By Jake Howell jake.howell@utoronto.ca

Wrapping Cannes 70

Can a filmmaker intentionally write an ending so grating it ruins the movie? Should a performer be stopped because their performance becomes violent and unsafe? By its very artistic ambition, does the performance require its audience to stop the artist from becoming violent?

These are questions Ruben Östlund’s magnificent The Square leaves as its too-long conclusion reaches its final moments. This ending left a lot of viewers deflated—for two hours, the film fills you with the feeling you’re seeing something truly special. Another half hour, though… well, that this now-Palme d’Or-winning art goes too far (and comes across so anticlimactic) is entirely the point: A film this prismatic could never be a perfect Square.

It’s good to put Cannes 70 to bed after festival attendees tired of taking sides in a suggested debate between “cinema” and Netflix (as if they were diametrically opposed). And with the final awards ceremony complete, we can now confirm Jury President Pedro Almodóvar (how fun is that to say?) was true to his word: the streaming service took home zero awards, even when it was rumored a few days ago the director signed some sort of production deal with Netflix. (Maybe the announcement was a way of shirking potential conflicts of interest?)

For Best Actor, Joaquin Phoenix accepted on behalf of Lynne Ramsey’s You Were Never Really Here, the final film in Competition, which wound up wowing exhausted critics.

Similarly, Diane Kruger’s first German-language production (Fatih Akin’s In The Fade) was deemed the Jury’s Best Actress prize. My only issue is that the race was limited to begin with—indeed, jury member Jessica Chastain found it “quite disturbing” that the festival had a dearth of female representation on screen.

There was a tie for Best Screenplay: You Were Never Really Here (which I was unable to see) was neck-and-neck with The Kiling of a Sacred Deer, one of the most divisive films this year. Given that Sacred Deer’s dialogue is as striking as its visuals, I can’t wait to see Ramsey’s latest to see what’s in store.

It’s wonderful to see Sofia Coppola take Best Director for her remake of The Beguiled. The filmmaker has been booed at Cannes (like many masters before), so to see her take a major award is great (especially when it’s a trophy a woman hasn’t held since 1961).

The Festival’s Jury Prize went to Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless, which is a totally respectable prize for a totally respectable movie. I didn’t meet a single critic at Cannes that disliked the film; folks were either moderately cool on the film’s themes, which are heavy-handed, or deeply impressed by their gravity. No one debates its technical feats, however: the film is a cold stunner.

The Grand Prize was more predictable—at least in that Robin Campillo’s 120BPM (120 Beats per Minute) felt guaranteed to be on the board with something. It’s political, it’s timely, it’s accomplished, it’s French: the ingredients for a Cannes prize-winner. But don’t let me reduce its win: The film is a powerful, compassionate drama.

The Square, though. I can’t wait for actual audiences to see it. I can’t wait to discuss its many possible interpretations. It’s one of the best Palme decisions in years.

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“I suddenly couldn’t say anything about some of the movies. They were just so terrible, and I’d already written about so many terrible movies. I love writing about movies when I can discover something in them – when I can get something out of them that I can share with people. The week I quit, I hadn’t planned on it. But I wrote up a couple of movies, and I read what I’d written, and it was just incredibly depressing. I thought, I’ve got nothing to share from this. One of them was of that movie with Woody Allen and Bette Midler, Scenes From a Mall. I couldn’t write another bad review of Bette Midler. I thought she was so brilliant, and when I saw her in that terrible production of ‘Gypsy’ on television, my heart sank. And I’d already panned her in Beaches. How can you go on panning people in picture after picture when you know they were great just a few years before? You have so much emotional investment in praising people that when you have to pan the same people a few years later, it tears your spirits apart.”
~ Pauline Kael On Quitting

“My father was a Jerome. My daughter’s middle name is Jerome. But my most vexing and vexed relationship with a Jerome was with Jerome Levitch, the subject of my first book under his stage and screen name, Jerry Lewis.

I have a lot of strong and complex feelings about the man, who passed away today in Las Vegas at age 91. Suffice to say he was a brilliant talent, an immense humanitarian, a difficult boss/interview, and a quixotic sort of genius, as often inspired as insipid, as often tender as caustic.

I wrote all about it in my 1996 book, “King of Comedy,” which is available on Kindle. With all due humility, it’s kinda definitive — the good and the bad — even though it’s two decades old. My favorite review, and one I begged St. Martin’s (unsuccessfully) to put on the paperback jacket, came from “Screw” magazine, which called it “A remarkably fair portrait of a great American asshole.”

Jerry and I met twice while I was working on the book and spoke/wrote to each other perhaps a dozen times. Like many of his relationships with the press and his partners/subordinates, it ended badly, with Jerry hollering profanities at me in the cabin of his yacht in San Diego. I wrote about it in the epilogue to my book, and over the years I’ve had the scene quoted back to me by Steve Martin, Harry Shearer, Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette. Tom Hanks once told me that he had a dinner with Paul Reiser and Martin Short at which Short spent the night imitating Jerry throwing me off the boat.

Jerry was a lot of things: father, husband, chum, businessman, philanthropist, artist, innovator, clown, tyrant. He was at various times in his life the highest-ever-paid performer on TV, in movies, and on Broadway. He raised BILLIONS for charity, invented filmmaking techniques, made perhaps a dozen classic comedies, turned in a terrific dramatic performance in Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy,” and left the world altered and even enhanced with his time and his work in it.

That’s an estimable achievement and one worth pausing to commemorate.

#RIP to Le Roi du Crazy

~ Biographer Shawn Levy on Jerry Lewis on Facebook