Hammond On Cannes: Spielberg And Jury Award France's Sizzling, Sexy And First Gay Palme d'Or Winner; Is Oscar Next?

Blue Is The Warmest Color (La Vie D’Adele – Chapitre 1 & 2) is only the second purely French film in this most French of festivals to win the Palme d’Or in the past 46 years. The film has had the festival talking ever since its late Thursday night debut and was tipped as a top contender for a prize. This 3-hour sexually explicit drama about a teen’s lesbian love affair proved triumphant tonight, winning perhaps the most coveted prize in cinema next to Oscar. Five years ago The Class was a surprise winner for France’s  Laurent Cantet,  but you have to go all the way back to 1966 and the iconic Claude LeLouche romantic hit A Man And A Woman for another French director to win the Palme d’Or. It’s a sign of the changing times that this film, starring Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos and directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, could actually be called A Woman And A Woman.  The jury led by president Steven Spielberg spoke in glowing terms about it as a pure romance and not the first gay-themed movie to ever win top honors here. “For me the film is a great love story, and the fact that it is a great love story that made all of us feel that we were privileged, not embarrassed, to be flies on the wall invited to see this story of deep love and deep heartbreak evolve from the beginning,’ Spielberg said. “We were absolutely spellbound by the brilliance of the performances of those two amazing young actresses and all the cast, and especially the way the director observed his players. We just all thought it was a profound love story.”

France approved gay marriage just last week, and, asked how the film will play in the U.S., Spielberg responded: “I’m not going to say it is going to play in every single state. But I think it is going to get a lot of play, and I really feel the film will be successful in America.” In fact Sundance Selects has picked up the film for the U.S. but there could be rating problems. (If stuck with an NC-17, there is always the option of going unrated.) The stars believe the content is no big deal. “I think this film is universal. It’s a love story and not important that it happens to be with two women,”  said Exarchopoulos. Seydoux added, “The film reflects modern times. You are allowed to love whomever you want.” Sundance Selects is looking for a year-end release in time for Oscar consideration. That’s the same route recent Palme d’Or winner Amour took last year and Tree Of Life two years ago, and both movies went on to be nominated for Best Picture. (Amour instead won Best Foreign Language Film.)

Certainly a Best Actress Oscar campaign for its two stars would be in order considering theextraordinary kudos and impact they had on the jury composed of numerous Oscar voters. In fact Spielberg drew gasps from the Grand Theatre Lumiere audience when he announced that “the jury has taken the exceptional step of recognizing the achievements of three artists in the presentation of the Palme d’Or”. Then, in a truly unprecedented move, the Palme d’Or was jointly awarded not only to the director but also his two stars who clearly acted without a net in some of the most explicit love scenes yet seen. Due to Cannes award rules, they can’t win acting awards and the Palme d’Or so they could not be given a joint Best Actress honor, too. That went to Argentinian-born French actress Berenice Bejo for Oscar-winning Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s well-received The Past. She seemed dumbfounded and called her director to the stage to join her. “I can’t imagine getting something just for me,’ she said. “It’s as though the film is being reduced to just me and I can’t envision that.”

Spielberg later revealed to reporters that there was never any friction within the jury. “I know you would love drama. But the drama in the jury box was really more about telling about adventures we had in making our own movies than in bumping heads about the films we were privileged to see here. This was a wonderful jury. I want to take them all home with me,” he praised. Spielberg and his jury claimed to feel no outside pressure and the director said he didn’t read blogs or newspapers or even his iPad during Cannes. He said that, in general, the jury had “a very very unanimous consensus on at least three of the critically important choices”. Besides the Palme d’Or, those were the Grand Prix which went to the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, and the Jury Prix to Japan’s wonderfully heartfelt Like Father, Like Son.

