I can’t really find much to complain about in the just-revealed choices of the jury for the marquee competition entries for the 71st Annual Cannes Film Festival. Even though I might have switched the order a bit, two of the top three prizes went to strong humanist movies and that seemed right, with Nadine Labaki’s beautifully emotional and moving Capernaum getting the Jury Prize (third place essentially), and the great Japanese filmmaker Kore-Eda Hirokazu grabbing the most coveted Palme d’Or for his wonderful, wry and poignant story of what really makes a family, Shoplifters.
Going in, I speculated Labaki had the best shot in years to become only the second female filmmaker ever (after Jane Campion in 1993) to win the Palme d’Or. The win would NOT have been perceived as a kind of token gesture in this strong year of recognizing how Cannes (and other places) have not done enough in advancing women in the business — but it wasn’t to be. She won the Jury Prize instead, ironically the same prize won previously by Kore-eda in 2013 for his equally fine Like Father, Like Son. Now he deservedly has the top prize for yet another affecting story of family, this one about a created family of societal outcasts involved in petty crimes. Sony Pictures Classics picked up Capernaum and plans a December release to qualify for Oscars, while yesterday Magnolia just announced a U.S. distribution deal for Shoplifters, which has finally brought the prolific Kore-Eda the top prize. He just had yet another film in competition at Venice last September. Incidentally Steven Spielberg was head of the jury when Like Father, Like Son was in competition and was so impressed he had Dreamworks buy the American remake rights, yet no English language adaptation has yet surfaced. If you ask me Shoplifters is another film that would seem to have universal appeal and possible interest as an American remake as well.
IFC Films distributed Like Father, Like Son and I still remember speaking to Kore-eda later in the year at the Toronto Film Festival at the time it had just been revealed that Japan’s nominating committee had bypassed it as that country’s entry for the Oscar Foreign Language race, a real sign that internal politics plays too much a part in the selection process in some places. Hopefully, that will not be the case this time around, or for Lebanon in choosing Capernaum in what is already shaping up to be a particularly good year for Oscar possibilities in the Foreign Language area.
If Cannes doesn’t have much mojo in being predictive of what will be competing for Oscars in other categories, it does tend to have a strong impact in setting the table for the Academy’s often controversial Foreign Language race and this year there are a number of possibilities including Italy’s Dogman from Matteo Garone and starring Marcello Fonte who deservedly won Best Actor in Cannes (hands down the best performance I saw – male or female), and Alice Rohrwacher’s fable-like Happy As Lazaro being two contenders for starters.
And although it didn’t win a prize, A.B. Shawky’s tender leper story, Yomeddine from Egypt is one to watch. I wouldn’t be surprised to see an American distrib deal (maybe SPC?) for that soon. Certainly, a strong possibility is Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War, a romantic drama spanning several years that is shot in gorgeous black and white and won the directing prize today. Amazon has that and, like his Oscar-winning Ida, should have strong Academy appeal.
And though neither critics or the jury seemed to do cartwheels over two-time Foreign Language Oscar winner Asghar Farhadi’s opening night (which seems like years ago in Cannes time) melodrama, Everybody Knows starring Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, I think it would have real appeal for the main Academy committee that makes some of the key Foreign Language nominees. Focus Features snapped it up within 12 hours of its debut in Cannes. The list goes on and includes several others from other Cannes competitions including Un Certain Regard’s Border picked up by NEON, and Belgium’s Camera d’Or and Certain Regard winner Girl to name two. I doubt the top Directors Fortnight choice Climax, an A24 pickup, has a chance in hell – so to speak- as Gaspar Noe’s fantasia of music and violence might send many older Academy Foreign Language Film voters screaming for the exits of the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre. Nevertheless, we have seen a strong preview in the past 12 days of what the Academy will have to work with.
As for Spike Lee who once again came ever so close to the Palme d’Or he wanted so much, BlackKklansman’s Grand Prize win (essentially second place) was well deserved and gave one of only two American entries this year a significant prize (the other, David Robert Mitchell’s mixed bag of influences, Under The Silver Lake predictably went home empty handed even if it does have its moments). Lee, in pre-Cannes interviews, still hadn’t gotten over his loss of the Palme d’Or for Do The Right Thing in 1989 to Steven Soderbergh for Sex, Lies & Videotape and was vocal about it. His film then actually didn’t win any prize in Cannes so this is a nice comeback to the Croisette for Spike, and perhaps the most stinging message against Donald Trump and his brand of right-wing politics the jury made this year.
Another legendary director who still is without a Palme d’Or is Jean-Luc Godard, back for the eighth time in contention with The Image Book (picked up at Cannes by Kino Lorber).The best the jury could do though for the French icon is present him with a “special Palme d’Or” which ought to go nicely with his special Oscar given a few years ago. Jury President Cate Blanchett signaled something along these lines at the Jury’s opening press conference when she indicated, after a question about Godard, that it is often hard in the case of someone like that to completely ignore the importance of their body of work. The Jury didn’t ignore it but followed seven past juries in going elsewhere with their number one honor.
As for the festival itself, though it didn’t present much of an Oscar preview in categories other than foreign language and many of the films I saw were not without flaws, it was worthwhile as proof the cinema is alive and somewhat well around the world, even if Netflix (which just announced moments after the awards cermony that they picked up Happy As Lazaro and Girl) is changing the rules The emphasis, and pledges, made about women filmmakers in the past week also will have significance going forward, but how much remains to be seen. And finally, in this first fest in years without the presence of Harvey Weinstein, leave it to the stinging remarks by Asia Argento on the Cannes stage tonight to end this 71st edition with a reminder that his shadow still loomed large but not exactly in ways for which this Cannes will exactly want to be remembered.