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Israeli film on '82 Lebanon war wins Venice prize

"Lebanon," an Israeli film that recounts Israel's 1982 invasion of the Middle East country through the eyes of four soldiers in a tank, has won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival.

The festival jury announced the Golden Lion and other prizes today, the last day of the 11-day screening of films from around the world. An Iranian film about women and repression took the No. 2 prize, the Silver Lion.

"Lebanon," directed by Samuel Maoz, tells the story of Israeli paratroopers searching a hostile town. The conflict is seen through the binocular-aided eyes of those inside a tank, with their cramped quarters lending an anxious sense of claustrophobia to their viewpoint.

"I dedicate this work to people all over the world that come back from the war safe and sound," the director told the audience at the awards ceremony. "They work, get married, have children," but the memories get "stuck in their souls."

Maoz was a young man when he served in the Israeli military during the invasion, which led to a long occupation of southern Lebanon.

Variety has described the film, one of 25 which competed for the Golden Lion, as the "boldest and best of the recent mini-wave" of Israeli movies. The awards jury was headed by Ang Lee, himself a Golden Lion-winning director, who marveled that if "Lebanon" was Maoz's first film what might he do next.

He said the jurors were both quick and unanimous in choosing "Lebanon" and were "happy not to be inside that tank which could have been any tank in any war."

Maoz told Israeli Channel 1 TV in a phone interview immediately after winning that he hoped the film "helps people understand our country better, understand our society better, and the complexity of our society better."

The jury seemed to wade straight into conflicted parts of the world.

Iranian filmmaker and photographer Shirin Neshat snared the Silver Lion for best director for her feature debut with "Zanan Bedoone Mardan" ("Women Without Men").

The film depicts four women from all classes of society in 1953 Iran, on the eve of an American-aided uprising that deposed an elected government that had nationalized the oil industry, and led to the return of the shah.

The movie is about "the courage of the women and the people of Iran to take their lives into their own hands," she said after winning the Silver Lion.

"I knew when I was making the film, I was taking a risk. I knew nothing about cinema." But she added, "I took a risk so the fundamental message is about courage. There is a great value in that struggle and we must fight to evolve as a society and as women."

A comedy, "Soul Kitchen," by German-Turkish director Fatih Akin, won the Special Jury Prize. The film represented a departure from the more serious tones set in Akin's 2004 Berlin Golden Bear winner "Head On" and 2007's "The Edge of Heaven," which won the screenplay award at the Cannes film festival.

Colin Firth took the best actor award for his role in Tom Ford's "A Single Man" as a college professor grappling with solitude after his longtime partner dies. Fashion designer Tom Ford made his director's debut with the movie.

Ksenia Rappoport, starring in the Italian film "La Doppia Ora," won best actress honors.


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