Grand Prix winners Joel and Ethan Coen went back to New York last week so their award was accepted by the film’s star Oscar Isaac who said he was boarding a plane in Copenhagen when he was summoned back earlier today without being told why. Joel previously won the Palme d’Or and Best Director for Barton Fink in 1991 and another directing prize for The Man Who Wasn’t There. Nebraska director Alexander Payne accepted for his absent Best Actor winner Bruce Dern, who’d already returned to LA. Payne texted the good news to Laura Dern  (who was in Cannes with her father for Thursday’s premiere) and read her reply at the press conference, “Amazing! We’re driving to Pasadena now. Can we call you maybe in 30 minutes?” Interestingly, another French gay-themed film, Stranger By The Lake with its hardcore male sex scenes and beaucoup nudity, also made waves in the Cannes Un Certain Regard section and was an award winner, too. It was picked up for U.S. distribution by Strand Releasing. An unsurprising winner was Jia Zhangke’s screenplay for the high profile Chinese film A Touch Of Sin which took a realistic view at rising violence in the communist country. The writer said he hopes the award will bring further attention to the growing problems there. But pretty damn shocking was Best Director to Mexico’s Arnat Escalante for the violent and critically dismissed Heli. He is the second helmer in a row to win this award for Mexico after Carlos Reygadas (a producer on Heli)  won last year for Post Tenebras Lux, another wallow in violence and degradation. “I didn’t expect people to be so put off by what I was showing,” Escalante said backstage. “That some people rejected it was painful, but it was what I wanted to show. I tried to make a movie that transmitted my feelings.”

And so the curtain comes down on another Cannes, one fraught with weather problems, a seesaw market, and lots of “opinions” as Ang Lee called them near the start of the festival. Generally my opinion is that the jury mostly got it right. But I don’t get the Heli love from the jury. Over Sorrentino? Or Soderbergh? Seriously? (I think even Escalante was stunned.) I would have liked to see a prize for Paolo Sorrentino’s La Grande Bellezza, or something for Steven Soderbergh’s Behind The Candelabra which premieres tonight on HBO. (But Michael Douglas, disappointed as he most assuredly is in losing here, can look forward to the Emmys). And Cannes overlooking  Marion Cotillard yet again (in this year’s The Immigrant and the previous Rust & Bone) just seems a shame. But at least she can cry on her Oscar. But we will always have the movies. And as usual it was a filmlover’s dream, if also a “circus” as Robert Redford said the other night. But hey, it’s Cannes.

  1. Dern’s win was the most happy of incident. I was just sorry he wasn’t there. Female critics seem to have hated Blue while male critics loved it.

  2. So, to put this in Seinfeld terms, this year’s winner is “Rochelle, Rochelle” to last year’s winner “The Pain & The Yearning.” Here’s to hoping that “Prognosis Negative” shows up at next year’s ceremony.

  3. A 3 hour movie with a 10 minute explicit lesibian sex scene will have about as much chance of an Oscar nomination beyond Best Foreign Language Film as Hangover Part III.

    And Abdellatif Kechiche is Tunisian, not French.

  4. Have loved all of Hammond’s coverage. It’s been really impressive. Disagree about Behind the Candelabra as the film runs out of steam in the second half. The script is not as good as Douglas or Damon’s performances. Do agree there will be lots of Emmy love for Douglas.

  5. Lesbians are always popular it’s very difficult to beat them when they are getting so much internet publicity. Blue has been all over the web nonstop for the last wek so even if Spielberg wasn’t reading blogs and net news coverage all the other jurors were. The only reason Blue won is because of the 10 minute sex scene. Without that it would never have gotten so much publicity but the director was smart he included it for this reason only as a publicity magnet and it worked. Hooray for lesbians.

  6. Congratulations to Bruce Dern… who I’ll watch and love in anything, even Family Plot!

  7. I’ve always put Pete Hammond in the top tier of Hollywood analysts, but I have to wonder what they’re putting in his drink over in France. He thinks “Blue….” is the film to beat at the Oscars next year. We love the French, but not that much. And I watched the Lberace movie tonight and I’m still trying to figure out why Pete was so high on this project. Yes, Michael Douglas gives an Emmy-worthy turn as Liberace, but this is basically movie-of-the-week material. How this got into Cannes is beyond me. They were going to release this in movie theaters????? Who on earth would have been the audience? Plus Soderberg says it cost $22 million to make. Don’t get it. Not at all. Sorry, Pete.

    1. He didn’t say the film to beat, just that he thought acting nominations (and he didn’t even say wins) were likely.

  8. Farewell My Concubine won the Palme d’Or in 1993, and gayness was central to its storyline, so I think that calling Blue Is the Warmest Colour the “first” gay film is a bit misleading. The first lesbian film, maybe.

  9. Abdellatif Kechiche might be Tunisian but he’s been a working director in France making French films. Blue, is a French film based on a French comic.
    A running time of 3 hours is not grounds for not being consider for an Oscar. If scenes of cosmos and dinosaurs made it why not a lesbian scene?

