The Arty Semite

Cannes Diary #5: Prizes and Farewells

By A.J. Goldmann

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After 10 cinema-soaked days, the International Jury, headed by Jane Campion, dished out the prizes of the 67th Cannes Film Festival.

There were no multiple winners in a year when there were clearly not enough awards to go around. In fact, some have taken issue with the jury’s decision to award the Jury Prize to both Xavier Dolan’s “Mommy” and Jean-Luc Godard’s 3D “Adieu au Langage.” Splitting the prize between the youngest and oldest directors in competition (Dolan is 25; Godard is 83), the jury was rectifying a long-standing oversight (Godard has never won a prize before at Cannes) and endorsing the work of a passionate and original new director. You would think that Dolan would be deeply honored to keep company with Godard, but apparently his tears onstage accepting the award masked his fury at not getting the Palme d’Or (the film that gets the Palme can’t score a win in an other category).

Russian filmmaker Alexei Serebriakov’s “Leviathan,” one of the final films to screen in competition, was something of a surprise winner for the screenplay award. A modern retelling of the Book of Job, it is a grim tale of government corruption and religious hypocrisy that is all the timelier in light of recent events in the expanding republic of Putinistan.

It came as little surprise when Timothy Spall was announced as Best Actor for his astonishing work in Mike Leigh’s “Mr. Turner.” That Spall beat out Steve Carell –the other critical favorite — made sense in light of the directing award, which went to Bennett Miller, who became the first Jewish director to win the prize since Julian Schnabel in 2007 for “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” His “Foxcatcher,” which was one of the stronger competition entries this year, is already being mentioned as a contender for next year’s Oscars. Julianne Moore, the Best Actress-winner for her Norma Desmond turn in David Cronenberg’s “Maps to the Stars,” was the only winner aside from Godard — who didn’t even bother showing up for his screening or press conference last week — not on hand to accept.

The critical favorites here don’t always reflect the jury’s thinking (or vice versa). There was much speculation about the winners of the two highest awards, the Grand Prix and the Palme d’Or. Would top prize go to “Timbuktu,” Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako’s poetic film about a village in Mali under the tyrannical dominion of jihadists? The film was the very first to screen for journalists this year and had many passionate defenders. Would the jury throw a curve ball and give the Grand Prix to Damian Szifron’s “Wild Tales,” a lurid collection of vignettes about people going to extreme measures that was my personal favorite among the competition films?

In the end, the Grand Prix went to Italian director Alice Rohrwacher’s “Le Meraviglie” (“The Wonders”), putting an end to speculation whether Campion’s jury would reward either of the two female directors with films in competition (the other one was Japan’s Naomi Kawase). In the end, the Palme d’Or went rather predictably yet appropriately to Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s “Winter Sleep,” which practically had a lock on the prize from day two, when it screened for press. With its nearly 200-minute running time, “Winter Sleep” is set in the most picturesque corner of Anatolia, Cappadocia. But precious few of those minutes are spent on the region’s natural wonders. Instead, most of the film transpires in a resort (humorously called the Hotel Othello) owned by an aging actor who lives there along with his sharp-tongued divorcee sister and his bored trophy wife. Their discussions and quarrels make up the bulk of this intimate, Bergmannesque film of quietly simmering tempers and subtle psychological warfare. Masterfully acted to Celyan’s tensely theatrical script, this elegant and melancholy film is fully deserving of its laurel.


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