By Jake Howell jake.howell@utoronto.ca

Routing Cannes 66: A Wrap

In an unprecedented move, the Steven Spielberg-led jury awarded the Palme d’Or to one film and three individuals: Blue is the Warmest Color, by director Abdellatif Kechiche with actresses Adèle Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux.

This skirted the festival’s rule of preventing a sweep, as a film in Competition at Cannes cannot win both a major award and an acting prize. A respectable decision, as Blue is the Warmest Color (La Vie d’Adèle) is a cinematic achievement in exceptional performance. Do not miss it.

Remember the name: Adele Exarchopoulos. An actor since 2007 (2007’s Boxes, 2010’s La Rafle), the 19-year-old has managed to secure one of the film world’s most prestigious awards with her staggering role as La Vie d’Adèle’s title protagonist. It’s the biggest, most important film at this festival, filled with life and political relevance. A true opus; one that needed to win, some say, to avoid censorship (the film locks in at a three-hour runtime, avec explicit sex). Ideally, the version shown for Cannes audiences is the same version eventually seen outside of the Croisette (unless Kechiche makes his own trims, as has been rumored).

The other winners are just as fun. The Grand Prix—second place—was given to Inside Llewyn Davis, presumably because of the wonderful Oscar Isaac and the meticulous direction by the unstoppable Coen Brothers. Let it be known that their newest film has cracked my personal top-three list of their work.

There’s always a surprise at the Cannes awards, and this year’s shocker was the winner of Best Director, Amat Escalante. Heli, Escalante’s third feature, was probably the subject of a political move: poorly-received by most critics (myself excluded), the film’s depiction of Mexico’s tragic drug violence struck a chord with the jury. No matter: Heli is a fine film, regardless of its difficult scenes. (Escalante’s mentor, Carlos Reygadas, won the same prize last year for Post Tenebras Lux.)

In third place is Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s Like Father, Like Son, winner of the Jury Prize. The film was an expected favorite, especially given its themes that many thought were sure to please Steven Spielberg, a man of family narratives (as well as a large family). It was a safe bet, too: with great acting across the board (including the kids, who really needed to sell the picture more than anyone else), it seemed impossible it would walk away from the festival empty-handed.

Best Script was given to Jia Zhang-Ke, director of A Touch of Sin. Highly critical of contemporary China, Zhang-Ke’s intertwined quarter of narratives was a violent, broadly appealing film and the most “mainstream” venture in his filmography. A justified win, even though most thought him to win the Best Director prize. Given its boldness, A Touch of Sin had to win something.

The Best Actor race was all but sewn up: with fantastic performances from Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis) and Matt Damon and Michael Douglas (Behind the Candelabra), the front-runners were clear. But the Jury decided to laud Isaac (and the Coens) with the Grand Prix, thus barring Isaac from the acting prize. Instead, the jury went elsewhere, awarding the sweepstakes to Bruce Dern in Alexander Payne’s Nebraska. Dern does a fine job as Nebraska’s lovable codger.

In truth, Best Actress was one of the hardest awards to call. There were many excellent female performances, including Hadewych Minis (Borgman), Carey Mulligan (Inside Llewyn Davis), Marine Vacth (Jeune et Jolie) , Marion Cotillard (The Immigrant), Kristin Scott Thomas (Only God Forgives) and even June Squibb (Nebraska). The critical front-runners, however, were Bérénice Bejo (The Past), Emmanuelle Seigner (Venus in Fur), and the leads of Blue is the Warmest Color. The finest female performances were indisputably in the latter (leading to a Palme d’Or win), so the jury went for the César-winner Bejo. Asghar Farhadi’s follow-up to A Separation is expectedly very strong, and Bejo’s performance did much for the film’s success.

Finally, I want to thank you for reading, whether it was the neurotic pre-festival write-ups or my reviews as the festival played out. I’m happy to report that somehow, the most impressive movies this year in Competition were given the awards and international press they deserved. One can only hope these highlights find distribution near you very soon.

