Todd Phillips' dark comic book film "Joker" has won the Golden Lion Award at the 76th Venice International Film Festival.

Cast members Zazie Beetz and Joaquin Phoenix pose at the 76th Venice Film Festival  in Venice, Italy on August 31, 2019.
Cast members Zazie Beetz and Joaquin Phoenix pose at the 76th Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy on August 31, 2019. (Reuters)

The dark drama "Joker" about the origins of the villainous character won the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival on Saturday, while Roman Polanski's military drama about France's notorious Dreyfus affair took the runner-up prize.

Joaquin Phoenix, who won rave reviews from critics at the festival, plays Batman's nemesis, and the story follows his transformation from vulnerable loner to confident villain.

"Joker" distances itself from typical superhero films, with director Todd Phillips, who said he took inspiration from 1970s character study movies, using sombre lighting and dark music throughout.

"I want to thank Warner Bros and DC for stepping out of their comfort zone and taking such a bold swing on me and this movie," Phillips said in his acceptance speech.

In a surprise move, Polanski's "An Officer and a Spy" took the runner-up Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize.

At a time of #MeToo and with only two female directors out of 21 in the competition line-up, festival organisers had faced criticism for including Polanski's work in the program me due to renewed controversy over his conviction for a sex crime.

They defended the move, saying it was the film, not the man, being judged.

Polanski, who fled the United States after pleading guilty in 1977 to having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl in Los Angeles, did not travel to Venice for the festival.

His actress wife Emmanuelle Seigner, who stars in the film, collected the award on his behalf.

Italian actor Luca Marinelli won the best actor award for his portrayal of a poor, aspiring writer in "Martin Eden" while French actress Ariane Ascaride won the best actress award for "Gloria Mundi" in which she plays a mother desperate to help her financially strapped family.

The Silver Lion award for best director went to Sweden's Roy Andersson for "About Endlessness", a collage of short stories of kindness and cruelty.

Italian director Franco Maresca won the Special Jury Prize for his satirical documentary film "Mafia Is No Longer What It Used to Be".

The award for best screenplay went to Chinese filmmaker Yonfan for the animation "No. 7 Cherry Lane", a romance set in late 1960s Hong Kong.

Source: Reuters