25 Great Films That Won The Golden Lion at The Venice Film Festival

8. Atlantic City (Louis Malle, 1980)

Atlantic City

This 1980 film from Louis Malle not only won the Golden Lion, but was also nominated for 5 Academy Awards. It is set in the title location, which is experiencing a time of transformation. The story follows Sally, a would-be blackjack dealer who dreams of life in the casinos of Europe, and aging ex-mobster Lou, who is in search of his lost prime. Their lives will intersect thanks to a package of wayward drugs and each will have a dramatic impact on the other.

Louis Malle declined to be labeled a director of the French New Wave, and this film shows how he sought and found his own cinematic path. Atlantic City is a poignant and melancholic film concerning elusive dreams and potential changes. A superb Burt Lancaster and beautiful Susan Sarandon are the lead players in one of Malle’s most enduring films.


7. The Great War (Mario Monicelli, 1959)

The Great War

The Great War is one of the most acclaimed and influential films in the history of Italian cinema. Directed by Mario Monicelli, the film depicts the life in the trenches during World War I and follows the adventures of the two comical young men.

The movie is a mix of war film and the comedy, graced with touches of neorealist cinema. Due to the mix of farce and tragedy, the film was considered most unusual and was a tough sell but has emerged as a staple of Italian film history.

The main characters (played by Alberto Sordi and Vittorio Gassmann) are perfectly matched and complement each other well, alternating comedy and tragedy with a bittersweet tone. The finale perfectly caps one of its country’s most notable films.


6. Hana-bi aka Fireworks (Takeshi Kitano, 1997)


Thanks to Hana-bi, 1997 was a breakthrough year for Japanese director Takeshi Kitano.

The film intertwines the stories of Nishi, an abrupt and inhospitable ex-cop who is bound to the Yakuza because of a debt, and that of his colleague Horibe. Each character is dealing with private sorrows: Nishi’s wife is dying of leukemia, while Horibe has destroyed his career by failing to live up to his duty during a police action with which he was involved.

Hana-bi astutely shows both the cruelty and tenderness of the men’s worlds, as expressed by the title, which literally means “fire” and “flower”, or violence and love.

In addition to its emotional content, the film features a dazzling array of unpredictable images, action sequences, flashbacks and an addictive soundtrack.


5. Three Colours: Blue (Krzystof Kieslowski, 1993)

Three Colors Blue (1993)

In 1993 director Krzystof Kieslowski created the first in a trilogy of films dedicated to the three colors of the French flag and its motto taken from the time of French revolution “Libertè, Egalitè, Fraternitè”.

Blue deals with the theme of freedom, in the sense of being free from the memories of the past. It centers on Julie, who, after losing her husband and daughter in a car accident, isolates herself as a means of dealing with her pain. The strength of the movie lies in its development from the muted emotions of the beginning to the overwhelming emotional impact of the final scenes.

The film features a wonderful and carefully worked out style and makes great use of the color blue, which represents Julie’s tragic past. Juliette Binoche gives a most emotional but always credible performance.


4. Aparajito (Satyajit Ray, 1956)


Aparajito is a one of the key films which facilitated the growth of the Indian film industry in the 20th century. The movie tells the story of young Apu who attends the University of Calcutta thanks to the sacrifices of his widowed mother. As he grows up and becomes a man, Apu will face challenges such as his mother’s illness and their unresolved relationship.

Director Satyajit Ray was a great innovator in the Indian cinema. Aparajito fuses traditional Indian themes with the innovations of European avant-garde cinema. The result is a linear and credible film which brilliantly depicts the India of the 1920s, a country which has to deal with major changes and social transformations.

In this context is inserted a touching family story, in which important issues such as education, selfishness, and relationships between parent and child emerge.


3. Red Desert (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1964)

Red Desert

In 1964, Michelangelo Antonioni, one of the founders of the Italian post-neorealist movement, directed his first color film, Red Desert. The innovative use of color, especially the different shades of red, gray and green, contributed greatly to the film’s acclaim.

Antonioni was already prominent for his “inability trilogy”(L’Avventura, La Notte, L’Eclippse) and this film adds a new visual layer to the previous films’ content and themes. The thrust of this film is a heated criticism of the bourgeoisie and the inability to get out of their existential cage.

The protagonist, Giuliana, is unhappy and depressed about her life and her sole comfort is the memory of a distant desert beach. If Red Desert is not among the director’s finest films, it is still an interesting effort.


2. Belle de Jour (Luis Bunuel, 1967)

Belle de Jour

This 1967 film gave the noted veteran director Luis Bunuel his biggest international success. “Belle de jour” is a compendium of issues peculiar to Bunuel: human sexuality, irrationality, and the emergence of the unconscious; these were controversial issues which greatly contributed to the notoriety of the film.

The film chronicles the life of Severine, a beautiful Parisian bourgeois entering into prostitution without letting her husband this. Bunuel deftly mixes fantasy and reality. The thrust of the film is to satirize middle class life, including taking swipes at government and religion, themes which would resurface later in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.

Catherine Deneuve gives a perfect performance, backed by an excellent supporting cast, especially Michel Piccoli.


1. Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa, 1950)


The plot of Rashomon is simple, yet symbolic: three journeymen discuss the case of a bandit, who is accused of a brutal murder. Each offers a different view of the facts.

The film is an impressive parable about relativity and the many facets of the truth. It raised awareness of the Japanese cinema in Europe and launched actor Toshiro Mifune as a force on the international scene .

The film demonstrated Kurosawa’s love of both silent cinema and modern art. Incredibly Rashomon was accused of being too “European” in Japan and that country refused to export the to Venice Film Festival as an official entry. Fortunately the film arrived in Europe and later in America and helped establish Kurosawa as one of the most admired filmmakers of the 20th century.

Author Bio: Sebastiano graduated in Humanities and is attending a degree in Economics for Arts and Culture. He is interested in art and film ratings, and is a regular follower of Venice Film Festival.