À la prochaine.

Other winners:

Short Film Palme d’Or: Safe, by Byoung-gon Moon

Short Film special mention: Whale Valley, by Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson.

Camera d’Or: Ilo Ilo, by Anthony Chen (playing in the Director’s Fortnight).

4 Responses to “Routing Cannes 66: A Wrap”

  1. Excellent review of the festival. I wonder why there’s a rule to preven a sweep. So Emmanuelle Riva would have not win for “Amour” last year?

  2. Jay Stone says:

    Nice job Jake. You called the Palme d’Or the minute the press screening ended.

  3. Jake Howell says:

    Gonzalo: I have a feeling last year’s jury gave Amour the Palme d’Or to laud the exquisite performances. The film was carried by Riva and Trintignant, so giving the film the Palme was the same as giving them Best Actress and Best Actor.

    Jay: it hit all the right notes. Thanks very much.

  4. The Pope says:

    Gonzalo,

    I think the reason for the ruling is because in 1991, Barton Fink won no less than three. Palme d’Or, Best Director and Best Actor. And most people suspect the reason why it won Best Director was because at the time, the Coens split their credits with Joel directing and Ethan producing. So rather than give one brother an award and ignore the other, they gave them one each. Of course, it helped that Barton Fink is a brilliant film and that year, the only other film that was in serious contention was Jacques Rivette’s La Belle Noiseuse.

    I could be wrong, but I suspect that is the reason.

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“Let me try and be as direct as I possibly can with you on this. There was no relationship to repair. I didn’t intend for Harvey to buy and release The Immigrant – I thought it was a terrible idea. And I didn’t think he would want the film, and I didn’t think he would like the film. He bought the film without me knowing! He bought it from the equity people who raised the money for me in the States. And I told them it was a terrible idea, but I had no say over the matter. So they sold it to him without my say-so, and with me thinking it was a terrible idea. I was completely correct, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It was not my preference, it was not my choice, I did not want that to happen, I have no relationship with Harvey. So, it’s not like I repaired some relationship, then he screwed me again, and I’m an idiot for trusting him twice! Like I say, you try to distance yourself as much as possible from the immediate response to a movie. With The Immigrant I had final cut. So he knew he couldn’t make me change it. But he applied all the pressure he could, including shelving the film.”
James Gray

“I’m an unusual producer because I control the destiny of a lot of the films I’ve done. Most of them are in perfect states of restoration and preservation and distribution, and I aim to keep them in distribution. HanWay Films, which is my sales company, has a 500-film catalogue, which is looked after and tended like a garden. I’m still looking after my films in the catalogue and trying to get other people to look after their films, which we represent intellectually, to try to keep them alive. A film has to be run through a projector to be alive, unfortunately, and those electric shadows are few and far between now. It’s very hard to go and see films in a movie house. I was always involved with the sales and marketing of my films, right up from The Shout onwards. I’ve had good periods, but I also had a best period because the film business was in its best period then. You couldn’t make The Last Emperor today. You couldn’t make The Sheltering Sky today. You couldn’t make those films anymore as independent films. There are neither the resources nor the vision within the studios to go to them and say, “I want to make a film about China with no stars in it.”Then, twenty years ago, I thought, “OK, I’m going to sell my own films but I don’t want to make it my own sales company.” I wanted it to be for me but I wanted to make it open for every other producer, so they don’t feel that they make a film but I get the focus. So, it’s a company that is my business and I’m involved with running it in a certain way, but I’m not seen as a competitor with other people that use it. It’s used by lots of different producers apart from me. When I want to use it, however, it’s there for me and I suppose I’m planning to continue making all my films to be sold by HanWay. I don’t have to, but I do because it’s in my building and the marketing’s here, and I can do it like that. Often, it sounds like I’m being easy about things, but it’s much more difficult than it sounds. It’s just that I’ve been at it for a long time and there’s lots of fat and security around my business. I know how to make films, but it’s not easy—it’s become a very exacting life.”
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