Guys, I was so worried. The memory of a film festival, however excellent its selection, can be utterly tarnished by bad jury decisions (we see you, George Miller for Cannes 2016). And to be perfectly honest, I had DOUBTS about this year’s jury. But you know what? Ruben Östlund & Co. did good. I probably would have shifted some of their choices around a little bit, but overall they did not pick one bad film from an exceptional lineup, forever securing the legacy of Cannes’ 76th edition, and that’s more than you can say for most festival juries.
More thoughts below.
CALLED IT! As I mentioned, there are a lot of great scripts in contention this year, but there’s something undeniable about Yûji Sakamoto’s work on MONSTER. Complex in structure yet always relatable, insightful, humane, it’s an all-around remarkable piece of writing. Very glad the jury picked up on it. Considering its broader appeal as a mystery and the emotional payoff at the end, submission by Japan in the international feature category seems likely.
Kôji Yakusho (PERFECT DAYS)
Ok, so I over-thought this one. Yakusho carried PERFECT DAYS and delivered a soulful, moving performance largely without dialogue. In the wrong hands, this could come off as gimmicky but he absolutely nailed it. My theory that the film would go on to win a bigger prize proved unfounded and the actual best actor won the best actor prize. Delightful.
It will also be interesting to see if Japan ends up choosing this Tokyo-set drama – made by German director Wim Wenders – over MONSTER for Oscar consideration.
Merve Dizdar (ABOUT DRY GRASSES)
I included Dizdar on my list of contenders so it’s not completely unexpected, but this is still somewhat of a surprise because her role is a supporting one, despite the film being 3+ hours long, and the competition is stiff. Dizdar’s victory is NOT 2016 (where Jaclyn Jose infamously beat the trio of Sandra Hüller, Isabelle Huppert, Sonia Braga seemingly out of nowhere) all over again though, for her performance and especially the film are both strong. I didn’t get to write about Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s gripping, thoughtful opus, but I’m happy the jury made sure to include it on the winners’ list. It’s a definite highlight of this year’s selection.
Poor Sandra Hüller. After being hailed as the shoo-in in 2016 (for TONI ERDMANN) and delivering not one but TWO phenomenal performances this year, the best actress prize slipped through her fingers once again. But she’s probably not too sad about this seeing how the evening turned out.
Trần Anh Hùng (THE POT AU FEU)
No question the biggest surprise of the night. I’m not mad at this though. THE POT AU FEU is 2 hours and 14 minutes of people cooking, eating and flirting. Aptly described in some corners as the MAD MAX: FURY ROAD of gastronomy, it is a period romance on steroids that’s relentlessly self-involved to the point of being kinda radical. It’s also the Frenchest film imaginable. I wouldn’t call it the best directed film of this lineup, but this movie is a lovely time. Submission by France for the Oscar race probably a done deal.
Prix du Jury
My bet on CLUB ZERO didn’t pay off, but very pleased the jury made sure to recognize Aki Kaurismäki and his simply wonderful film. FALLEN LEAVES is about two people who are down on their luck and struggling to stay afloat. It also keeps reminding us of the bleak, war-torn world we live in. And yet by the magic of Kaurismäki’s singular cinematic language, it turned out to be the most joyous film of the lineup that will bring a smile to your face. Loved it.
THE ZONE OF INTEREST
Ok so the best film of the lineup won second place. I can live with that. People need to remember that ground-breaking films like this always polarize and often get passed over in a jury vote. Glazer’s last feature UNDER THE SKIN, for example, famously won nothing at the 70th Venice Film Festival. In this sense, we should all be grateful the jury was not alienated/upset/offended by Glazer’s mad, frightening vision and that another masterpiece now has a firm place in Cannes history.
ANATOMY OF A FALL
Justine Triet’s film is obviously not my pick for the top prize but I did love it, especially for its tremendous writing and the top-notch performances. Using the investigative rigor of a murder trial to search for truth in a relationship, it’s riveting, thought-provoking and often surprising. A solid if not perfect choice in such a banner year. This is of course the third time a female-directed film won the Palme d’Or after THE PIANO and TITANE. I believe it’s also the first time the Palme Dog winner simultaneously won the Palme d’Or – wait ‘til you see what Snoop did in this, it borders on special effects.
And yes, Cannes is really trying to make Sandra Hüller the Queen of the Universe this year by awarding both films starring her the top two prizes. You won’t catch me complaining. What a mighty performer. The range she shows in THE ZONE OF INTEREST and ANATOMY OF A FALL is staggering.
So that’s it for another exciting, exhausting, rewarding trip to Cannes, signing off for now. Make sure to seek out the winner films when you can, this year they’re actually a bunch of absolute winners.