During the past week in Cannes people kept asking me, ‘so who is going to win the Palme d’Or?’ I long ago gave up trying to play that guessing game. Juries do their own thing and they’re often unpredictable. But no one was predicting French director Jacques Audiard’s Dheepan, about a created family of Sri Lankan immigrants trading one war for another when they come to start a
new life in France. Audiard previously won the Grand Prize here for A Prophet, and a screenplay prize too, so he’s due, but again no one I know had him atop their short list. Most Palme talk revolved around the 50’s-set lesbian drama Carol which only tied for Best Actress for co-star Rooney Mara, and the powerful Hungarian Holocaust drama, Son Of Saul which took the Grand Prize (second place). That said, I think the riveting Dheepan, a social realistic movie with something to say about the unstable world we live in, was a film that held me captive every step of the way. I would place it above A Prophet actually, and that is also what this jury did in finally awarding Audiard the top prize. So what was their reasoning?
Now that he’s allowed to talk, Ethan Coen, who shared the co-president title with brother Joel, tried to explain it at a press conference following the ceremony. “It was swift, everybody had an enthusiasm for it,” he said. “To some degree or another we all thought it was a very beautiful movie. We’re different people, some people had greater enthusiasms for other things or lesser, but in terms of this movie, everybody had some level of excitement, some high level of excitement and enthusiasm for it.” That makes sense. I am right there with them in that line of logic. And you aren’t really going to get much more than that in asking a jury of filmmakers to comment on other filmmakers’ movies. They are almost always polite and supportive in public statements, very diplomatic in describing what actually goes on in the jury room.
Dheepan was picked up for U.S. release by Sundance Selects, while Sony Pictures Classics has Son Of Saul. I expect both France and Hungary respectively to make those films their entries into the Oscar Best Foreign Language Film race and both will be strong contenders. The Jury Prize (third place ) went to Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ (a past Foreign Film Oscar nominee for Dogtooth) uneven English-language debut, The Lobster, starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz. I didn’t love the film. It has problems of tone and tends to fall off a cliff in its second half, but it obviously has its supporters and I thought that on a Coen-led jury, the quirkiness of the film and its originality — about a world requiring single people to become part of a couple or be turned into an animal — might have a shot. As it turned out, it did. Alchemy has picked up the film for distribution in the U.S.
I was particularly happy about the Screenplay award that went to Mexican director/writer Michel Franco for his late breaking entry (it screened late Friday night) Chronic, yet another English language film with a brilliant turn by Tim Roth as a male nurse trying to help terminally ill patients in their final days of life. I hope the prize and attention lands a U.S. distribution deal for this deserving movie. As I described in my Friday interview with Franco and Roth, then Certain Regard Jury President Roth had presented Franco with the top award in 2012 when his After Lucia won Un Certain Regard. He later established a working relationship with him that led to Chronic, one of my favorite films at this festival.
I suppose it was inevitable that there would be something for the incomprehensible The Assassin from Cannes fave Hou Hsiao-Hsien, and there was, as he got Best Director. The martial arts film was enthusiastically received by the kind of critics who hate anything that makes narrative sense and moves with a snails pace. “It’s beautiful to look at,” I kept hearing from others in giving an opinion on the film they admitted they didn’t understand. After seeing about 30 art films in ten days, if I never hear “it’s beautiful to look at” again it’ll be too soon.
There was clearly a bountiful crop of acting possibilities this year and for best actor the jury made a great choice of France’s journeyman thesp Vincent Lindon in Measure Of A Man for his wonderfully understated and terrific performance. He plays a husband, father of a physically challenged son and security officer for a department store who is just trying to keep his head above water in an economy not kind to the working class.
Carol was definitely expected to compete for an actress prize and there was speculation the jury could award both title star Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. In the end it was a shocker. There was a tie, but only Mara (who
beautifully recalls a young Audrey Hepburn or Jean Simmons as the object of Carol’s desire) was part of it. French actress /director Emmaneulle Bercot (who did a fine job helming the out-of-competition opening night drama Standing Tall) quite surprisingly shared this award with Mara for another female director Maiwenn’s subpar Mon Roi. Bercot’s role involved hysterical hissy fits, so I guess she won for chewing the scenery. Blanchett, Mia Madre’s Margherita Buy, Sicario’s Emily Blunt and Macbeth’s Marion Cotillard all were better choices (inexplicably the great Oscar winning Cotillard has never won here despite repeated trips). Even Jane Fonda’s powerhouse seven minutes or so of screen time as a bitter, aging actress in Youth ran rings around Bercot in the annoying Mon Roi. Perhaps in this “year of the woman” in Cannes, the jury wanted to make a statement by awarding a female director’s acting turn in another female director’s movie?
Oh well — over-analyzing the decisions of Cannes juries is a fool’s game. We all have our favorites. The great thing about the Cannes competition is it puts the focus on art and gives us a respite from the realities of the film business when we come home and find the likes of Hot Pursuit and Paul Blart Mall Cop are still in theatres while many of these wonderful films and filmmakers will struggle for distribution and to play more than a week in a 100-seat art house. And it is a fine line between who wins and who doesn’t get the call. I was hoping 82-year-old Michael Caine might be a winner with Paolo Sorrentino’s fantastic new film Youth. He was last in Cannes for his only time when Alfie was here 49 years ago. As he jokingly told me at Youth’s after-party, “the movie won a prize, but I didn’t — so I never came back.” Guess he won’t be back for another half century.
You can’t please everybody. The French, with double acting wins and the Palme d’Or, did very well at their own party and they probably don’t care what you or I think about that. The Italians, on the other hand, went zero for three with three great films, and only Mara’s shared win kept American filmmakers from a complete shutout this year. What are you gonna do?
Still I wouldn’t trade Cannes for the world. It is unique, and uniquely true to itself. And even more important? The weather was great.