Venice film festival: sex addict role wins best actor for Michael Fassbender

Controversial role in Shame is rewarded with best actor prize – but Russian film Faust takes Golden Lion

Actor Michael Fassbender took a giant leap towards superstardom by winning the best actor prize at the Venice film festival for his controversial role as a man addicted to sex.

Fassbender, who was born in Germany and raised in Ireland, but who now lives in east London, won the award for his performance as Brandon in Steve McQueen's drama Shame, in which he plays a successful New York executive tortured by his obsession with sexual images and brief sexual encounters.

He spends much of the film naked, engaged in increasingly unhappy acts of sex in stark hotel rooms. He also struggles to maintain a relationship with his visiting sister, played by Carey Mulligan.

Shame is the second time Fassbender has collaborated with director McQueen, the first being the controversial but award-winning Hunger, in which he played Irish hunger striker Bobby Sands. Accepting the award, the actor hailed McQueen as "his hero". Since Hunger won the prize for best debut (Camera d'Or) at Cannes in 2008, he has starred in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, the blockbuster X-Men: First Class, is currently starring in new UK release Jane Eyre, and had two lead roles at Venice, playing Carl Jung in David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method as well as Brandon in Shame.

Fassbender, 34, made a last-minute schedule change to accept the award, known as the Volpi Cup, switching a flight bound for the Toronto film festival and arriving in the Sala Grande on the Venice Lido just 15 minutes before hearing his name called out as the winner.

Shame was widely tipped to win the top prize of the Golden Lion, but lost to the Russian film Faust, by the revered auteur Alexsandr Sokurov. Fassbender's win still represented a highly successful festival for British cinema – he was joined on the winner's stage by cinematographer Robbie Ryan, rewarded with the technical prize for his atmospheric work on Andrea Arnold's daring adaptation of Wuthering Heights.

"It's nice to take a chance on work you think is relevant and hope other people find it relevant," he said. "Venice is a festival with a wonderful tradition and it is humbling to win when the competition is from so many other amazing talents."

Fassbender made particular reference to the work of Gary Oldman, who played George Smiley in the much-admired Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

"He blows my mind," said Fassbender, "and I've been following him since I was 14 years old. This is incredible."

Fassbender, who is currently working on films with Ridley Scott and Jim Jarmusch, continues a proud tradition of British and Irish performers to win acting prizes in Venice, most recently Colin Firth, whose win for Tom Ford's A Single Man launched him on the way to Oscar glory in The King's Speech. Helen Mirren, Imelda Staunton, Jim Broadbent and Liam Neeson have all won in recent times.

Awarding the Golden Lion to Faust, jury president Darren Aronofsky said: "The jurors are seven people from different corners of the world but we were united in our choice and admiration for this winner. Some films make you dream, or laugh, or cry, and some, like this one, change your life the moment you see them for the first time."

Although never a winner of any major awards, 60-year-old, Siberian-born Sokurov has been long admired for films such as Moloch, Mother and Son and the extraordinary Russian Ark, which consists of a single travelling shot through St Petersburg's Hermitage Museum, lasting 96 minutes. Faust's win was widely considered a surprise, but will also be seen as a return to the festival's artistic roots after the hotly disputed win for Sofia Coppola's Somewhere last year, a prize dished out by her ex-boyfriend Quentin Tarantino.

After this year's strong competition, Venice is widely considered to have regained its stature as one of the world's major film events.Resisting Hollywood glamour, the festival also handed out awards to Hong Kong actress Deanie Yip for her charming performance as a dying family maid in A Simple Life. A popular win was the Jury Prize, which went to Italian director Emmanuele Crialese for Terrafirma, a film about African immigrants washed up on the remote Italian holiday island of Linosa. The screenplay prize went to Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos's Alps, while best director could literally be considered a shock – it went to China's Shanjun Cai, whose People Mountain, People Sea officially played as the competition's surprise film.


Jason Solomons in Venice

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Venice film festival: Contagion is not the final reel for Steven Soderbergh

As his new disaster movie opens at the festival, the Sex, Lies and Videotape director says he is only planning 'a sabbatical'

Mark Brown and Jason Solomons in Venice

03, Sep, 2011 @11:08 PM

Article image
Venice film festival awards night – in pictures

Michael Fassbender wins the best actor award for his controversial role in Shame but Russian film Faust takes the Golden Lion

11, Sep, 2011 @12:47 AM

Article image
Venice film festival 2011: A Dangerous Method: 'And out of the spanking comes psychoanalysis' - video

Xan Brooks analyses David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method, starring Viggo Mortensen as Freud, Michael Fassbender as Jung and Keira Knightley as the erotically-disturbed patient who comes between them

Xan Brooks and Elliot Smith

02, Sep, 2011 @3:21 PM

Article image
Venice film festival 2011: Keira Knightley talks costume drama
David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method gets rave reviews as Hollywood's great and good arrive in Italy

Mark Brown in Venice

02, Sep, 2011 @4:11 PM

Article image
A Dangerous Method bookies' favourite to win Venice film festival 2011

David Cronenberg's Keira Knightley-starring thriller tops odds to win Golden Lion at 5/1, while War Horse on track for Oscar

Catherine Shoard

31, Aug, 2011 @12:15 PM

Article image
Venice film festival: I come to play the president, not to be him, says Clooney

Actor/director rules out ever running for White House as he unveils Ides of March

Mark Brown in Venice

31, Aug, 2011 @6:25 PM

Article image
Wuthering Heights at the Venice film festival: 'It's been a very difficult journey' – video

Xan Brooks praises Andrea Arnold's 'beautiful, bruised interpretation' of Wuthering Heights

Xan Brooks and Elliot Smith

06, Sep, 2011 @3:36 PM

Article image
Venice film festival 2011: Keira Knightley uses A Dangerous Method to woo Venice – in pictures

Blanket sunglasses left little chance to psychoanalyse the stars of David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method, which premiered at the Venice film festival this morning

02, Sep, 2011 @12:48 PM

Article image
Toronto and Venice: a tale of two remarkably civilised film festivals

Henry Barnes: For all the similarities between the two big autumn film festivals, their relationship remains balanced rather than competitive

Henry Barnes

27, Jul, 2011 @11:51 AM

Article image
Colin Firth wins best actor at Venice film festival

Actor wins for his portrayal of a gay academic as Israeli movie set in a tank during the 1982 Lebanon war is named best film

Jason Solomons in Venice

12, Sep, 2009 @8:46 PM