    1. In support of your point… I believe he moved to France when he was six. So, a Tunisian-born Frenchman.

  10. I’m not sure “Blue” will win an Academy Award but it’ll sweep the many GLAAD Award shows. I think they have 8 or 9 of them a year…that no one watches.

    1. cc: @ Jace

      Oh my! Have you even seen the movie in question?

      So snappy to judge the unseen.

      Thank goodness you are not on the jury.

      I have no idea if Blue’s Oscar-worthy or no… but here’s the funny thing. I’m going to wait until I’ve actually seen it before I blather away about its prospects. Fancy that! Try it sometime.

    2. How can you possibly say no one watches? According to Nielson, tens of people do.

  11. The Soderbergh film, which I just saw last PM, is good not great. The performances from Douglas and Damon were excellent, and it would’ve been nice to see Douglas’ work for a very courageous performance get acknowledged.

    But I love that Dern, a truly great character actor, who I’ve been enjoying all of my film-going life, has gotten his moment in the sun. It made me think of his unforgettable work in COMING HOME. All is forgiven for killing the Duke in THE COWBOYS…

    1. “very courageous”??

      What people now take for courage disgraces actual courage, especially on this day dedicated to true courage, Memorial Day.

  12. A movie about a teenage lesbian love affair with explicit scenes wins the top prize. How disgusting. To get an idea of who is now guiding our morals take a look at Steven Spielberg’s picture in the article. Believe it or not that is a photograph and not a caricature.

    1. Teenage lesbian love affairs are happening in real life. There’s nothing wrong with it. Step into 2013. It’s awesome here.

      1. How dare you sir! All real Americans are deeply offended and disgusted by teenage lesbian love affairs! Especially in a prestigious film festival. Teenage lesbian love affairs are best viewed from the comfort of one’s own home on one’s personal computer in complete privacy. There are millions of websites and videos online that show exactly how disgusting and perverted teenage lesbians in love are. And they should all be banned from the interwebs! Only patriots like myself should be allowed to look at them so we can register them for prosecution.

        1. There is nothing new about pornography. There was lots of it around before the internet. But regular movies and pornographic movies (movies with explicit sex) were in two different categories. They had not merged. You can make a movie about homosexuals, but you should not show what they do in bed on the screen. That is pornography. I think Spielberg’s timing is unfortunate. Fifty thousand French citizens marched in Paris a few days ago to protest the new law allowing French homosexuals to marry. I am sure some of these people have lots of interesting things to say about Mr. Spielberg. Spielberg is making a caricature of himself.

    2. Haha . . . that last line made me laugh.

      Fact of the matter is these film festivals and awards are ALL ABOUT PUSHING AGENDAS AND ISSUES.

      Let’s take a look:
      Sundance – Fruitvale wins (rich white people can feel guilty for poor black guy getting killed – racism, Blind Side, The Help M.O.)
      Oscars – Argo wins (Hollywood and CIA defeat evil Iranians who are hell bent on destroying US and Israel – flaming Mid East Conflict and justifying Obama hard line toward Iran)
      now Cannes – let’s give into this popular movement and show how open we are about lesbianism

      I’m not against lesbianism and I support people’s rights to get married and do whatever they want in their bedroom.

      What I don’t like is this continual rewarding of films based on messages, rather than solely quality. Sure, these films may be good – but WE ALL KNOW WHY THEY REALLY WON.

      1. How do you know this isn’t actually a great film? Plenty of gay-themed films are made and get trashed in reviews. Usually the ones that are praised absolutely deserve it. It’s not like just any of them get awards attention. Watch this one and see for yourself. I think it sounds like it will be great. Definitely looking forward to it.

        Also, it could very well be the foreign film to beat at the Oscars. I’m assuming that’s what Pete Hammond and others mean.

  13. No women directors or writers in Cannes. No female themed films except for the teenage lesbian film. But the straight men like the teenage lesbian film. Not sure the misogyny of Cannes could get any worse. I’m sure it’s a beautiful film — but again, for the record, the only female energy or talent or power in the festival has to be about teenage lesbians.
    Is anyone willing to be honest about this?

  14. No idea how “explicit” the sex scene is, but the girl in the movie is supposed to be 15, which under US law makes it child pornography. So no, I don’t see it winning any Oscars.

    1. The actress is 19, it will show in the USA and win whatever it wins, without age being a factor.

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