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SOVIET FILM DIRECTOR’S `URGA’ WINS GOLDEN LION

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"Urga," a film about a young Mongolian sheep breeder by Soviet director Nikita Michalkov, won the top Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival.

In the beautifully shot film, Michalkov uses the seemingly prosaic story of a father forced to travel to a distant city to reveal the shepherd's discovery of a world unknown to his isolated community.Portugal's veteran director, the 82-year-old Manuel de Oliveira, was awarded the jury's special prize for "A Divina Comedia," set in a hospital for the mentally ill.

Two raw homosexual films took the best actor and actress awards, confounding predictions that America's Glenn Close would walk away with the actress prize.

American teenage heartthrob River Phoenix took the best actor prize for his role as a young male prostitute in Gus Van Sant's "My Own Private Idaho."

Phoenix plays Mike, one of two young male prostitutes from Portland, Ore. Mike falls in love with his friend.

Briton Tilda Swinton took the best actress award for her role as the queen in "Edward II," by Britain's rebel director and gay rights campaigner Derek Jarman.

The film, from the 1592 play by English dramatist Christopher Marlowe, turns the king's love for a young courtier into a challenge by the gay rights movement against the realm's right-thinking peers. It had been tipped for the Golden Lion.

Three films were given the runner-up Silver Lion award.

They included the latest offering from America's Terry Gilliam, whose recent work has included the much-applauded "Brazil" and less successful "Baron von Munchausen."

Gilliam's Venice offering, "The Fisher King," stars Robin Williams as an ex-professor of history beset by visions. His madness condemns him to the life of a tramp.