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Venice 2023: Who will win the Golden Lion? Here are our predictions

Who will be the winners at this year's Venice Film Festival - here are our bets...
Who will be the winners at this year's Venice Film Festival - here are our bets... Copyright Venice Film Festival
Copyright Venice Film Festival
By David Mouriquand
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It's nearly awards time... Here are our predictions for tomorrow evening's ceremony.

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The 80th edition of the Venice Film Festival is drawing to a close, with tomorrow evening’s award ceremony set to honour the best of this year’s selection.

It’s been a strong and eclectic year, and while there are some definite standouts within the 23 films in Competition, it all comes down to, as always, the whims of the jury, led by American director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, La La Land, Babylon).

This year’s is a director-heavy rollcall, with the likes of Jane Campion (winner of the Silver Lion for Best Director in 2021 for The Power of the Dog), Laura Poitras (Citizenfour and last year’s Golden Lion winner, All The Beauty And The Bloodshed), Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing Missouri, and 2022 Best Screenplay winner The Banshees of Inisherin), Mia Hansen- Løve (Things To Come, One Fine Morning), Santiago Mitre (The Student, Argentina 1985) and Gabriele Mainetti (Freaks Out). They are joined by Palestinian actor Saleh Bakri (Wajib, The Present) and Chinese actress Shu Qi (Millennium Mambo, The Assassin).

Whoever wins Best Director from this impressive and hopefully discerning bunch can use 'Venice Best Director - Class of 2023' on calling cards.

So, without further ado and prior to tomorrow’s results, here are our predictions. Let’s hope we get some of these right – for bragging purposes, no more no less.

Just to remind that no joint awards are allowed, meaning that if one film wins for a certain category, they are out of the running for a second trophy.

Golden Lion (Leone d’Oro) – Best Film

Venice Film Festival
Poor ThingsVenice Film Festival

Will win: Poor Things (Yorgos Lanthimos)

Could win: Zielona Granica (Green Border) (Agnieszka Holland)

While we’re calling it for Yorgos Lanthimos’ Poor Things, it’s actually a neck-and-neck race with Polish director Agnieszka Holland’s Green Border for the top prize. Both have emerged as the most memorable films of the 80th edition, and barring a massive upset, it’s a coin toss between the two.

The decision will come down to whether the jury want to make a statement. Green Border is an incisive indictment of a continuing EU crisis and a reminder of those who are still dying on Europe’s borders. You won’t find a film as urgent, and as cynical as this may sound, this topicality may sway the vote. That’s not to say that the film only resumes itself to a worthy message – it is a brilliantly directed and one of Holland’s very best. Read our full review.

If Green Border wins, it will be the fourth time in a row that a female director wins Venice's top prize, after Chloé Zhao in 2020 (Nomadland), Audrey Diwan in 2021 (Happening), and Laura Poitras last year (All The Beauty And The Bloodshed).

However, our money’s on the more obvious choice of Poor Things. 'Obvious' in the sense that you can bet Lanthimos will be a frontrunner during the upcoming awards season and Venice has continued to prove itself as the Oscars launchpad festival over the years.

The film itself is far from obvious and an absolute stunner. After wowing Venice in 2018 with The Favourite, 2023 feels like it could be the year for leading Greek Weird Wave exponent. Lanthimos' “diabolical fuckfest of a puzzle” (as one character says referring to the adventure that slips from his grasp) uses the language of Gothic conventions to talk about the role of men and women in society, and his usual mastery of tone is a joy to behold. So is Tony McNamara’s mordantly funny screenplay, which ensures there’s absolutely no shortage of immensely quotable zingers throughout. Thematically layered, raunchy, stylistically executed and above all fun, it’s got it all. Read our full review.

Grand Jury Prize

Venice Film Festival
Green BorderVenice Film Festival

Will win: Green Border (Ageniezska Holland)

Could win: La Bête (Bertrand Bonello)

If Poor Things gets the top going, then surely Agniezska is getting the runner-up prize for her topical cri-du-coeur. It asks vital questions about collective responsibility and inaction in a geopolitical landscape Europe – as a collective – finds itself in, and it’ll be a major upset if it goes home empty-handed.

Special Jury Prize

Venice Film Festival
Evil Does Not ExistVenice Film Festival

Will win: Aku Wa Sonzai Shinai (Evil Does Not Exist) (Ryûsuke Hamaguchi)

Could win: Io Capitano (Matteo Garrone)

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After this masterful 2021 double-tap of Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy and the Oscar-winning Drive My Car, Japanese filmmaker Ryûsuke Hamaguchi surprised everyone with the announcement of his new film, Evil Does Not Exist. It came out of nowhere and went straight into Venice’s competition selection. No complaints here.

The film follows a father and daughter who live in a small village close to Tokyo. One day, the village inhabitants become aware of a plan to build a glamping site, a project that will have a negative impact on the local water supply and endanger the ecological balance.

It sounds straightforward but it’s anything but. Enigmatic and allusive, Hamaguchi's parable offers up no easy answers and is a much tougher sell than his previous films. However, Evil Does Not Exist is a gently haunting revenge film of sorts that demands to be rewatched - and deserves to be celebrated. 

Silver Lion (Leone d’Argento) - Best Director

Venice Film Festival
MaestroVenice Film Festival

Will win: Bradley Cooper (Maestro)

Could win: Bertrand Bonello (La Bête – The Beast)

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It may not be what we’d pick, but we’re betting the jury won’t resist.

For only his second film (after the Venice premiering A Star Is Born), Cooper dodged the typical cradle-to-grave biopic formula by focusing on a decade spanning love story between the sexually fluid composer Leonard Bernstein and Chilean actress Felicia Montealegre (the excellent Carey Mulligan). He is great as Bernstein and the film exudes an old-fashioned, Golden Age of Hollywood mood that someone like Jury President Damien Chazelle would lap up.

