Pete Hammond

Blue Is The Warmest Color (La Vie D’Adele – Chapitre 1 & 2) is only the second purely French film in this most French of festivals to win the Palme d’Or in the past 46 years. The film has had the festival talking ever since its late Thursday night debut and was tipped as a top contender for a prize. This 3-hour sexually explicit drama about a teen’s lesbian love affair proved triumphant tonight, winning perhaps the most coveted prize in cinema next to Oscar. Five years ago The Class was a surprise winner for France’s  Laurent Cantet,  but you have to go all the way back to 1966 and the iconic Claude LeLouche romantic hit A Man And A Woman for another French director to win the Palme d’Or. It’s a sign of the changing times that this film, starring Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos and directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, could actually be called A Woman And A Woman.  The jury led by president Steven Spielberg spoke in glowing terms about it as a pure romance and not the first gay-themed movie to ever win top honors here. “For me the film is a great love story, and the fact that it is a great love story that made all of us feel that we were privileged, not embarrassed, to be flies on the wall invited to see this story of deep love and deep heartbreak evolve from the beginning,’ Spielberg said. “We were absolutely spellbound by the brilliance of the performances of those two amazing young actresses and all the cast, and especially the way the director observed his players. We just all thought it was a profound love story.”

France approved gay marriage just last week, and, asked how the film will play in the U.S., Spielberg responded: ”I’m not going to say it is going to play in every single state. But I think it is going to get a lot of play, and I really feel the film will be successful in America.” In fact Sundance Selects has picked up the film for the U.S. but there could be rating problems. (If stuck with an NC-17, there is always the option of going unrated.) The stars believe the content is no big deal. “I think this film is universal. It’s a love story and not important that it happens to be with two women,”  said Exarchopoulos. Seydoux added, “The film reflects modern times. You are allowed to love whomever you want.” Sundance Selects is looking for a year-end release in time for Oscar consideration. That’s the same route recent Palme d’Or winner Amour took last year and Tree Of Life two years ago, and both movies went on to be nominated for Best Picture. (Amour instead won Best Foreign Language Film.)

Certainly a Best Actress Oscar campaign for its two stars would be in order considering theextraordinary kudos and impact they had on the jury composed of numerous Oscar voters. In fact Spielberg drew gasps from the Grand Theatre Lumiere audience when he announced that “the jury has taken the exceptional step of recognizing the achievements of three artists in the presentation of the Palme d’Or”. Then, in a truly unprecedented move, the Palme d’Or was jointly awarded not only to the director but also his two stars who clearly acted without a net in some of the most explicit love scenes yet seen. Due to Cannes award rules, they can’t win acting awards and the Palme d’Or so they could not be given a joint Best Actress honor, too. That went to Argentinian-born French actress Berenice Bejo for Oscar-winning Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s well-received The Past. She seemed dumbfounded and called her director to the stage to join her. “I can’t imagine getting something just for me,’ she said. “It’s as though the film is being reduced to just me and I can’t envision that.”

Spielberg later revealed to reporters that there was never any friction within the jury. ”I know you would love drama. But the drama in the jury box was really more about telling about adventures we had in making our own movies than in bumping heads about the films we were privileged to see here. This was a wonderful jury. I want to take them all home with me,” he praised. Spielberg and his jury claimed to feel no outside pressure and the director said he didn’t read blogs or newspapers or even his iPad during Cannes. He said that, in general, the jury had “a very very unanimous consensus on at least three of the critically important choices”. Besides the Palme d’Or, those were the Grand Prix which went to the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, and the Jury Prix to Japan’s wonderfully heartfelt Like Father, Like Son.

Grand Prix winners Joel and Ethan Coen went back to New York last week so their award was accepted by the film’s star Oscar Isaac who said he was boarding a plane in Copenhagen when he was summoned back earlier today without being told why. Joel previously won the Palme d’Or and Best Director for Barton Fink in 1991 and another directing prize for The Man Who Wasn’t There. Nebraska director Alexander Payne accepted for his absent Best Actor winner Bruce Dern, who’d already returned to LA. Payne texted the good news to Laura Dern  (who was in Cannes with her father for Thursday’s premiere) and read her reply at the press conference, ”Amazing! We’re driving to Pasadena now. Can we call you maybe in 30 minutes?” Interestingly, another French gay-themed film, Stranger By The Lake with its hardcore male sex scenes and beaucoup nudity, also made waves in the Cannes Un Certain Regard section and was an award winner, too. It was picked up for U.S. distribution by Strand Releasing. An unsurprising winner was Jia Zhangke’s screenplay for the high profile Chinese film A Touch Of Sin which took a realistic view at rising violence in the communist country. The writer said he hopes the award will bring further attention to the growing problems there. But pretty damn shocking was Best Director to Mexico’s Arnat Escalante for the violent and critically dismissed Heli. He is the second helmer in a row to win this award for Mexico after Carlos Reygadas (a producer on Heli)  won last year for Post Tenebras Lux, another wallow in violence and degradation. “I didn’t expect people to be so put off by what I was showing,” Escalante said backstage. “That some people rejected it was painful, but it was what I wanted to show. I tried to make a movie that transmitted my feelings.”

And so the curtain comes down on another Cannes, one fraught with weather problems, a seesaw market, and lots of “opinions” as Ang Lee called them near the start of the festival. Generally my opinion is that the jury mostly got it right. But I don’t get the Heli love from the jury. Over Sorrentino? Or Soderbergh? Seriously? (I think even Escalante was stunned.) I would have liked to see a prize for Paolo Sorrentino’s La Grande Bellezza, or something for Steven Soderbergh’s Behind The Candelabra which premieres tonight on HBO. (But Michael Douglas, disappointed as he most assuredly is in losing here, can look forward to the Emmys). And Cannes overlooking  Marion Cotillard yet again (in this year’s The Immigrant and the previous Rust & Bone) just seems a shame. But at least she can cry on her Oscar. But we will always have the movies. And as usual it was a filmlover’s dream, if also a ”circus” as Robert Redford said the other night. But hey, it’s Cannes.

Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.

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