It’s all over but the re-runs. The 67th Cannes Film Festival unofficially ended Saturday night with the crowning of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s endless, but admired, Chekovian epic Winter Sleep being crowned with the coveted Palme d’Or. Because French elections fall on Monday the festival decided to end the key competition a day early and leave Sunday to repeats of movies shown earlier, just as they did on Saturday where fortunately I was able to catch up with Winter Sleep just so I would be prepared for its big victory. At 3 hours and 16 minutes it was easily the longest movie in the competition and still managed to prove, just as the three-hour Blue Is The Warmest Color did last year, that length doesn’t matter when it comes to impressing juries. At the post – press conference Jury President Jane Campion said she was worried initially. “I was scared when I looked at the running time and it said three hours and fifteen minutes. I thought I might need a toilet break. But it had such a beautiful rhythm and it just took me in. Actually I could have sit there for another two hours. It was all very Chekhovian. I could see myself in all of the characters,” she said. Another two hours? Don’t encourage him, Jane. Turkish arthouse fave Ceylan has been coming to Cannes for an ego boost for years and previously won two Grand Jury prizes (runner up essentially) and a Best Director award for his earlier works. He actually says the original cut of the film was four and a half hours but he worked in editing to bring it down to a manageable level. In his acceptance he said he was surprised. Really?
Related: 67th Cannes Film Festival Winners
In my Cannes Curtain-raiser piece at the start of the fest I suggested that if they give the Palme d’Or for size, Ceylan finally will win one. I was right. Nevertheless he was thrilled, if a little taken-aback. “It feels strange. I won two times the Grand Prize and once for Best Director. But there is a huge difference between the Palme d’Or and second place,” he said. Interesting that this guy with these very slow, methodically-written and directed chamber pieces somehow keeps winning no matter which jury is in charge. He’s the new Ingmar Bergman in terms of pacing, but Bergman rarely took so long to tell a story.
Still the Palme d’Or has a spotty reputation when it comes to paying off at the boxoffice, and even though Winter Sleep sold briskly to buyers this week, its ultimate boxoffice success is questionable. The leading male character is fairly insufferable and obviously the running time is problematic for theatre owners. It likely will be in and out of theatres when it eventually opens in America and Foreign Language Film Oscar prospects are dicey, as they are with all of Ceylan’s challenging works. I was a bit surprised that the Italian film, The Wonders took the Grand Jury prize (second place) for director Alice Rohrwacher. But since women outnumber men in the jury by a 5 to 4 margin,and Campion still remains the only female recipient of the Palme d’Or (and is outspoken about the imbalance of it all), perhaps it is not surprising that a female Jury President and Palme d’Or winner would want to ease the burden and pass another one on to a woman. But Campion vehemently denied that prizes were based on anything but merit. “We never once entered into a discussion of the gender of the filmmaker. Everything was equal,” she said but it’s nice to speculate just how close this historic moment might have come to be. But apparently even the jury wouldn’t know since Campion surprisingly revealed that all their individual votes go into an ice bucket and there must be a majority of five of the nine jury members voting for one to make it a winner. As one judge said, “We helped each other. We argued with each other and we got a result,” he said. The other woman in the main competition, Naomi Kawase for Still The Water had been telling press before the film was shown that it was her “masterpiece” and she “was going for the Palme d’Or”. Better luck next time, Naomi. Apparently you were the only one who thought that. Her film was not impressive and not well-received.
