Monday, May 25, 2015

Cannes 2015: Who Were the Big Winners?

The 68th Cannes Film Festival concluded yesterday, with the various juries coming together to hand out their prizes. Judging by the reviews coming out of the French Riviera, it would seem that many of the films played very well, with only Gus Van Sant's The Sea of Trees - a psychological drama starring Matthew McConaughey and Ken Watanabe - being met with the infamous "Cannes boos."

It's impossible to predict how a jury will determine their winners; with the jury members changing every year, so do the kinds of films that will appeal to them. That being said, there is an idea that a Palme d'Or-winning film is one of great importance, artistically, socially, or historically. It also typically means being epic: the two previous winners of the festival's top prize, Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013) and Winter's Sleep (2014), clocked in at three hours or more. It's also often the work of a filmmaker that has won prizes at the festival in previous years, creating a sort of "momentum" of their career. It can also simply be a film that appeals directly to key members of that jury; Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul's 2010 winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives was offbeat enough to appeal to jury president Tim Burton.

Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke's Mountains May Depart seemed to fit the bill the best: it was an ambitious work taking place over three separate time periods, from a filmmaker who has been a recent winner (Best Screenplay, 2013). However, the film went home empty-handed, as did Denis Villeneuve's (Prisoners) war-on-drugs thriller Sicario, Justin Kurzel's new take on Macbeth starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, Joachim Trier's Jesse Eisenberg-starring drama Louder Than Bombs, and 2013 Jury Prize winner Hirokazu Koreeda's Our Little Sister.

Below is a list of the prize-winners from the Main Competition, as well as commentary based on what we know about the films so far.

More after the jump.

Dheepan, directed by Jacques Audiard

On first glance, Audiard's film is something of a surprise for this prize. It's a rather intimate drama - Audiard's specialty - about three Sri Lankan immigrants in France, strangers to one another, who pose as a family to get by. However, considering that Audiard has been a regular on the Riviera - he won the Grand Prix in 2009 for his masterful A Prophet - it doesn't seem nearly that unusual. As a fan of many of his films, I can say that I'm pleased that he ended up taking home the festival's biggest prize.

Son of Saul (Saul Fia), directed by Laszlo Nemes

The Grand Prix is essentially "second place," so it's pretty fantastic that Nemes won this prize for his first film. It certainly sounds like it makes an impact: it's a Holocaust drama about a Jewish man in a concentration camp tasked with cleaning the bodies out of the gas chambers, becoming convinced that one of the victims is his illegitimate son. It earned raves from the critics who saw it, and could likely be Hungary's submission for the Foreign Language Oscar this year.

The Lobster, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

It seemed certain that The Lobster, one of the festival's best-reviewed films, would win some sort of prize; I personally thought it could be a stealth contender for the Palme d'Or, given that its outlandish premise - in the future, single people are taken to a hotel and given 45 days to find a mate or else be transformed into the animal of their choosing - seems appealing to the Coen Brothers' sensibilities. Instead, it takes the Jury Prize (essentially "third place") and easily becomes one of my most anticipated films of the year. Here's hoping Lanthimos' film gets a U.S. release soon.

Hou Hsiao-Hsien, The Assassin

The Assassin, from the moment the film ended, was hailed as a possible Palme winner and one of the festival's best films. Ultimately, Hou has to settle for Best Director, which is still excellent for the legendary Taiwanese filmmaker, which is no small consolation. It also marks a welcome return: The Assassin is his first narrative feature since his 2008 French co-production Flight of the Red Balloon.

(tie) Emmanuelle Bercot, Mon Roi and Rooney Mara, Carol

Bercot (Mara wasn't present at the ceremony)

Ties aren't all that unusual at Cannes (there's usually at least one every year), but having one in this category is. Cate Blanchett was heavily discussed as the favorite to win this prize, but it turns out her Carol co-star Mara caught the jury's attention more. Since Todd Haynes' film will certainly be out later this year and should figure into the Oscar race, it will be interesting to see how the Academy sorts out who is the lead and who goes supporting between Blanchett and Mara. Bercot's win makes for a fun bit of trivia: the French actress/director/writer directed the festival's opening-night film, Standing Tall, and won this prize for starring in a film by French actress/director/writer Maiwenn.

Vincent Lindon, The Measure of a Man (La Loi du Marche)

All in all, it was a pretty good festival for the French entrants. Veteran actor Lindon picks up his prize for Stephane Brize's film about a man who, after long being unemployed, must decide how to handle a moral dilemma at his new job. Though Lindon is not a familiar name to American audiences, I highly recommend his star turn in the absurdist drama La moustache (2005).

Chronic, screenplay by Michel Franco

Mexican filmmakers have done well at Cannes in recent years, evidence that Mexican cinema is in the midst of an international renaissance. In 2012, Carlos Reygadas took the Best Director prize for Post Tenebras Lux, while Amat Escalante won the same prize the following year for Heli. Now Franco joins their ranks with his Best Screenplay win for Chronic, a film about a nurse (Tim Roth) who takes care of terminally ill patients. This is a big boost for the filmmaker, who after gaining acclaim for 2012's After Lucia should see his reputation grow even more.

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