los huesos, dirs. Cristobal Leon, Joaquin Cocina

Horizons Extra

Audience Award Armani beauty

The Blind Man Who Didn’t Want to See Titanic, dir. Teemu Nikki

Venice VR Expanded

Best VR Story

End of Night, dir. David Adler

Best VR Experience

Le bal de Paris, dir. Blanca Lee.

Best VR Work

Goliath Playing with Reality, dirs. Barry Gene Murphy, May Abdalla