U.S. wrestler romance takes Venice prize in big win for Mickey Rourke

Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler has grabbed the top award at the Venice Film Festival. The film, starring Mickey Rourke, was handed the Golden Lion on Saturday at the end of the 10-day festival.

Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler  has nabbed the top award at the Venice Film Festival.

The film, starring Mickey Rourke, was handed the Golden Lion on Saturday at the end of the 11-day festival.

German director Wim Wenders, head of the seven-member jury, was full of praise for Rourke: "This is for a film with a truly heartbreaking performance in the very sense of the word, and if I say heartbreaking, you know I am talking about Mickey Rourke."

Aronofsky's movie, running in contention with 20 other films, concerns a retired wrestler who strikes up a romance with an aging stripper played by Marisa Tomei. The American director's previous films have included Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain.

Russia's Aleksey German won the award for best director for Bumaznyj soldat (Paper Soldier), about the early days of the space program in the Soviet Union. Italian Silvio Orlando captured best actor for his role in Pupi Avati's Il Papa' di Giovanna (Giovanna's Father), which chronicles a father's relationship with his troubled adult daughter.

And Dominique Blanc of France won best actress for playing jealous woman in L'Autre (The Other One), directed by Patrick Mario Bernard and Pierre Trividic.

Teza, by Ethiopian director Haile Gerima, picked up both the special jury award and best screenplay.

Gerima's movie follows the life of an Ethiopian intellectual who flees his country during its Marxist "red terror" phase under dictator Haile Mariam Mengistu only to be attacked in Germany by racists.

American actress Jennifer Lawrence was named best emerging actress for her role in The Burning Plain, appearing alongside Oscar winners Kim Basinger and Charlize Theron

Rourke hailed

The Wrestler marked a triumphant return for Rourke, 51, whose star has dimmed considerably since his golden days of the 1980s when the actor had a string of hits including Diner, Angel Heart, Rumblefish and the infamous 9½ Weeks.

Rourke says Aronofsky was brutally honest with him before hiring the actor, who has led a life of violence and run-ins with the law.  Rourke even briefly returned his original career, boxing, during the 1990s.

"[Aronofsky said] 'I have a film I want to do with you. But you have to listen to me, you must never disrespect me, you can't go out every night — and I can't pay you either,'" Rourke told BBC News.

His performance wowed critics, who placed him in the running for the best actor prize.

Variety called the film a "deeply moving portrait that instantly takes its place among the great, iconic screen performances."

Rourke says portraying the washed-up wrestler, Randy (The Ram) Robinson, required some interior digging.

"I realized Darren needed me to revisit some dark places where I didn't want to go. I didn't want to think about my ex-wife, or my family. But I knew he would want his pound of flesh and there was no way I could skirt round it."


  • Mickey Rourke told reporters in Venice he felt he "threw away" his acting career about 15 years ago. However, he has not been out of work for 15 years, as originally reported.
    Sep 06, 2008 8:33 AM ET

With files from the Associated Press