Streaming Spotlight - Venice Golden Lion winners

As the festival in Italy continues, we suggest some of the best from the previous editions you can stream at home

by Amber Wilkinson

Last Year In Marienbad
Last Year In Marienbad Photo: Studiocanal
After the pandemic saw many film festivals move to virtual events this year, Venice Film Festival is the first of what be might considered the 'red carpet' fests to manage to stage a physical edition since Berlin back in February. To celebrate, we decided to focus our Streaming Spotlight this week on films that have won the event's highest accolade - the Golden Lion. If you're looking for more inspiration, you can read our latest Stay-At-Home Seven here, while last week's spotlight focused on Berlin-winning performances.

Rashomon, BFI Player or other platforms including Amazon, from £3.49

Back in 1951, the Golden Lion still went by the name The Golden Lion of St Mark, the saint whose "Lion of Venice" symbol of the winged lion is used as the festival's statuette to this day. Akira Kurosawa's film - which questions the subjective nature of 'the truth' by telling the tale of a forest death from four different perspectives - is so influential that the term "Rashomon effect" was coined as a result. It also went on to influence any number of filmmakers, with the device employed in everything from Hero to The Usual Suspects and Hoodwinked. Beyond the technique of the film - which is also visually arresting and features  Toshiro Mifune at the top of his game - Rashomon is considered the first Japanese movie to breakout to a wider European and American audience, coming just a few years before Kurosawa's other much-emulated masterpiece Seven Samurai. The director would also go on to receive an Honorary Golden Lion from the festival in 1982.

Last Year In Marienbad, Amazon, YouTube and other platforms, from £2.49

If Rashomon questions perspective, the winner ten years later, Alain Resnais' surreal classic, is so enigmatic, there's a good chance you might feel as though you're watching several perspectives simultaneously. The plot, such as it is, revolves around an unnamed man (Giorgio Albertazzi) and a woman (Delphine Seyrig) in a luxury chateau. He believes they had an affair a year before, an assertion she strongly denies. The film follows snippets of their conversations, as the man tries to convince her of their relationship, that could be remembered or merely figments, also introducing a second man (Sacha Pitoëff), who may or may not be the woman's spouse. The sort of puzzle box of a film that makes Christopher Nolan's output look like a crossword for kids, it begs to be watched multiple times, although if you like cast iron solutions, it may not be for you. Beyond the cryptic narrative, it is also gorgeously captured by cinematographer Sacha Vierny, from its tracking shots to its strong use of the full depth of field and stunning tableaux.

Not One Less, Amazon and Apple, from £9.99

If you were told, off the cuff, Chinese director Zhang Yimou had won the Golden Lion in Venice twice, you might expect it to be for blockbusters like House Of Flying Daggers or Hero. In fact, its two of his lesser known works - The Story of Qui Ju, in 1992 and Not One Less, in 1999, that have snagged the top prize. The polar opposite to his more operatic films with their spectacular set-pieces, the focus of this drama is small-town China, where a teacher who has to leave to care for his sick mother is replaced by a 13-year-old girl (Wei Minzhi) - its young protagonist and simple but effective storytelling would make it a good watch for older children as well as adults. Given her minimal teaching skills, Wei's top priority is to keep her class intact, so when one boy is sent to work in the city, she sees it as her duty to get him back. Beginning with a documentary feel, Zhang - who cast non-professionals in the roles - crafts his story so that it blossoms into a tale of remarkable resilience in the face of adversity. Stubbornness has rarely been presented as such a winning attribute.

The Magdalene Sisters, Amazon Prime

Jennie Kermode writes: Now that the truth is out, what happened in the Magdalene laundries has been recognised as one of the darkest episodes in Ireland's history. It's brought to life in this 2002 Golden Lion winner by Peter Mullan, with excellent performances from Eileen Walsh and Nore-Jane Noone among the cohort of girls and Geraldine McEwan as the local head of the operation. Brief, unsentimental vignettes show us how the girls ended up there (being raped, having a child taken away because it was born out of wedlock, or simply being deemed too sexy for school) but the focus is on what then became of them, and Mullan does a good job of keeping the narrative moving whilst communicating the dullness of a daily routine designed to keep the girls exhausted and break their spirits. Routine abuse and degradation contribute to a system which essentially provided the Church with slave labour, and this is very effectively depicted without sensationalism. History tells us that a few girls did escape this system and Mullan keeps us rooting for his young heroines as they try to find a way out, but the trap is more than just physical and extends far beyond the laundry itself.

The Wrestler, GooglePlay, Amazon and other platforms, from £2.49

Few comebacks have been greater than that of Mickey Rourke in Darren Aronofsky's tale of an ageing wrestler grappling as much with his emotions and relationship with his daughter as he is with his opponents, which won the Golden Lion in 2008. He plays Randy 'The Ram' Robinson with a physicality that, coupled with Maryse Alberti's close quarters camerawork, ensures we feel every smackdown in the ring. Although offering the visual adrenaline kick more commonly associated with boxing flicks, such as Rocky, it is the wrestling of the mind, which is key to its success. Rourke lost out in the Oscar race to Sean Penn's performance in Milk, although he did take home a Golden Globe and a BAFTA. You could argue Rourke's early performances in the likes of Rumble Fish have a broody sex appeal, but he's never been better than damaged, but still fighting, soul he plays here.

The Shape Of Water, Amazon, Microsoft and other platforms, from £2.49

Jennie Kermode writes: A marvellous tribute to the creature features of yore, Guillermo Del Toro's Oscar-winning spectacular upends the conventional morals of Fifties America to find heroes in unlikely places. The ever reliable Sally Hawkins won a league of new admirers with her performance as mute cleaning lady Eliza, very much at the bottom of the hierarchy on the secret government base where a mysterious creature is brought at the behest of Michael Shannon's sinister federal agent. Whereas everyone else is horrified by the creature, Eliza finds him strangely beautiful and, as the two develop an unexpected romance, hatches a plan to break him out with the aid of fellow cleaner Zelda (Octavia Soencer) and gay best friend Giles (Richard Jenkins). There are quite a few stereotypes here, but that's the natures of fairy tales. With Cold War drama playing out in the background and a strange secret buried in Elia's own past, there's a lot to engage with here - plus, in one of its most delightful comic scenes, you'll get a hint of how the young Del Toro once destroyed his parents' bathroom.

Roma, Netflix

In recent years, Venice has hit a purple patch in terms of its Golden Lion winners going on to Oscar success, with The Shape Of Water taking home the Best Picture statuette in 2017, the year before Alfonso Cuarón's Roma won the directing prize and was named Best Foreign Language film (controversially losing out to Green Book for Best Picture). His tale of middle-class life in Seventies Mexico City, with maid Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) acting as a focal point, is loosely based on his own childhood - and the connection to the story shows in its emotional heart. There's an almost tactile feel to the memories presented here with almost every one of his monochrome frames, shot by Cuarón himself, filled to the brim with interest. This is domestic drama at its finest that also holds the class system up to the light.

We're returning to Resnais for our short this week. We did mention All The Memory Of The World in our Stay-At-Home Seven back in July, but this is a good excuse to encourage you to watch it again.

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