The 70th anniversary edition of the Cannes Film Festival is over and the prizes handed out on a night that surprisingly had no real surprises.
I am not sure why some pundits are acting with eyebrows lifted toward the announcement by Pedro Almodovar’s Cannes Film Festival jury that Sweden’s The Square from director Ruben Ostlund was the winner of the Palme d’Or, top prize of the fest. The wry and pertinent (if overlong at 2 hours and 20 minutes) satire of the art world and its intersection with real life would seem to be right up Almodovar’s alley as it deftly mixes comic and sometimes absurdist scenes with pointed drama and social observation. Shown relatively early in the fest on the first Saturday (ironically that same night along with Grand Prize – second place – winner 120 Beats Per Minute), it was the top score- getter for several days among critics in the daily Screen International competition chart. The film, also shot partially in English (and Danish) as well as Swedish, co-stars lead actor Claes Bang as the curator of a contemporary art museum, Elizabeth Moss and Dominic West. In fact on Tuesday night when I attended the party for Moss’ other project in the fest, Top Of The Lake: China Girl, I had a nice conversation with both Moss and Bang about the fact that The Square was leading the critics chart. “Yes, I heard that. Now we just have to find a way to keep it at the top for the rest of the week, we can win the Palme, right?” joked Bang, who by the way looks like he could be an ideal James Bond if Daniel Craig doesn’t sign on. He speaks perfect English, too. They didn’t have to worry about the
award prospects, though, because that early momentum stayed with The Square all the way through Jury deliberations. Ostlund was last in Cannes in 2014 for the wickedly funny and sophisticated Force Majeure which took a jury prize that year in the Un Certain Regard competition and should have been an easy Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee after initially making the list of nine finalists, but was overlooked. As I wrote in my Oscar possibilities Cannes piece Friday, giddy reception to The Square at this fest could be his ticket into the next Academy race. Now that possibility increases significantly as the film will inevitably become Sweden’s Oscar entry. Buzz is that it was actually rushed to be completed in time for Cannes and that Ostlund has plans to continue working on trimming the running time, which I think would be a good idea for the film’s overall chances outside of festival fever. Moss, by the way, is terrific in a supporting role as a TV interviewer with whom he has a memorable sexual encounter. Their dialogue exchange over a condom is hysterical.
The Grand Prize second slot for French AIDS drama 120 Battements Par Minute (120 Beats Per Minute) was only surprising in that it didn’t take the top Palme d’Or prize, as many were predicting. The earnest (and also overlong) look at French activists in the early ’90s fighting government indifference to the continuing AIDS crisis was thought to have an emotional component that would impact the jury, especially since Almodovar himself is openly gay and his films have significantly increased awareness of the LGBT community in Spain and elsewhere. He confirmed as much in the post-awards press conference. Director Robin Campillo had previously co-written, with Laurent Cantet, the latter’s 2008 Palme d’Or winner The Class. Like that movie, this one is overly burdened with dense dialogue, but when it focuses on the sad plight and moving story of its central characters and their own private battles against the disease it finally succeeds on its own terms. The Jury Prize (third place) to Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev’s bleak divorce story Loveless also was surprising only, according to earlier pundit buzz, that it didn’t finish higher. It, too, was widely acclaimed after debuting on the festival’s first day of competition. Zvyagintsev had previously won the Screenplay award for his masterful Leviathan in 2014, and although this one isn’t quite on that level, it is a piercing and unflattering portrait of Russian life in today’s Putin-led country, focusing on the search for the missing son of a couple in the midst of a nasty breakup.
I heartily applaud the much deserved Best Actress prize to German native Diane Kruger, working for the first time in a leading role in the German language for Faith Akin’s absolutely magnificent In The Fade,
which puts a heartbreaking and devastating human face on the price of terrorism. Kruger plays a woman who loses both her Turkish immigrant husband and six year old son to a Nazi extremist group’s targeted bombing of the man’s storefront. It not only has much to say about hate-filled tolerance for those who try to find a new life in a foreign country, but also the horrible personal tragedy for those left behind. Kruger dominates this film with such force and power that it would be wise for whatever domestic distributor takes it for North America to qualify this inevitable German Foreign Language Oscar entry also for her lead actress performance. It is that good. Warner Bros. releases the film in Germany and repped one of the very few times we saw a major studio logo in front of one of the competing films this year. If Warners is looking to increase their own Oscar payload in 2017 they ought to consider releasing it in the States themselves. Kruger is a real contender given half a chance and her Cannes prize makes it even better.
In The Fade, which premiered in the late night 10 p.m. slot on Friday was the second-to-last of the official competition entries to debut, but Best Actor winner Joaquin Phoenix had the absolute last film to be shown , debuting in the final 10 p.m. gala slot last night. As is often the case with Oscar, it apparently paid to be fresh in the mind of Jury voters and go last for both Kruger and Phoenix, the latter grimly effective and intense as a man who wields a hammer against those who are sexually abusing young women. It is brutal, violent and unflinching stuff from writer/director Lynne Ramsay who herself picked up the Best Screenplay prize (in a tie) for the film that will be a tough sell commercially despite Phoenix’s award-winning presence. Amazon Studios has that job and it was truly a last minute entry into the fest, so last minute that it didn’t even have end credits done for the first early screening Thursday afternoon for selected press, or as it turns out for last night’s gala debut. Word is Ramsay didn’t even initially know it was coming to Cannes. Amazon’s Bob Berney told me that when Fremaux saw the still-unfinished final cut he reacted with great enthusiasm and said he had to have it for Cannes. This necessitated the scheduling in the latest slot possible (following Roman Polanski’s out-of-competition Based On A True Story, which preceded it last night and also just barely finished putting on English subtitles this week to make it in time). Critical and jury reaction prove he was right and it is a triumphant return for Ramsay (here last six years ago with We Need To Talk About Kevin) who drew negative press and a lawsuit for bailing on the Natalie Portman Western Jane Got A Gun just as production was getting under way. The suit was later settled to the “mutual satisfaction” of all parties and the movie, directed by her replacement Gavin O’Connor, was a flop upon its limited release last year. Ramsay’s comeback from that debacle is now complete in Cannes.
