Oh what a gorgeously complicated and enjoyable Cannes it’s been and the jury’s award choices have added to the gaiety and joy of it all. It was an accidental dramatic masterstroke to give Céline Sciamma the Best Screenplay prize. Her magnificent film Portrait of a Lady on Fire had been so many critics’ main hope for the Palme d’Or, not least because it would have meant only the second time a woman would have won it, but it was not to be, and better that we were not kept on tenterhooks wondering which of the top two prizes it would get.
That it was followed by a split-decision for the Jury Prize – between Ladj Ly for his magnificently choreographed banlieu police thriller Les Misérables and Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles’s hugely inventive quasi-western Bacarau – was, more than anything, an acknowledgment that this Cannes has been all about genre films, and these two were both so surprising and pleasurable and full of mayhem. Mendonça Filho is a former critic who used to report Cannes and so was particularly astonished to find himself on the Grand Theatre Lumière stage.
The surprises kept coming with the Best Director prize going to Cannes veterans the Dardenne brothers. Young Ahmed, their portrait of a teenager heavily influenced by Islamic fundamentalism, is a more muted and enigmatic affair than their other films, and was less lauded by the critics, but its dramatic ending (which I won’t reveal) leaves your head spinning and it was certainly more fluent in making its point than Ken Loach’s Sorry We Missed You, which Loach has said will be his last film in Cannes.
One has to feel tremendous sympathy for Pedro Almodóvar, who has never won a Palme d’Or and who gave it his best shot with the autobiographical portrait Pain and Glory. But he might have guessed he would instead gift Antonio Banderas with his best-ever role and performance, a really nuanced and subtle mirroring of his director’s traits for which he is a well-deserved winner of the Best Actor Prize. Emily Beecham’s Best Actress win for Jessica Hausner’s Little Joe gives the newspapers a surprise British triumph, and she is the best thing about this superbly controlled science fiction tale of plant life using humans to maintain their species.
Thus far the mix of surprise and cunning of these choices reflected how rich the competition was this year, but with the Grand Prix award my heart soared. Mati Diop’s Atlantics is such a sumptuous, dazzling, dreamlike film with a heartbreaking theme of the murderous cost of greed. Obviously this was the evening’s second triumph for a woman, but Diop is also the first black female director to have a film in Cannes’s competition, and what a debut it is.
Suspense was maintained to the end by the presence in the hall of Quentin Tarantino – for which he deserves much credit, knowing, as he must have, that he would get nothing for Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood, the one film that pulled the crowds and the press coverage. I loved the film and thought it a return at least to genuine emotion and a sense of what works as cinema. I did not feel the same way about Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life, and can’t say I’m sorry that it came away with nothing.
But the night was Bong Joon-ho’s. Yet again a Korean film is perhaps the best in Cannes (I certainly felt that way about Burning last year). Parasite is the sophisticates’ choice, a multi-layered anarchic comedy with political punch. It’s real gemlike treat of a film.
Congratulations to all, especially the jury who’ve done such a fine job.