'Wrestler' wins Golden Lion

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Eleven days of red carpet galas, 21 films in competition and countless interviews, photo calls and parties at the Venice film festival boiled down to just one man in the end - Mickey Rourke. The festival, which unofficially kick-starts the awards season leading to the Oscars, will be remembered chiefly for Rourke's performance in Darren Aronofsky's "The Wrestler", which the actor and critics agree is his best yet.

"The roar of Rourke" read the headline in the Corriere della Sera newspaper on Sunday.

The movie about an ageing wrestler who despairs as his body gives up on him and friends and family turn their backs, won the coveted Golden Lion award for best movie on Saturday.

The award seals his comeback from the Hollywood wilderness, and comments that Rourke is ready to ditch his bad-boy image and cooperate with directors suggest there is more to come.

"A guy like me changes hard, I didn't want to change, but I had to change," the star of 1980s hits "9-1/2 Weeks" and "Angel Heart" told Reuters in an interview in Venice.

"It's OK for me now at this point in my life to play ball, to be a team player," added the 51-year-old, his face marked by surgery for various boxing injuries.

Rourke's triumph, and unanimous praise for Aronofsky's low-budget picture, means the festival ended on a high.

But critics were underwhelmed by many of the films in the main competition, and debated whether the Hollywood writers' strike, selection mistakes or plain bad luck were to blame.