Maestro was one of the many biopics in Competition this year, and it’s a tie between Cooper’s film and Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla for the biopic trophy. Both eschewed some of the genre’s more tired tropes, and delivered stylish and intimate tributes. In Cooper’s case, Maestro showed that he wasn’t a one-hit wonder and is the real deal just as much behind the camera as he is in front. We’re predicting he has a strong chance of winning. Read our full review.

There is, however, an outside chance the jury will be more daring and go for French director Bertrand Bonello for La Bête (The Beast), which is far too long but a formally daring sci-fi melodrama that interweaves classicism, modernity, and some strong words about our future AI overlords. He would be our pick, but his centuries-spanning cross between Cloud Atlas and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (loosely adapted from Henry James’s 1903 novella 'The Beast in the Jungle') might be too “out there” for this jury.

Speaking of The Beast ...

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Volpi Cup for Best Actress

Venice Film Festival
The BeastVenice Film Festival

Will win: Léa Sedoux (La Bête - The Beast)

Could win: Jessica Chastain (Memory)

This could so easily go to Emma Stone, who has never been better in Poor Things. However, if the film wins either the Golden Lion or the Grand Jury Prize, that puts Stone out of the running. Nevermind, as there’s little doubt that her hilarious and wonderfully weird “pretty little retard”, as one character calls her, will lead her to awards glory in the coming months.

Jessica Chastain would be a great shout for her note-perfect performance in Michel Franco’s Memory. She plays Sylvia, a social worker and recovering alcoholic whose surprise encounter with a high school figure profoundly impacts her structured life, as well as reopen some doors from the past. Both Chastain and Peter Sarsgaard are excellent, and if there’s the possibility of giving a joint acting award, we wouldn’t be upset about this. Plus, both performers are on the Lido for the last day of Competition films, after having received special dispensation for the film's premiere. Maybe that's a sign... Still, we're banking on Memory winning another prize – scroll down to find out which.

So, it comes down to Léa Seydoux, who is great as three versions of Gabrielle in The Beast: 2044 Gabrielle, who plans to undergo a procedure in 2044 to “purify” her DNA; 2014 Gabrielle, the model auditioning for roles and drawn to a stalking 30-year-old incel (George MacKay); 1910 Gabrielle, a pianist in Belle Epoque Paris. While the chemistry might be often lacking between the two leads, there’s no denying that Seydoux anchors the broadly divisive film.

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Before we leave this category behind, special mention for Behi Djanati Ataï in Green Border, who is the beating heart of Holland’s compassionate film. Her performance as Afghani refugee Leila is devastating.

Volpi Cup for Best Actor

Venice Film Festival
The Promised LandVenice Film Festival

Will win: Mads Mikkelsen (Bastarden – The Promised Land)

Could win: Mark Ruffalo (Poor Things)

If Bradley Cooper doesn’t win Best Director, then he could be in with a shot for his uncanny performance as Leonard Bernstein. So could Mark Ruffalo, should there be an upset and Poor Things not win the top gong. There’s also a gossamer thin chance that Caleb Landry Jones is in the running for his strong this-year’s-Arthur-Fleck turn in the very flawed Dogman. 

Still, this year’s Volpi Cup should be Mads Mikkelsen’s to lose.

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Because we’re huge fans of Mads. His turn as an impoverished 18th century captain on a mission to conquer the harsh heath in Nikolaj Arcel’s excellent Bastarden (The Promised Land) proves once again that if you want a leading man to elevate the already strong material to greatness, he’s your Dane.

Golden Osella – Best Screenplay

Venice Film Festival
MemoryVenice Film Festival

Will win: Memory (Michel Franco)

Could win: Bastarden (The Promised Land) (Anders Thomas Jensen, Nikolaj Arcel)

While Anders Thomas Jensen and Nikolaj Arcel deserve more than they’ll probably get during tomorrow’s awards ceremony, their terrific adaptation of Ida Jessen’s 'Kaptajnen og Ann Barbara' could be a sound choice.

However, Michel Franco does impress with the impactful Memory, which is stomach-knotting stuff. The director has always been impressive in staging sudden bursts of violence on screen, and here, he uses his words. They remain impactful and at times gut-wrenching, but also surprisingly tender. The way he handles the topic of sexual abuse, dementia, denial, and Festen -level family dynamics is well judged and makes for an incredibly memorable addition to this year’s Competition. 

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It would be a real shame if the film didn’t get Best Screenplay, or even one of the acting awards for either Chastain or Sarsgaard.

Marcello Mastroianni Award – Best New Young Actor or Actress

Venice Film Festival
PriscillaVenice Film Festival

Will win: Cailee Spaeny (Priscilla)

Could win: Any of the good doggos in Dogman.

Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla was the furthest thing from the toothless, estate-approved biopic it could have feasibly been. Instead, it was a sensitive and absorbing adaptation of Priscilla Presley's 1985 memoir 'Elvis and Me', central to which is 25-year-old Cailee Spaeny’s uncaricatured turn as the leading lady. 

You may have glimpsed Spaeny in Bad Times at the El Royale, as the young Lynne Cheney in Vice, or in series like Devs or Mare of Easttown. However, this is without a doubt her big break, showing that she’s capable of shouldering a big production and acing the assignment. The Marcello Mastroianni Award has her name all over it.

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The Venice Film Festival takes its bow on Saturday 9 September. Stay tuned to Euronews Culture for the award results tomorrow and click here for a reminder of our daily coverage of this year’s 80th edition.

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