Sunday, May 25, 2014

Cannes 2014: Surprising Winners and Other Thoughts

It's a dream of mine to one day go to Cannes Film Festival myself. The festival ranks among - if not the - most prestigious film festivals in the world, and all of their lineups, from the main competition to Un Certain Regard, attract a bounty of talented and unique artists ready to unveil their latest work to the world. To see these films in this setting - even when the films are works-in-progress - would be absolutely fascinating and thrilling.

And yet, I always take reviews from Cannes and any other festival with a grain of salt. Most critics try to take in as much as they can see (why wouldn't they?), which means that between viewing, writing, and traveling, there isn't much time for sleeping. Similarly, all films require at least a little reflection before being given a final verdict, but the kinds of films that premiere at Cannes almost certainly do, and critics can't really afford to reflect when they've got to rush from one screening to another. The festival setting doesn't always do the films the justice they deserve.

But the reviews are helpful: at the very least, reading what others thought of this year's selections piqued my interest in the films and made me hopeful that most of them will make their way to the States eventually. Sadly, not all of them will, because American cinephiles can't have nice things, but the ones who won a prize most likely will. With any luck, all of the ones I was interested in before the fest will see a release here.

By the looks of this year's winners, the greatest Cannes jury in recent memory had some very diverse opinions about what they deemed "best." More after the jump…

Some of the festival's best-reviewed films went home empty-handed, while others that proved more divisive took home the top prizes. Of particular note: for the first time since their films started making it into the main competition, a Dardennes Brothers film failed to win a prize from the jury. Their latest, the Marion Cotillard-starring Two Days, One Night, had been favored to win the Palme d'Or, which would have made the directors the first to ever win three Palmes.

Here's a full list of winners, with a few scattered thoughts based on what I know about them.

PALME D'OR (the festival's "Best Picture" equivalent)
Winter's Sleep, dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Ceylan (center) with Quentin Tarantino (left) and Uma Thurman

Ceylan's been a longtime favorite at the festival, having won the Grand Prix in 2003 for Uzak (the film also won Best Actor for Muzaffer Özdemir and Emin Toprak), Best Director in 2008 for Üç Maymun (Three Monkeys), and the Grand Prix in 2011 for Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. It was only a matter of time before he became only the second Turkish winner of the Palme d'Or (the first was 1982's Yol, from Yilmaz Güney and Serif Gören). From the sound of it, Winter's Sleep is another terrific film from him: an epic philosophical rumination about a hotel owner (Haluk Bilginer) and the villagers who despise him.

GRAND PRIX (essentially the "second place" prize)
Le Meraviglie (The Wonders), dir. Alice Rohrwacher

Rohrwacher (left) with Sophia Loren

This film, about Italian beekeepers, was one of only two films in the main competition that was made by a female director. It was also one of the more low-profile films in competition, making it's big prize all the more intriguing. I don't know much else about it, but I hope it finds a release here.

JURY PRIZE (essentially "third place")
(tie) Mommy, dir. Xavier Dolan, and Goodbye to Language, dir. Jean-Luc Godard


The youngest filmmaker in competition (Dolan) tied with the oldest (Godard) for this prize, and it seems fitting. Dolan is an up-and-coming Canadian filmmaker who's made five films in five years, and he's only 25 (for perspective's sake: I'm 24, and look at what I'm doing with my life). Godard, of course, is a legendary French New Wave filmmaker. Many critics who saw Goodbye to Language noted that it felt like Godard's swan song, though he hasn't said as much himself. If it is indeed his final film, it's good to know he's leaving film just as he entered it: obtuse, experimental, and joyous.

Timothy Spall, Mr. Turner

Unsurprisingly, Spall handily won this prize for his portrayal of controversial British artist J.M.W. Turner in Mike Leigh's biopic. Four of the last six winners of this prize have gone on to receive Oscar nominations as well, so expect to hear Spall's name some more later this year.

Julianne Moore, Maps to the Stars

This was perhaps the most surprising win of the festival. Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night), Kristen Stewart and/or Juliette Binoche (Clouds of Sils Maria), and Anne Dorval (Mommy) were all considered frontrunners for the win, but the jury decided that Moore's performance as an aging actress in David Cronenberg's Hollywood satire was the best. Cronenberg's involvement alone had my interest in the film, but now I'm very eager to catch a glimpse of it.

Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher

I've said before that Miller is batting a perfect two-for-two right now, in my opinion, with Capote (2005) and Moneyball (2011). I was already eagerly anticipating this film, but now that Miller's talents as a director have been recognized, I'm even more excited to see it. Also of note: Miller is the first American director to win this prize since Julian Schnabel did so in 2007 for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

Andrey Zvyagintsev and Oleg Negin, Leviathan

Zvyagintsev (right) with Paz Vega

Zvyagintsev is well-known on the international circuit as a master of Russian miserablism, and his 2007 film The Banishment won the Best Actor prize for Konstantin Lavronenko at that year's festival. From the reviews, it sounds like he's injected a little humor into this film, which is about a family fighting against a corrupt mayor who's trying to take everything they own. It sounds like a fascinating picture.

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