The 70th anniversary Cannes Film Festival wrapped up with an unconventional awards ceremony as Pedro Almodóvar and his jury handed out some unexpected bonus prizes. FIB has you covered for who took home the fabled Palme d’Or and top honours on one of cinema’s biggest nights in the run up to awards season.
Sometimes film festivals like to throw us a twist and award top prize to a film no one was expecting. This was the case for Cannes this year, awarding the famed Palme d’Or to Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s satire The Square. This outrageous Swedish and English language comedy follows a posh museum curator whose life takes an unexpected turn after having his pockets picked on the way to work. The museum curator is preparing to unveil an installation called ‘The Square”, consisting solely of a square drawn on the floor of the museum. The art piece promises to double as a social experiment, acting as a “sanctuary of trust and caring” where “we all share equal rights and obligations” for those who step in it.
This was a surprise pick for the jury for a couple of different reasons. Firstly, the film has sharply divided critics and it’s a little astonishing (but in a good way) that Cannes didn’t go for a safer and more conventional pick, like 120 Beats Per Minute, a French AIDS drama, and Loveless, a Russian relationship drama. Secondly, rarely does Cannes award a comedy the Palme d’Or, preferring to honour depressing and dark deep dives. The Palme d’Or hasn’t gone to a film with a comedic bent since Michael Moore’s 2004 documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 or Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, a decade before that. After the show, Almodóvar explained the jury’s choice, stating: “It’s contemporary, it’s about the dictatorship of being politically correct” and living in a paranormal hell because of that”. Does The Square have what it takes to go the distance? A triumph at Cannes certainly doesn’t hurt.
Grand Prix & Jury Prize
Grand Prix (runner-up) was awarded to Beats Per Minute, Robin Campillo’s gut-wrenching looks that early 90s war on AIDS and the French gay-rights movement. The Jury Prize (third place) went to Loveless, Andrey Zvyagintsev’s look at a search for a missing child in modern Russia.
Sofia Coppola made history by becoming the second every woman to win the Best Director prize at Cannes for her film The Beguiled. Before Coppola the only woman to win Best Director was Soviet filmmaker Yuliya Sointseva in 1961 for The Chronicle of Flaming Years. The only woman to have ever won the Palme d’Or is Jane Campion in 1993 for The Piano. The film is an adaptation of Thomas Cullinan’s Civil War novel, about a wounded Union soldier who finds refuge in a Virginia girls’ school. The film stars Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning and Colin Farrell. It was a noticeably emotional moment for Kirsten Dunst on the red carpet for The Beguiled, marking over a decade since she was in Cannes with Coppola for their 2006 film, Marie Antoinette. You can check out The Beguiled at the Sydney Film Festival in June. Get tickets here!
Best actress went to Diane Kruger who starred in Fatih Akin’s In the Fade, a performance which saw the German-born actress perform in her native language for the first time. The film is about a woman who loses her family in a terrorist attack and in her acceptance speech, she asked that anyone who, like her character, “has survived an act of terrorism and who is trying to pick up the pieces and go on living after having lost everything. Please know that you are not forgotten”.
A shocked Joaquin Phoenix beat out Robert Pattison to Best Actor honours for his performance in Lynne Ramsey’s You Were Never Really Here. As the audience applauded and the camera panned over to him, Phoenix just sat there and sat there, until turning to his girlfriend, Rooney Mara and mouthing, “Do I have to go up there?”. Presumably, she said yes, because he eventually made his way up the aisle to accept his award. Phoenix, in typical fashion, transformed himself for the role, looking the part of a grizzled ex-military vigilante-for-hire who rescues young girls from child sex rings. On stage, he said “this was totally unexpected, as you can see from my shows,” gesturing to the Converse sneakers he’d worn with his tuxedo to the fanciest event of one of the fanciest festivals in the world. Charming, jubilant and humble in the post-awards press conference, he finished by asking the press room, “did you like my shoes?”
70th Anniversary Prize
Meanwhile, Nicole Kidman who is having an absolutely banner year, was awarded a specially-created ‘70th Anniversary Prize’. Halfway into a career high resurgence springing from her acclaimed work on HBO’s Big Little Lies, Kidman had four projects debut at Cannes: How to Talk to Girls at Parties, Top of the Lake: China Girl, The Killing of a Sacred Deer and The Beguiled. She couldn’t attend the awards ceremony, sending in a video that apologised for her absence. But American jury member Will Smith stepped up to accept the award on her behalf, briefly impersonating her thanking Cannes which included some waterworks!
In another twist, the jury bucked tradition by awarding a tie for best screenplay, or should we say screenplays? The Killing of a Sacred Deer, co-written by Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou, and You Were Never Really Here, written by its director, Lynne Ramsay, shared the honours. It also meant that You Were Never Really Here ended up taking home two awards, an event that rarely happens since Cannes rules don’t allow multiple awards except for the screenplay-performance combo.
Press conference contention: Should streaming service films be allowed in? How can we improve female representation in films?
The post-awards press conference with the jury sparked a little contention with issues over films from streaming services like Netflix being allowed into competition and questions of diversity and representation being discussed. Almodóvar presided over a jury that included German director Maren Ade, French director Agnès Jaoui, South Korean director Park Chan-wook, Italian director Paolo Sorrentino, Chinese actress Fan Bingbing, American actress Jessica Chastain, American actor Will Smith, and French composer Gabriel Yared.
The debate over whether films produced by streaming services should be allowed at film festivals was stirred up and proved to be a fault line running through the film industry. Earlier it was announced that any film that wants to be in competition at Cannes must have a theatrical release in France, with Almodóvar straight up ruling the Netflix films at Cannes from contention for the Palme d’Or. Will Smith disagreed, insisting that streaming service would not impact on people who go to the cinema and asking “Why does it have to be one or the other?” Almodóvar showed himself to be a cinema experience purist insisting that films must be watched on the big screen instead of a laptop at home in order not to lose the magic of cinema. He is not the only director to think so and this is a question that the film industry is going to have resolve sooner rather than later. At any rate, Netflix certainly made its mark on the festival. For more on the Netflix vs. Cinema debate see here!
Diversity and representation were also a hot-button topic at the press conference, with many actresses and directors expressing dismay the lack of female representation in films. Agnès Jaoui expressed her disappointment over the how small the number of films that pass the Bechdel test was at Cannes. While Jessica Chastain said “If you have female storytelling, you have more authentic female characters. What I took away from this experience is how the world views women, which was quite disturbing to me, to be honest. … When we have more female storytellers we will have more of the women I recognise in my day-to-day life, who are proactive, who have their own agency, don’t just react to the men around them, but have their own point of view.”
Continuing that point, Maren Ade insisted that the jury “didn’t give awards to women because they are women” and called for more female directors and more appropriate material as well. She argued that “We are missing a lot of the stories they can tell, not just about female characters but their views on men”. Fan Bingbing concurred, “We want to encourage female filmmakers to present more female characters.”
“A couple of black folk wouldn’t hurt neither” chimed in Will Smith. “But we’ll talk about that another time.”