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India wins top Venice prize

VENICE, Italy -- "Monsoon Wedding," director Mira Nair's vision of an elaborate wedding in India, has won the coveted Golden Lion award for best film at the Venice film festival.

It was chosen by a jury of seven -- three film directors, two actresses, a producer and an author -- from a field of 20 films in 11 languages.

"L'Emploi du Temps" (The Use of Time), by French director Laurent Cantet, a true story of a man who resorts to murder to keep alive a fictitious life he has created for himself, won the night's second Golden Lion in a new award category of Cinema of the Present.

"Monsoon Wedding," -- favourite at the Cannes Film Festival as well as at the Venice event, depicts a noisy and colourful wedding in India's Punjab state.

It was shot in just a month using hand-held cameras.

"This one is for India, my beloved India, my continuing inspiration," Nair told the audience as she held the small Golden Lion statuette. She called the film "nothing but a testament to life."

A poll of 15 newspaper and movie magazines had not gone for "Monsoon Wedding" -- "Raye Makhfi" ("The Secret Ballot") and "Sauvage Innocence" ("Wild Innocence") were installed as front-runners ahead of 18 other films.

But jury leader Nanni Moretti, Palme d'Or winner at the Cannes festival this year said before the awards he believed the field was wide open.

The 58th annual Venice festival's Grand Jury Prize went to "Hundstage," by Ulrich Seidl. Iranian director Babak Payami won best director for the Iranian-Italian production "Secret Ballots."

Alfonso Cuaron won best screenplay for "Y tu Mama Tambien," (And Your Mother Too), a box office hit in Mexico about friendship and sensuality, albeit one told with extremely graphic images and language.

Best actor and actress awards both went to Italians.

Luigi Lo Cascio won for "Luce dei miei Occhi" (Light of My Eyes), about a lonely young man and his obsession with a single mother.

Best actress went to Italian Sandra Ceccarelli for her role in the same film by Giuseppe Piccioni, whose last film "Out of This World" was Italy's 1999 foreign Oscar candidate.

The Marcello Mastroianni prize for the best young actor or actress went to Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna for "Y tu Mama Tambien."

"Never let go of it," American actor Peter Fonda told the young actors after awarding them the prize.

Director Jan Cvitkovic won a special Golden Lion award for a first film for "Kruh in Mleko."

An early runner for a Golden Lion had been Spanish director Alejandro Amenabar's "The Others," starring Nicole Kidman and produced by her ex-husband Tom Cruise. Kidman left Venice earlier in the week.

The jury -- made up of three film directors, two actresses, a producer and an author -- will also decide a Jury Grand Prix, a prize for Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actress and Best Actor, and the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actor or Actress.

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