The Jury Prize (third place) though was the one category that really made the judges happy as they anointed a tie. The youngest director in competition, Xavier Dolan with his overlong (but fun) highly regarded and trippy comedy/drama, Mommy eventually shared the award of legendary French icon, Jean-Luc Godard for his extremely experimental, and downright incoherent 69 minute film. Godard was charming and the award a special moment , even though you know these judges were dying to give Godard, never a winner here, an award at Cannes. Campion was a champion of his co-winner. “I loved Mommy so much, and with such a young director (at 25). He’s a genius. I was blown away by it. As for Godard’s film I loved the experience and found it so modern. I was awakened by it. We owe a lot to Godard, ” said Campion. Both films open technical possibilities of the medium which make this recognition even more exciting and significant. Jury member and director Nicolas Winding Refn was thrilled with the win. “The technical revolution with Mommy is in full force, and then with Godard’s film, we feel the need to understand the technical revolution. Everyone now has the chance to make a movie. The sky’s the limit,” he said. Godard got an Honorary Oscar three years ago too. Another juror, director Jia Zhangke, said it was the most exciting award to give in tying them. “You can just feel the passion both have for film,” he said.
Many thought Foxcatcher would pull off the Palme d’Or but in the end you can never second guess these juries. They liked it enough to give director Bennett Miller the Best Director prize on his first visit to Cannes. It was nice to see a Best Actor win for Timothy Spall, who I predicted was Oscar bound for Mr. Turner after it premiered on the 14th. He clearly was moved by the award and even apologized backstage for his emotion. “I am so proud and touched. I know actors can be accused of false sentimentality but I really am touched. I got used to not expecting these,” he said while adding he was fixing his boat in Holland and had greasy hands when the phone call came in that he better hightail it back to Cannes pronto on Saturday. Miller said he was in Paris having breakfast with a now-married ex-girlfriend who was in the middle of such an intense story that he had to hang up when he got his call and ring the festival back.
Julianne Moore was perhaps the night’s biggest surprise winner for David Cronenberg’s trippy look at Hollywood where she plays an aging actress trying desperately not to be thrown to the curb. She’s terrific, but many thought it would be Marion Cotillard for Cannes favorites the Dardenne Brothers’ Two Days, One Night and that she would finally be able to add a Cannes win next to her Oscar, but it wasn’t to be. Among shutouts this one was the most surprising . Dardennes have won two Golden Palmes and Best Director and the film was rapturously received on Wednesday night. I was also taken aback by the complete shutouts of Timbuktu and the crazy Argentinian Relatos Salvajes aka Wild Tales. And the Russian film, Leviathan got tremendous Palme d’Or buzz since its Thursday night press debut but it had to settle for Screenplay. Sony Pictures Classics, which has been dominating buys here this week, just announced today they have picked the picture up to add to their competition entries, Mr. Turner, the woeful Saint Laurent, Jimmy’s Hall from Ken Loach, and the aforementioned Foxcatcher in addition to Sundance sensation and Directors Fortnight contender, Whiplash, which I saw finally today and give it a huge A+. This one should be a big contender all the way.
In the other competitions it was really even more exciting this week. Un Certain Regard,the next highest award and a section usually filled with edgier entries and newer filmmakers, lived up to its reputation and chose White God, a riveting and harrowing movie about what happens when a sweet dog is turned into a killer and teams up with a pack of hounds to wreak revenge. If you think I have suddenly gone all Cujo on you that movie looks like Bambi compared to this. If the lead dog character, Hagen, were in the main competition I think he would have given Spall a run for his money for Best Actor. This surprising movie which I only caught yesterday is perhaps the most memorable of all the films I saw at this year’s festival. It’s haunting, and quite extraordinary. Sales business I hear is brisk.
I would throw out huzzahs as well to the recut (into one cohesive picture after premiering as two films in Toronto ) of The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby, and the terrific second place winner, Turist, which just has to be the Swedish Oscar entry for Foreign Language this year. Over at Directors Fortnight it was very surprising to see one film, an entertaining, funny and smartly written romantic comedy, Les Combattants take all three prizes they award especially when the superb Sundance winning Whiplash was in competition and had played through the roof there earlier this week. A French fix? And at Critics Week an odd movie called The Tribe won. It is all done in sign language with no subtitles, music or voice over. No closed captioning either. Didn’t work for me. At all.
As for this year’s Cannes in general the Jury member Refn had high praise. “The films were classical, radical and about the future of cinema. And we finally shut up Godard and gave him a prize,” he laughed. That prize may be for what this Cannes is most fondly remembered.