Shape of Water, The (2017): Top Winner of 2017 Venice Film Fest

The Shape of Water, Mexican director Guillermo del Toro’s romantic fable about the bond between a mute Baltimore cleaner and a mysterious aquatic creature, won the Golden Lion for Best Film in Competition at the 2017 Venice Film Fest.

Del Toro’s Triumph

The Fox Searchlight release stood out among over a diverse field of 21 features, winning from a jury headed by American actress Annette Bening.

This year, the press and the jury are in agreement: The Shape of Water was rapturously acclaimed by critics when it unspooled on the festival’s second day, and has been firmly installed as a Golden Lion frontrunner ever since.

“I believe in life, I believe in love and I believe in cinema,” declared del Toro as he accepted his award to a standing ovation — his first festival honor since “Pan’s Labyrinth” took the 2006 Cannes jury prize.

He arrived back on the Lido fresh from the film’s equally warmly received premieres in Telluride and Toronto, which further stoked Academy Awards buzz for his singular passion project. Fox Searchlight will open the film in the US on December 8, during the awards season.

The festival’s second most prestigious honor, the Grand Jury Prize, went to Israeli filmmaker Samuel Maoz for Foxtrot–his first feature since winning the Golden Lion for 2009’s war drama Lebanon. The new film is more expansive work, a tripartite reflection on grief and military culture. It is presently one of five films shortlisted to be Israel’s official Academy Awards submission.

Best Director

Best Director honors went to Frenchman Xavier Legrand for his first feature Custody, a tough chronicle of a couple’s divorce and its effect on their children during a custody battle.

An expansion of his Oscar-nominated 2013 short film “Just Before Losing Everything,” the film made Legrand the night’s one double winner: From a separate jury, he also won the Lion of the Future award for best debut feature across the festival’s multiple sections.

Kamel El Basha, one of the two male co-leads in Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri’s politically resonant courtroom drama “The Insult,” won Best Actor.

British actress Charlotte Rampling won in a highly competitive Best Actress field. There were Oscar-tipped turns by Frances McDormand and Sally Hawkins. Rampling was honored for her delicate work as a woman coping with her elderly husband’s shocking imprisonment in Italian director Andrea Pallaoro’s character study Hannah.

Accepting the award, the actress acknowledged her debt to Italian cinema in particular, paying tribute to the country’s auteurs with whom she has collaborated over the years, beginning with Gianfranco Mingozzi in 1968: “Italy is my source, absolutely, of inspiration. These are my masters, all of them. If I’m here tonight, it’s because of Italy.”

The award comes a year after Rampling landed her first Oscar nomination for another finely shaded study, Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years.

Haigh’s latest film, Lean on Pete, was another prizewinner, taking the Marcello Mastroianni Young Performer Award for its 18-year-old lead Charlie Plummer