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Iran's 'Circle' Critics' Choice As Venice Fest Ends

By Jennifer Clark

VENICE, Italy (Reuters) - Hollywood film stars provided the glitter, but a dark Iranian movie about the oppression of women proved the critics' favorite on the last day of competition at the Venice Film Festival on Friday. Photo here

``The Circle'' by prize-winning Iranian director Jafar Panahi tells the story of eight women living in Iran, where they are not allowed to smoke in public, stay in a hotel on their own, or ride in a car driven by a man who is not a relative.

The film starts in a delivery room, where the birth of a girl is greeted with disappointment by waiting relatives and ends in prison, where the paths of the women finally cross.

``I got the idea for the film from a story in a newspaper about a woman who killed her two daughters and then committed suicide,'' the director said.

``There was nothing about the reasons for the crime. Perhaps the newspaper did not see the need...since the freedom of women is so limited it seems as if they are in a big prison.''

The film was made with money from Italian and French backers and partly financed by Panahi himself.

Another critics' favorite for the festival's top Golden Lion award was Chinese director Jia Zhangke's ``Platform,'' which, like ``The Circle,'' was made without official government support.

``Platform'' is a slow but sensitively-told story about rebellious youths growing up in provincial China in the 1980s as popular culture begins to seep into local life.

Spaniard Tipped For Best Actor

Critics said Spanish actor Javier Bardem is tipped for best actor's prize for his starring role in ``Before Night Falls,'' in which he plays best-selling Cuban novelist and poet Reinaldo Arenas, whose work was censored by the Cuban state.

The film, directed by painter Julian Schabel, will be released in the United States by year's end.

Stephen Frear's ``Liam,'' a child's-eye view of his family's fall into poverty in Britain in the 1930s, was also well received during screening in competition.

Some of the most popular films were screened outside the main competition. U.S. scriptwriter Kenneth Lonergan, whose writing credits include ``Analyze This'' and ``Rocky and Bullwinkle,'' generated strong word of mouth with his first feature film, family drama ``You Can Count on Me.''

And Swedish director Lukas Moodysson, whose debut feature ''Show Me Love'' was nominated Best European Film in 1999 by the European Film Academy, had a crowd pleaser on his hands with the popular ``Together.''


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