For the second year in a row the jury awarded the best director award to a Mexican, both times surprising all the prognosticators. The Carlos Reygados win last year was fully deserved, this year's to Amat Escalade for "Heli" not necessarily so, even though I have been one of the lone champions of this film all along, even writing yesterday that I hoped the jury would acknowledge it in some way. This film of contemporary Mexico and the horrible power of the drug forces was most commendable, though no where as extraordinary as last year's "After the Darkness, Light." There was no mistaking the influence of the true Mexican master, Reygados, with lingering shots, the pacing and so forth, on Escalade. It was most heartening that the jury gave "Heli" an award. One can hardly dispute the choice of this director-heavy jury, five of whose nine members are highly accomplished directors, perhaps the best collection of directors ever on a Cannes jury. Certainly so in the ten years I've been attending the festival.
Although "Blue Is the Warmest Color" had become the favorite to win the Palm d'Or, I wasn't so sure after seeing it earlier in the day after standing in line for ninety minutes to make sure I got in. It was a very exciting ninety minutes though, as my anticipation heightened minute by minute knowing I could be in for a great cinema experience based on all the buzz the film had generated. And I knew I shared that feeling with the thousand people in line with me.
Right away I was grabbed by the genuine dialogue of a cluster of high school girls discussing boys. It was clear the script had been written by someone who truly knew these characters and subject. That continued scene by scene. All the buzz on the film centered around the lesbian love scenes. It's at least half an hour into the film before high school junior Adele realizes that she likes girls rather than boys after a brief fling with a guy that her girl friends somewhat goaded her into. Even before that a blue-haired girl, who is a few years older than Adele, catches her eye in the distance as she walks along with her arm clutching another girl. They manage to connect in a gay bar where they have a brief conversation. Their next meeting is outside Adele's high school, alarming Adele's girl friends. Their relationship is slowly and realistically developed. It eventually leads to wildly passionate sex. It is most explicit, but not exploitative in the least.
Several of the bed room scenes go on and on with a non-stop crescendo of blissful, agonized moaning. Their bodies become entangled in every manner. It was truly remarkable film-making and acting. Half-way through this three-hour movie I felt it was a sure Palm d'Or winner. Half an hour later though it began to fizzle, and I began to fear all its hype was based on the electrifyingly graphic sex scenes. My mind began to wander, more looking forward to meeting my friend Andrew, who had just flown in from Bangkok with his bike to join me for the next few weeks, than the rest of the movie.
This was not a shoe-in for the Palm d'Or as some movies have been over the years. The jury would have some discussion. When I learned the FIBSCRI jury had awarded it its top prize, I thought that might jinx it, as not even half of the time do the two juries agree. But this year they did. In the post-ceremony press conference Spielberg and his fellow jurors emphasized they liked the movie so much because it was just a good love story. It did not matter to them that the lovers were women or that there was explicit sex. Spielberg said, "There was no politics in the room." When another questioner wanted the jury to comment on what statement they were making with awarding this film, juror Christoph Waltz impatiently snapped, speaking for the only time during the press conference, to drop all such talk. It was just a good movie, he reiterated.
It is hard for juries not to have some nationalism influence its choices. Italian films win awards when there is an Italian on the jury. That happened last year with "Reality" and several years before with "Gomorrah" and "Il Divo." There was no Italian on this year's jury, so "The Great Beauty" did not win an award despite predictions all round that it was a contender for the top prize. It being shut out was the biggest surprise of the evening. Nationalism prevailed. The two Hollywood-connected Americans on the jury saw to it that two American films won awards, "Nebraska" with Bruce Dern unexpectedly winning best actor, and "Inside Llewyn Davis" winning the runner-up to the Palm d'Or. Just as last year's jury president Nani Moretti allowed "Reality" to win an award shocking all, Ewen McGregor likewise last year saw to it that fellow Englishman Ken Loach won an award for one of his lesser movies, raising eyebrows all around.
The best actress award was another of this year's surprises, though not necessarily tainted, going to Berenice Bejo for her performance in "The Past." No one was more surprised than herself. Twice in her brief acceptance speech she tearfully commented, "I did not expect this." That is understandable, as she could see the two actresses from "Blue" in the audience and since only winners are called back to the ceremony, she figured it had to be them. She thought she was only there to share in a joint prize for her film, quite possibly the Palm d'Or, but the Spielberg jury pulled a trick and awarded the two actresses a joint Palm d'Or with the film, circumventing the rule that a picture can't get acting awards along with one of the best picture awards. The jury was firm in wanting to award both the film and the actresses, since their uninhibited performances were so extraordinary.
Both "A Touch of Sin" and "Like Father, Like Son" were expected award winners, though not necessarily for what they received, best screenplay for the Chinese film and the Jury prize for the Japanese film. It was a jury that might have only gotten one of the awards right, the top one, though it is all so subjective, there is no saying. There were half a dozen worthy winners of both the acting prizes. Those who won them weren't anticipated, but still, weren't undeserving. I even wrote in my review of "The Past" early in the festival, before many other great performances came along, that both leads could be awarded.
I managed to squeeze in portions of two other Competition films that I hadn't seen and also two that I had seen but liked so much was happy to see again. I began the day with the African film "Gris Gris," having to leave half-way through to get in line for "Blue." A different jury could have given it an award for its heartfelt portrayal of a young man in a small African town who is a spectacular dancer despite a deformed leg that leaves him with a pronounced limp.
I had no difficulty walking out on Jim Jarmusch 's "Only Lovers Left Alive" half-way through to go to the awards ceremony. This vampire story starring Tilda Swinton was astoundingly lifeless and inert without any of the off-kilter dialogue that are the hallmark of a Jarmusch film.
Polanski's "Venus in Fur" was even better the second time, just 24 hours after my first viewing. Spielberg and gang had to have some prejudice against Polanski not to give it an award. I notice there is a backlash against it, probably by the same people who did not like Abbas Kiorastami's "Certified Copy," as it has a similar sense of mystery to it that offends some. I also saw the first hour of Sorrentino's film a second time. It did not seem to flow as seamlessly and effortlessly as it did the first time, but I was watching it after the awards had been given and was perhaps projecting the jury's rejection of it.
I passed on the closing night film "Zulu" so I could watch the jury press conference on a large television outside the room where the press conference was being held. It only went on for 25 minutes and nothing of real substance was said other than that Spielberg let slip that the jury had full consensus on three of the awards, implying that it was good to have any consensus at all. No one followed up on that. Most of the questions were directed to Spielberg, though at one point he said, "Does anybody else want to answer the question, because I don't want to answer all of them."
Someone asked Nicole Kidman what were the best and worst parts of being on the jury. She just said that it was strange to watch movies sometimes at 8:30 in the morning and also at 10 at night. She said it was an entirely different experience seeing a movie so late. Spielberg said he enjoyed all his fellow jurors so much that he would like to take them all home with him. No one asked about the rumors that the jurors were watching movies on his $28 million yacht.