First let me say to the esteemed jury of the 69th Cannes Film Festival, picking Ken Loach’s moving and vital I, Daniel Blake, about a carpenter fighting to retain his benefits after losing his livelihood because of a debilitating health crisis, was an inspired choice — especially for a film that came so early in the festival and could have been forgotten or had its impact lessened by the tsunami of other contenders that followed. The emotional impact of the movie, which left many in tears, could not be denied, and it wasn’t.
Loach, who turns 80 on June 17, is now deservedly a two-time Palme d’Or winner, coming back after saying his last film at Cannes, 2014’s Jimmy’s Hall, would indeed be his last, and then making something as powerful and timely as this movie. And congratulations to IFC and Jonathan Sehring who now have U.S. distribution rights for the film, making two Palme d’Dor winners in a row, and five times in the past 11 years. Of course Palme d’Ors mean more box office-wise in Europe (where IFC does not distribute) than in America, where last year’s winner, Jacques Audiard’s otherwise underrated Dheepan, is struggling to find an audience in its third week of domestic release.
Hopefully I, Daniel Blake will have a brighter future. What it says about the disaffected fighting the system could have a lot of resonance with followers of both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. If I were IFC I would rush this film out for fall. There is much to talk about and Loach, a tireless filmmaker of movies that matter, has delivered perhaps his finest work ever at a time when even he apparently thought he had nothing left to say. Obviously he did. If ever there was a consistent career that deserves some sort of recognition from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences it is his. Perhaps an Honorary Oscar at the Governors Awards in November?
And I can really get down with honoring Andrea Arnold’s bracing and brilliant story of drifting and restless youth American Honey with the Jury Prize (essentially third place). Quite frankly, it should have been one notch higher, because the Grand Prize (second place) choice of the widely derided Xavier Dolan entry It’s Only The End Of The World just may be the worst Cannes Jury decision in several years. With Loach winning the Palme d’Or and 27-year-old Dolan taking Grand Prize, the top two prizes went to the oldest and the youngest directors in the competition, proving Cannes does not discriminate on age. However, only Loach deserved it.
You have to write all of this off to the quirkiness of Cannes juries, but it does reinforce the belief that they do live in their own bubble during the festival, seemingly unaware of other factors (they just admitted this in their press conference as reported on Deadline). The main crime of the Canadian Dolan’s film was not that it is shot mainly in unflattering closeups, but that it reduces a sterling French cast including Marion Cotillard, Vincent Cassel, Nathalie Baye, Lea Seydoux and Gaspard Ulliel to screaming matches and moronic dialogue. An actor-centric film (based on a play), End Of The World was perhaps an obvious choice for an actor-heavy jury (which included Canadian Donald Sutherland, though he amusingly shot down a question about being influenced by his nationality). I can’t think of another reason. And I am saying this as a fan of Dolan’s previous Cannes-winning film Mommy, which took the Jury Prize in 2014. And as for Cotillard, I am sorry her much better film in competition, Nicole Garcia’s lilting From The Land Of The Moon, did not receive any recognition and that she, once again, was passed over for the Best Actress prize. But she is in good company here, as in a year full of truly deserving and great female roles, the Actress prize went to what in my view was a much lesser performance. On a long list of possibilities I explored in a piece last week I purposely didn’t even mention the actress who turned out to be the eventual winner. That’s right, I just dismissed Jaclyn Jose out of hand, but she took the prize as the title character of Filipino director Brillante Mendoza’s unimpressive Ma’ Rosa. Playing a woman trying to escape a drug rap, Jose really does not have nearly the on-screen time — or quite frankly the impact — as many of the other actresses in contention this year.
The final film to screen in competition, Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman, turned out to be the only double winner, for lead actor Shahab Hosseini and for Screenplay. Although he won the Foreign Language Oscar and was nominated for Original Screenplay for his brilliant A Separation, Farhadi’s latest movie represents the Iranian filmmaker’s first Cannes wins — unlike Loach, Dolan, Arnold, and Graduation‘s Cristian Mungiu, who all have been previous winners in Cannes. Though artistic director Thierry Fremaux seems to be making a yearly effort to open up the main competition to new voices, one of my biggest complaints is that every year there are so many directors who just keep returning to the Cannes well. Call it the Cannes Club. Once you are in, you are in. Two-time Palme d’Or winners the Dardenne Brothers seem to make movies only for Cannes (this year marked their seventh entry, with previous wins also including screenplay and Grand Prize).
Assayas has been in the official selection at least six times before finally notching his first win today. Former Palme d’Or winner Mungiu has now won something for three out of three tries here. And so on. I think it is a shame that Cannes can’t get even more adventurous in its selections and wins. But there is always next year.
And for me it doesn’t really matter what the jury chooses. Films that came up completely empty-handed but would have been worthy winners include a truly great and inventive movie like Maren Ade’s wonderful and original comedy Toni Erdmann. Ade is one of a precious few first-timers this year, and Erdmann got shut out. You can probably chalk it up to the fact that it’s too lighthearted for a Cannes jury that equates award-worthiness with heavy subject matter. Erdmann was heavily tipped for a prize and had near-unanimous critical support, but that’s not how these things go.
And you can’t get too upset about it. Cannes is a glorious stop on the movie circuit every May, where it really is about what’s up there on screen and seeing movies for the first time anywhere, good, bad or so-so. There’s nothing else like it. That’s why we always come back.