It was very nice to see the “queen” of this year’s Cannes, Nicole Kidman, receive a special 70th Anniversary prize (she was beamed in from her home in Nashville) for her presence in no less than four films. They included the hauntingly good, if divisive, Yorgas Lanthimos film, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer (which earned a tie with Ramsay’s movie for Best Screenplay), How To Talk To Girls At Parties, Top Of The Lake: China Girl, and The Beguiled. The last of these films won Sofia Coppola the Best Director prize, making her only the second woman in history to win that honor. Like her fellow female director Ramsay , the Cannes prize marked a triumphant return for Coppola, but in her case it was directly in relation to the 2006 controversy and scattered boos that accompanied the Cannes festival premiere of her take on a well known part of French history in Marie Antoinette. This time there were no boos and a big prize, making her the first woman in 56 years to win it (Jane Campion remains the only female winner of the Palme d’Or). Through a statement from Focus Features which releases the Civil War remake of the 1971 Clint Eastwood version on June 23rd in the U.S the absent Coppola expressed her thanks. “I was thrilled to get this movie made and it is such an exciting start to be honored in Cannes. I’m thankful to my great team and cast, and to Focus Features and Universal for their support of women-themed films,” she said.
And speaking of yet another female directorial triumph lauded with an award today in Cannes (which has often tried to fight its past image as a male-driven auterist fest), the highly deserved Camera d’Or prize
given to a first time director went to Leonor Serraille for the french Un Certain Regard entry, Jeune Femme, a wonderful amusing and entertaining portrait of a woman trying to turn her life around in Paris. It features a fiercely funny and driven performance by Laetitia Dosch as Paula, an unhinged and unique personality at times, but still a hopeful young woman adrift in the city of lights with just her ex-boyfriend’s cat and a dream of better days ahead. The movie won no recognition ironically at yesterday’s own awards ceremony for Un Certain Regard entries (from a jury chaired by a woman Uma Thurman), so this is sweet indeed for Serraille and for the continuing emerging presence of female directors on the awards stage at this granddaddy of all festivals.
The Camera d’Or is given to a first timer behind the camera and draws entries (25 in all this year) across each of the various competitions in Cannes this year including Directors Fortnight and Critics Week. I would give a shout out to the closing night film of Fortnight and its first time director Geremy Jasper who equally deserved the prize for his vibrant and rollicking Patti Cake$, initially a Sundance debut, that wowed Cannes Friday night, drawing a monstrous standing ovation that lasted several minutes and had the French audience chanting “Patti Cakes! Patti Cakes! Patti Cakes!” Fox Searchlight moved the release from early July to August 18, where I predict word of mouth will turn it into a surprise hit this summer, especially if Searchlight finds just the right marketing hook for a movie with no star power to help it. The female-driven story of an aspiring rapper (Danielle Macdonald), her singer mother (Bridget Everett) , and her grandmother (a hilarious Cathy Moriarty) is among the very best I got to see along the Croisette this year, a group of films that overall had much to offer. I think the main competition jury did a good job handing out prizes but there were so many others that deserved mention as well that were completely overlooked in the official selection. Chief among them for me were Michel Hazanivicius’ brilliant and cleverly written and directed look at notoriously cranky but revered director Jean-Luc Godard and his second marriage at age 37 to a teen-aged wife in Redoubtable, as well as Hungarian director Kornel Mundruczo’s spirtually intriguing and skillfully made Jupiter’s Moon which jury member Will Smith told the press was his personal favorite of all the films. It divided critics for some reason, but naysayers are wrong, and Will is right. Vive le Fresh Prince!
Finally in a festival dominated by controversy over the inclusion of two films from streamer Netflix, there were to be no prizes for those movies, Bong Joon Ho’s terrific and sometimes nutty Okja, and Noah
Baumbach’s New York-centric comedy, The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected), one of his best and featuring a great cast and ace performances from Dustin Hoffman, Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller and others. Hoffman has never won a Cannes acting award and this could have been the opportunity. He’s great in it, as is Sandler, who some were thinking could upset the apple cart and win here. Alas, no prizes for Netflix as jury President Almodovar perhaps tipped at a press conference when the festival began. He said he couldn’t see giving the Palme d’Or to a movie that didn’t play theatres, and Netflix movies, at best, play only in a handful of theatres, and then just only day and date with their streaming release on the network. The omission of any recognition to these two films might have been much more about that than anything else. Cannes has said that in future years all entries must have a theatrical release, and it will be interesting to see if we ever see Netflix again on the Croisette.
I guarantee you will see me however. This festival, controversy and all, is like no other.