Director dedicates prize-winning film to tragic young star

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The Independent Online

A Russian director whose first film was awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival yesterday dedicated the coveted prize to its teenage star who died on set.

In a poignant acceptance speech Andrey Zvyagintsev said the cast and crew of The Return, a harrowing film about coping with an absent father, had agreed not to talk publicly about the death of Vladimir Garin, 15, because they did not want to influence the jury.

The opening scene of the film showed Garin and a group of other boys diving into a lake from a wooden tower. Garin drowned after jumping off the same tower in the Gulf of Finland after a day's filming two months ago.

Zvyagintsev received a standing ovation after saying: "There are only two actors here. Those who've seen the film know there should be three actors, three heroes up here. But two months ago he died tragically. We want to dedicate this victory to him."

Garin played one of two teenage brothers who were tentatively getting to know their father after he suddenly entered their lives after a 12-year absence. The film tells the story of how their lives are changed for ever when they go on a fishing trip in the rugged Russian lake country with their father.

The Return (Vozvraschenie) also won the award for best first feature. Before the award was announced, Lee Marshall, critic for Screen International, said: "For a first-time director it's absolutely extraordinary. It's an incredibly strong story of a father-son conflict with elements of even Greek tragedy behind it."

At a press conference last week the onscreen father, Konstantin Lavronenko, said: "There were times when we had a lot of fun, even though there were times when we shed tears."

The cast, recruited in Moscow and St Petersburg, spent two months shooting in the Gulf of Finland, and according to the director bonded together as "a miracle of the meeting of three human beings".

The runner-up Jury Grand Prix was awarded to The Kite (Le Cerf-Volant) by the Lebanese director Randa Chahal Sabbag, about love and separation along the Lebanese-Israeli border.

The cult Japanese director Takeshi Kitano won a Silver Lion for Zatoichi, about a blind samurai warrior who saves a village from sword-wielding gangsters.