South Korean director Kim Ki-duk's drama "Pieta," the brutal story of a debt collector who cripples those who can't pay until he meets a woman who claims to be his mother, won the Golden Lion for best film at the 69th Venice Film Festival on Saturday.
In a departure from the usual acceptance speeches, Kim thanked the jury and festival audience with a short song in Korean, leaving the theater in rapt silence.
The Silver Lion for best director went to Paul Thomas Anderson for "The Master," a film inspired by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. The movie's stars, Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, shared the prize for best actor.
In the film, Hoffman plays a charismatic sect leader who both befriends and enthralls a World War II veteran, played by Phoenix, who is drowning in homemade swill and unable to find a job or a life purpose.
Hoffman accepted both awards on behalf of both Anderson and Phoenix, who had continued from Venice on to Toronto to promote the film. Hoffman apologized for being ruffled, saying he had just landed at the airport and had changed into his suit in a restroom.
"So don't judge," he jested.
Hoffman praised Phoenix as a "life force" and called Anderson "one of my closest friends."
"Friend first, collaborator second. And he happens to be one of the great filmmakers in the world. How lucky am I?" said Hoffman, who has appeared in five of Anderson's films.
The best actress award went to Israeli actress Hadas Yaron for her role in Rama Burshtein's "Fill the Void."
The movie, set in Tel Aviv's Hasidic community, tells the story of 18-year-old Shira, played by Yaron, who faces the choice of whether or not to marry the widower of her beloved sister after her death in childbirth.
"Paradise: Faith," by Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Seidl, took the special jury prize. The film, the second part in Seidl's trilogy about three women from the same family on different quests, stars Maria Hofstaetter as a single woman who dedicates her vacation to missionary work.
The movie caused a stir in the Italian media for a scene in which Hofstaetter's character simulates sex with a crucifix — a point that the director addressed briefly while accepting the award.
"I am not blasphemous," Seidl told the audience.
"Pieta" follows a young debt collector he goes about his business maiming debtors until his ruthless course is interrupted by a stranger who claims to be his mother. His acceptance of his mother weakens his resolve to brutally collect the debts, leaving him vulnerable to revenge.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency called "Pieta" "a bruising but wisely woven drama (that) plainly shows how money can destroy humanity and create hellish interpersonal relationships."
"Pieta" is the Italian word for pity, but also applies to the artistic image in sculpture or painting of the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus, evoking a mother's love for her son. Yonhap said the title "gives the false impression that the film is about trying to find meaning in life through religion."
Other prizes were:
Best emerging actor or actress: Italian actor Fabrizio Falco for roles in two competition films, Daniele Cipri's "It was the Son," and Marco Bellocchio's "Dormant Beauty."
Best screenplay: French director Olivier Assayas for "Something in the Air."
Best technical contribution: Cipri for "It was the Son."