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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Tragedy Captures Venice Prize

APAndrei Zvyagintsev and "The Return" star Ivan Dobronravov, 14, accepting the prize Saturday.
VENICE, Italy -- "The Return," a Russian film about the harrowing reunion of a father with his sons after a 10-year absence, won the Venice Film Festival's top prize, the Golden Lion, on Saturday.

First-time director Andrei Zvyagintsev dedicated the award to the 15-year-old star of the film, Vladimir Garin, who tragically drowned shortly after the end of shooting in the same lake where several of the picture's scenes were filmed. While promoting the film in Venice, Zvyagintsev refused to discuss the death.

"You see only two actors up on the stage tonight. Those who saw the film know there were three main actors," said Zvyagintsev, 39, who was greeted with a standing ovation Saturday.

"The fact is that the actor who played Andrei died tragically two months ago. We would like to dedicate this award to him," he said, clearly moved.

The director's remarkable debut tells the tale of two boys whose mysterious and overbearing father returns after a decade-long absence and imposes a harsh program to turn his sons into men. He puts them through a series of grueling tasks that ultimately brings disaster.

"The Return" ("Vozvrashcheniye") also won the award for best first feature.

"For a first-time director it's absolutely extraordinary," said Screen International critic Lee Marshall. "It's an incredibly strong story of a father-son conflict with elements of even Greek tragedy behind it."

In a coincidence, a first-time Russian director also won the Golden Lion in 1962. He was Andrei Tarkovsky, presenting "Ivan's Childhood." The only other time a Russian won was in 1991, when director Nikita Mikhalkov took the prize for "Close to Eden."

The runner-up Jury Grand Prix was awarded Saturday to "The Kite" ("Le Cerf-Volant"), a film by Lebanese director Randa Chahal Sabbag about love and separation along the Lebanese-Israeli border. Japanese filmmaker Takeshi Kitano won a Silver Lion for his directing of "Zatoichi" about a blind samurai warrior who saves a village.

Festival director Moritz de Hadeln said Zvyagintsev may not have wanted to talk about Garin's tragic death because he did not want to influence the jury, Agence France Presse reported.

The opening scene in "The Return" shows Garin and a group of boys leaping from a wooden tower into the dark waters of a lake. Garin reportedly drowned after jumping from the same tower after filming wrapped up.

Zvyagintsev graduated from Moscow's State Institute of Theater Art in 1990 and has acted in minor roles in television and film and directed a few television movies. (Reuters, MT, AP)