In a year where no one film appeared to set the Croisette alight, the Competition jury’s awards seemed set to be a particularly mixed bag. Of course, attempting to predict the Cannes results is an even more foolhardy errand than tracking the Oscars – with a new selection of jurors every year, there’s no accounting for past tastes. One can try to guess what Jane Campion would favor based on her personal style and industry presence, but one never knows where or if a filmmaker’s patterns of production and consumption will overlap – Steven Spielberg and his jury going for “Blue Is the Warmest Color” last year is a pretty sterling example of the left-field subversion that can pop up at any moment.
So what did Campion and crew decide on in the end? Let’s take a brief look:
Palme d’Or (first place): “Winter’s Sleep,” Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Grand Prix (second place): “The Wonders,” Alice Rohrwacher
Best Director: Bennett Miller, “Foxcatcher”
Prix du Jury (third place): (TIE) “Goodbye to Language,” Jean-Luc Godard, and “Mommy,” Xavier Dolan
Best Actor: Timothy Spall, “Mr. Turner”
Best Actress: Julianne Moore, “Maps to the Stars”
Best Screenplay: “Leviathan,” Andrei Zvyagintsev
Camera d’Or (best debut in the Official Selection): “Party Girl,” Marie Amachoukeli-Barsacq, Claire Burger, Samuel Theis
It’s rare that the odds-on favorite going into the festival actually prevails at Cannes, but that’s what happened this time, with Turkish director Ceylan’s three-hour, philosophical/conversational essay piece “Winter’s Sleep” winning over Campion’s jury and reasserting just about every stereotype of art-house cinema in the process. It was one of the more divisive entries in the Competition, with responses torn between admiration for Ceylan’s ambition and formal abilities and quite a bit of eye-rolling at what many will perceive as a pretentious and self-indulgent excuse for a diatribe. But Ceylan is one of the most respected international filmmakers that you’ve never heard of – he’s won the Grand Prix twice and Best Director once at this festival before, so there certainly was a sense that he was in line to be rewarded.
The late-breaking “Leviathan,” which screened second to last in the Competition and seemed to emerge as the critical consensus choice for the Palme, had to make do with the relatively minor award for Best Screenplay. I would say not to be too concerned for the film’s fate, that it would appear marked for some end-of-year critic’s picks and a run at the Foreign Language Film Oscar, but Zvyagintsev’s parabolic indictment of social corruption has already run afoul of the Putin regime – the Russian Ministry of Culture has already expressed its displeasure with the film’s critical commentary, and its chances of being selected as the country’s Oscar submission seem low. I try not to second-guess festival picks, considering I have of course not seen any of the films in question, but this seems something of a missed opportunity to truly stand up for freedom of expression on a major international stage.
One thing we could almost certainly count on was that Campion, the only female director ever to win the Palme, and her female-majority jury (Sofia Coppola, French actress Carole Bouquet, Iranian actress Leila Hatami, and South Korean actress Jeon Do-yeon being joined by Willem Dafoe, Gael García Bernal, Nicolas Winding Refn and Chinese director Jia Zhangke) would support the notoriously underrepresented women filmmakers in the Competition. And indeed, first-time competitor Alice Rohrwacher’s “Dogtooth”-esque family/beekeeping tale “The Wonders” was something of a “surprise” pick for the runner-up Grand Prix slot. For a moment even, tracking the announcements live, I thought the two women might go one-two, as rumors had been swirling that Naomi Kawase had also been called back to the Cannes red carpet. That would have been a mighty bold statement to the festival organizers, but “Still the Water” went home empty-handed after all, probably to the delight of a number of snarky Twitterers who jumped on the director earlier in the week for seeming to “beg” for the Palme. Surely, publicly calling one’s own film “my masterpiece” is asking for trouble, but I can’t help but think she was just trying to take pride in her work and that ultimately, all that matters is whether the film delivers or not – as is the case with every single other movie, ever.
The jury did also reward two more of the festival’s scant female filmmakers with the Camera d’Or, the selection for the best debut film by a director anywhere in the Official Selection (including not only the Competition slate, but the Un Certain Regard and Director’s Fortnight sidebars). The co-created “Party Girl” was one of the most well-received Un Certain Regard selections, so it certainly seems a worthy choice – Ryan Gosling’s less-loved “Lost River” will surely get its fair share of attention stateside anyway. The typical aversion of Cannes juries to American fare that is all but guaranteed to resurface later in the year makes the selection of Bennett Miller for Best Director for his third feature, “Foxcatcher,” all the more impressive. It’s a strong start to what will now be a very long awards season for the film and its well-received performances from Steve Carell and Channing Tatum; but let’s not start thinking about that just yet.
Elsewhere, old Cannes mainstays Ken Loach and the Dardennes brothers shockingly came away with nothing from the jury – the Dardennes failing to pick up any prize at all for the first time ever in their Competition careers. But the old guard was represented by cinema’s greatest curmudgeon, as Jean-Luc Godard’s typically inscrutable string of images (now in 3D!) “Goodbye to Language” took half of the third-place Jury Prize. He shared with Xavier Dolan and “Mommy,” one of the more formally daring and much-discussed entries; an unexpectedly appropriate gesture, considering the Canadian enfant terrible‘s certain stylistic resemblance to a young Godard, and a kind of poignant recognition of both the youngest and eldest filmmakers in the Competition in one fell swoop.
Finally, Campion’s jury summarized its mix of the eclectic and the expected with its acting choices: Timothy Spall’s performance as J.M.W. Turner, like “Winter’s Sleep,” had widely been pegged as a winner before the festival even started, while Julianne Moore’s broadly satiric comic turn in David Cronenberg’s gonzo “Maps to the Stars” was a more off-beat choice. Moore becomes only the fourth actor ever (after Juliette Binoche, Sean Penn and Jack Lemmon) to collect leading acting prizes from all three of the major European festivals at Cannes, Venice and Berlin.
Other films that were broadly admired but perhaps not adored, including Olivier Assayas’s “Clouds of Sils Maria,” the Dardennes’ “Two Nights, One Day,” Abderrahmane Sissako’s “Timbuktu” and Damián Szifrón’s “Wild Tales” will hope to find their audiences even without a Cannes prize. In a year where only Atom Egoyan’s “The Captive” and Michel Hazanavicius’ “The Search” were generally dismissed and/or reviled, something had to give. As always, we are left wondering why certain titles from Un Certain Regard (“Party Girl,” Jessica Housner’s “Amour Fou,” Ned Benson’s “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby,” Ruben Östland’s “Force Majeure,” Kornél Mundruczó’s “White God”) couldn’t have made the leap, but so it goes. Another year, as Mike Leigh might put it.