It’s all over now, and really all over at Cannes for the American contingent of five competition entries plus English-language films like Walter Salles’ On The Road and David Cronenberg’s not-well-received Robert Pattinson starrer Cosmopolis. The Cannes Jury led by italian actor-director Nanni Moretti has spoken and Americans hoping for a repeat of last year when the single U.S. entry, The Tree Of Life actually won the Palme d’Or, are crying in their french onion soup. At the post-awards press conference American jury member Alexander Payne was asked if he thought the ‘Americannes’ snub said anything about the overall quality of the country’s movies. He snapped back that one festival does not speak for the state of cinema in any one country.
The closest thing to a film American audiences won’t need subtitles for is Ken Loach’s wonderful The Angels’ Share which is set in Glasgow and features accents so thick the filmmaker decided to add English subtitles. It is also the only comedy to take a prize as the jury mainly favored some of the more dour, serious-minded films in the race. Cannes juries often do that. Backstage Loach was elegant when he said his film shows solidarity with all those in Europe who resist austerity and believe “another world, a better world is possible”.
There’s also one head-scratcher just about every year and this year it’s a beheaded scratcher, Post Tenebras Lux from Mexico’s Carlos Reygadas in which a man rather remarkably manages to twist off his head using only his hands. There’s also a pointless orgy scene thrown in but even its defenders are hard-pressed to say what this film is about. So of course they gave him a major prize, Best Director. At the press conference at least two of the jurors strongly defended the film. They were so convincing they had me believing that I must have seen a different film.
“Personally I loved it. It was very brave and very tender. It dared to fail,” said director Andrea Arnold whose own films tend to be bleak so maybe it spoke to her. At any rate Moretti said it was one of three movies that really divided the jury and the only one of a “controversial” threesome that got a prize. The other two were Ulrich Seidl’s provocative and naked Paradise Love about older overweight Austrian women who frequent a Kenyan resort in order to get it on with the local boys who work there, and critical favorite Holy Motors from director Leos Carax, a futuristic crazy little trip that is the kind of movie that plays well at festivals but likely will be in and out of U.S. arthouses in a week and then headed for the midnight circuit. It was no surprise at all that this panel didn’t dig it judging from the films they did choose. Its reputation since debuting Wednesday is frankly a bit overblown. Indomina picked it up today for domestic distribution.
Asked at the press conference if his directing prize was “revenge” for the negative response to his film, Reygadas was diplomatic when he said “I am very thankful to journalists who detested it (you’re welcome) and those who liked it.”
The only American movie to come out of any Cannes competition with anything at all is Behn Zeitlin‘s debut film, Beasts Of The Southern Wild, an Un Certain Regard entry that was named winner of the festival’s Camera d’Or prize for best first feature. Fox Searchlight releases it next month. An excited Zeitlin said everyone who worked on the film had never done a movie before so this was a big deal. Films entered in all of the various competitions in Cannes are eligible for the Camera d’Or, not just main competition movies.
Overall I thought the jury did a good job, the Reygadas film aside, coming up with a fairly conservative but deserving group of winners. However the award to two novice actresses director Christian Mungiu found on the Internet for his leads in the religious cult film, Beyond The Hills was another mystery as Marion Cotillard and Nicole Kidman might have figured for risky, higher-profile turns in their movies Rust And Bone and The Paperboy. This award actually would have probably gone to French star Emmanuelle Riva for Amour, Michael Haneke‘s ultimate Palme d’Or winner. Rules state that any film which wins one of the top three honors, Palme d’Or, Grand Prix and the Jury Prize are eligible only for one award. That explains how Beyond The Hills was able to be the only film to win two including one for Mungiu’s script. And it is also why the superb performance of Denmark’s Mads Mikkelsen which jury member Ewan McGregor called “subtle and beautifully played” was able to grab best actor for The Hunt, since Amour’s sentimental favorite Jean-Louis Trintignant was not eligible because of his film’s triumph for the Palme d’Or. Both Trintignant and Riva made well-received speeches on stage after Austrian Haneke collected his second Palme in 3 years. He has also been a past winner in several other categories. Cannes loves him no matter who is on the jury. The touching film about a couple’s struggles at the end of life is probably the one that will bring this world class director his first Oscar for Best Foreign-Language Film. It’s going to play through the roof at the Academy. There won’t be a dry eye in the house and both its stars could find themselves nominated, too. I have never witnessed such a prolonged or more emotional ovation at one of these shows. It’s ironic that what is basically a French film is labeled an Austrian entry because of the nationality of its director. France can take pride anyway.
With an Italian jury president is it any real surprise that Italy’s only entry Matteo Garrone‘s Reality, about a man who becomes obsessed with getting on the Big Brother TV show, placed second winning the important Grand Prix? Yes. Although I found it quite entertaining most of the press seemed to be stunned since it wasn’t on anyone’s radar for a prize. Afterwards they even asked Garrone, a previous Grand Prix winner for Gomorrah if he was just as stunned? He basically said he hasn’t been reading the reviews but he was surprised because he felt the competition was stiff. Oscilloscope picked it up for domestic release yesterday. The winners circle in fact was full of past winners including Haneke, Garrone, past Palme d’Or winner and Cannes regular Ken Loach, and past Palme d’Or winner Mungiu. Cannes is like a club. Once you’re in, you’re in.
Considering the high quality of most of the entries, this would have to be judged a very good Cannes, if not on a par with last year when three films went on to Best Picture nominations and The Artist became the first French film to win. By the way last year’s Cannes Best Actor-turned Oscar winner Jean Dujardin was sitting in the audience next to the film’s Oscar winning director Michel Hazanavicius, whose wife Berenice Bejo hosted the ceremony.
Where this Cannes will really factor is in the Academy’s foreign-language race as it unveiled a slew of top contenders. Last year only one Cannes entry made it onto the Acad’s final list, an unusually poor showing. That shouldn’t be the case this year.
Moretti did say he didn’t want to go into detail but none of the awards were handed out unanimously, a sign of a very good year as the films likely had an impact one way or another on each jury member individually. He said they met 8 times over the course of the festival and then he gave one pointed observation of what he thought about the overall quality when he said, “I noted on the part of several directors that they seemed more in love with their style than their characters”. Ouch. Moretti is a past Palme d’Or winner himself for the humanistic film about loss, The Son’s Room, so it is also probably no wonder Amour, which Sony Pictures Classics will release later this year in the U.S., would win the Palme d’Or on his jury.
Vive l’Amour. Vive Le Cannes. I’m outta here.
Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.