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Sunday, 8 September, 2002, 21:34 GMT 22:34 UK
Scottish director wins Golden Lion
Peter Mullan receives his award from Gong Li
Mullan won over a jury led by Gong Li
Scottish director Peter Mullan has won the Golden Lion best film award at the Venice film festival for The Magdalene Sisters.

The hotly-tipped film tells the story of the physical and mental abuse dealt out by Catholic nuns to "promiscuous" girls detained in Irish laundries.

The film was rapturously received by audiences in Venice, who cheered every time one of the protagonists attempted to escape or rebelled against the nuns.


Whoever gave the prize to this film did so only because of its anti-Catholic content

Gianni Baget Bozzo
Media pundit
But the Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano has denounced the film and the prestigious award is likely to spark further controversy.

Andrea Piersanti, head of an Italian Catholic commission on the performing arts, said the jury had been more "influenced by the newspapers than the content of the film".

"It's a strange signal on the part of the first festival run by the centre-right who gave the prize to a film so brazenly anti-clerical," he added.

Hostile reception

Catholic priest and media commentator, Gianni Baget Bozzo, also rounded on the jury and festival organisers.

"Whoever gave the prize to this film did so only because of its anti-Catholic content."

Mullan has admitted the film could face a hostile reception when it is released in Catholic countries.

Peter Mullan arriving at the awards ceremony
Mullan came to fame as an actor
But he received only loud applauce when - dressed in a kilt - he walked onto stage at Venice's Lido and held aloft his Golden Lion.

He said: "The film is not just about the Catholic Church and how they repress young women in Ireland, it's about all faiths that think they have the right to pressure women.

"But if they can free themselves in their minds, they can start to fight back."

And Mullan dismissed criticism of the films supposed anti-clericalism.

Speaking at a press conference, he said: "To say that my movie is a scandal is absurd.

"I didn't create the Magdalene Asylums, they created them. I just wanted to expose one of the great injustices of the second half of the 20th century."

Critical success

He shot to fame as an actor in Ken Loach's My Name is Joe, and won best actor at the 1998 Cannes film festival.

He has also had critical success as a director with his bleak, surreal Orphans.

The best actor award or Coppa Volpi went to the Italian Stefano Accorsi for his role in the film Un Viaggio Chiamato Amore (A Journey called Love).

And there was US success as well with Julianne Moore winning best actress for her role in Todd Haynes' Far from Heaven.

The jury's Grand Prix award went to Andrei Konchalovsky for The Madhouse, a film about the 1994-96 Chechen war told through the eyes of the patients at an occupied mental asylum.

Organiser's triumph

Oasis, a South Korean film about a man's romance with a woman with cerebral palsy, won the director's prize and best young actress for star Moon So-ri.

The festival has been regarded as triumph for Swiss organiser Moritz de Hadeln, brought in with only six months notice amid internal squabbles.

It has been tinged by controversy over Mullan's film, Harrison Ford sub drama K-19, and particularly over an 11 September film featuring anti-American sentiments.

Also announced at Venice was a plan for a film festival at Ramallah in the West Bank next year.

Meanwhile, the Deauville American film festival also closed, with the grand prize going to Peter Sollett's Long Way Home, a tale of romance among an immigrant community in New York.

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Director Peter Mullen
"The film is about young women's attempts to fight back against a regime"

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