On the grand night of the world’s greatest movie festival on Sunday at Cannes, critics and punters were proved wrong when the nine-member Pedro Almodovar jury gave away the top award, Palm d’ Or, to the Swedish film, The Square.
Helmed by Ruben Ostlund, The Square is about a art gallery owner whose life takes a strange swing after he is robbed of his phone and wallet on the street. A long movie – which to this critic was not one of the best – The Square takes a roller-coaster ride with a bizarre scene where a man is asked to play an ape at a gallery publicity campaign which eventually gets out of hand. But then the film also has other elements like racial prejudice, and is of course stylishly made. But it is quite possible that the American actor Terry Notary, who essays the gallery boss, must have swung the jury’s verdict with his extremely gripping, but understated performance.
Yet, the best actor trophy did not go to Notary, and one suspects that the Cannes jury has this long tradition of spreading the honours among as many works as possible. Which is really not a good thing. The best actor title went to Joaquin Phoenix for his role in Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here – and many, though not this writer – had hoped that she would clinch the Palm, becoming the only other woman director after Jane Campion (for her Piano, which came a long, long time ago) to do so. However, Ramsay shared the screenplay award with Yorgos Lanthimos for The Killing of a Sacred Deer from Greece.
Phoenix was of course superb as a former soldier employed by a private company to do dirty jobs for the rich. When he is asked to rescue the teenage daughter from a den of drug traffickers, things go horribly wrong.
Robin Campillo’s 120 Beats Per Minutes walked away with the Festival’s second most important Grand Prize. Not this critic’s favourite though. The movie is about an Aids movement in Paris in the late 1980s and 1990s that traces the irresponsible political establishment and the ruthlessness of pharmaceutical companies, accused of withholding a cure. With a feel of a documentary, one found the film a trifle too passe.
Sofia Coppola was adjudged the best director for her steamy American Civil War narrative, The Beguiled, about how the young women in a boarding school are overcome with sexual jealousy and tension when a wounded soldier walks. The movie shows the most devious side of a woman, and we are left gasping when the school’s inmates plan a murder, cold blooded and diabolic. And the plan to poison the soldier with mushroom comes from the youngest woman, just a girl, in the school run by Miss Martha, played with superb finesse by Nicole Kidman – who actually got the Festival’s 70th anniversary award. She was seen in several other Festival titles, including The Killing of a Sacred Deer where she plays a doctor – who finds herself helpless as she see her two children falling prey to black magic.
The best actress trophy was clinched by Diane Kruger, who essays the angst and anguish of a mother after she loses her six-year-old son in a neo-Nazi attack in Germany. The movie by Fatih Akin, In The Fade, moved this writer all right, but it did divide opinion. Some called it as propagating violence, especially the way Akin ends his work.
However, one feels that the jury’s biggest miss was Loveless from Russia by Andrey Zvyagintsev ( who gave us Leviathan). This should have taken the Palm dÓr, but instead had to settle for the Jury Prize. It deals with parental selfishness and how it shatters, even destroys, the lives of their children. A constantly bickering couple on the verge of separating find their 12-year-old son missing, a son they were trying to push on to the other. There is one scene which is virtually heart-rending: we see the little boy shutting himself in a room and crying after he hears his parents loudly disagreeing on his custody. This is no case of each wanting to keep the boy, but one where neither wants to have anything to do with him.
Here’s the complete list of winners:
Palme d’or: The Square by Ruben Ostlund
70th anniversary award: Nicole Kidman
Grand Prix: 120 Battements Par Minute by Robin Campillo
Best Director: Sofia Coppola for The Beguiled
Best performance by an actor: Joaquin Phoenix in You Were Never Really Here by Lynne Ramsay
Best performance by an actress: Diane Kruger in Aus Dem Nichts (In The Fade) by Fatih Akin
Jury Prize: Nelyubov (Loveless) by Andrey Zvyagintsev
Best Screenplay: Yorgos Lanthimos for The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, Lynne Ramsay for You Were Never Really Here