So we had to go over to the Palais complex and stand for an hour with a cluster of others in front of one of the several small televisions scattered around the sprawling complex. The volume wasn’t very loud and whenever someone spoke in English it was drowned out by the simultaneous French translation. We couldn’t fully appreciate the eloquence of jury president Cate Blanchett’s opening remarks nor the speeches of the award winners nor the special harangue by Italian actress Asia Argento that Harvey Weinstein had raped her at Cannes in 1997 when she was 21. She said it was nice to know that he would never be back. She should have added he ought to be behind bars.
Spike Lee was in the audience, indicating that he had been brought back to Cannes for one of the seven awards the jury hands out. When it came down to the last two and he hadn’t been called to the stage, it looked as if he might have won the Palm d’Or he thought he deserved for “Do the Right Thing” in 1989 but was beaten out by “Sex, Lies and Videotape.” Once again he was awarded the Grand Prix, but he made no fess about it, just yet. He had to be thrilled to be given any award for this very average film that just happened to be politically relevant. In the press conference for the jury afterwards French actress Lea Seydoux said, “fundamentally we knew we had to give it an award,” despite Blanchette emphasizing that at the very outset the jury had agreed not to let politics influence their decisions, just the quality of the films. It didn’t hurt Lee either that Director Ava Duverney was on the jury as she said that she had always been a strong admirer of Lee and he had been a great influence on her.
Every jury has at least one highly queationable choice. Other than that, this jury made easily defensible selections, other than not awarding Nuri Bilge Ceylon’s highly ambitious film any award. Some might question it for not giving “Burning,” the Korean film that received the highest score ever from Screen magazine’s panel of critics, any award, but not Ralph or I. We both cheered that. Hirokazu Kare-eda’s “Shoplifters” about a Japanese family struggling to get by was a most deserving Palm d’Or winner. Nadine Labaki’s “Capernaum” about a Lebanese 12-year surviving in Beirut was a perfect Jury winner, though some thought it deserved the Grand Prix that Lee was given or even the Palm d’Or. That would have been extraordinary if it had, but not without justification.
Pawel Pawlikowski merited best director for “Cold War” following a love affair in and out of Poland for several decades during the Cold War. Little argument could be made about the best actor and actress awards either—Marcello Fonte as a twerpy kennel operator in the Italian gangster movie “Dogman” and Samal Yesyamova in the Russian film “My Little One” as an illegal immigrant in snowy Moscow frantically trying to find work. I had seen the film earlier in the day, the only Competition film I had missed. It was obvious this film would receive some award, especially with a Russian on the jury. The film is shot in a non-stop snowstorm with snow plows a featured element. It was an even more harrowing tale of survivsl with everything stacked against one than the Lebanese film. Yesyamova has just given birth and escapes the hospital without her baby since she knows she can’t care for it and has to work even though she is hemorrhaging. She meets a couple of decent souls in her struggle, but most of those she deals with are predators of some sort. Not only the character she plays but the role itself had demands beyond comprehension.
The Italian film “Happy as Lazarro” and “Three Faces” from Iran shared the best screenplay, allowing the jury to dispense one more than the usual seven awards, and then they went one further by giving Godard a special Palm d’Or aa his film defied all norms. Blanchett said the jury couldn’t stop talking about it, but because it was so unique and unclasifiable, they had to put it in a category of its own. Blanchett was the star of the press conference, highly articulate and cogent. Towards the end Duvernay complimented her for “exquisite” handling of the jury, drawing out and paying attention to all eight under her command. Canadian director Denis Villenenve sat beside her, clearly serving as her chief assistant. The two of them did the bulk of the talking. Kristen Stewart didn’t utter a peep nor did several other of the jurors. It will be available on YouTube, and will be well worth viewing.
Much as I needed to, I didn’t sleep in as the film I most wanted to see again, “Summer,” about rock-and-rollers in early 1980 Leningrad was playing at 8:30 on repeat Saturday of all the Competition films. I joined the long line at eight and was lucky to get in to the 500 seat Soixante, the second largest of the five theaters hosting the repeat screenings. The Debussy, the largest with 2000 seats, was playing “Cold War,” “Blackkklansmam” and “Shoplifters,” the festival guessing those were the three films people would most want to see. It was as if they had a foreboding of the jury’s choices. It was no surprise they programmed “Burning” in one of the smallest theaters.
I was bowled over once again by the “Pscho Killer” scene in “Summer” and a second show-stopping fantasy scene of a concert when the band on stage and the audience let loose, sending the crew of men in suits monitoring the concert into a frenzy trying to get everyone to contain themselves and threatening them with jail. Preceding the homage to the Talking Heads, who the band members refer to as “the heads that talk,” the rock and rollers are berated for being a disgrace to the motherland and for singing songs of the enemy. They reply that the Sex Pistols are working boys and aren’t the enemy as the same for the Beatles. The film didn’t have a strong enough thread to earn it any awards, but it remains one of my favorite films of many from this year’s smorgasbord. I was turned away from both “Shoplifters” and the Godard film later in the day, and was only able to get into to the lesser Japanese film “Asako” before “My Little One.” It was a fantastic time once again, but I am more than ready to return to the bike and exalt myself in a physical manner.