None were remotely as ambitious as "Winter Sleep," or had its depth or profundity. Just as "Tree of Life" grappled with the meaning of life, this film tackled head on the purpose of life along with morality and conscience. For three hours and sixteen minutes in a series of lengthy conversations that are of Biblical proportions flowing naturally from one to another, it examines what makes people who they are confronting the hardest of truths while digging to their innermost recesses.
The first is between the father of a young boy who has thrown a rock at a truck breaking its side window and the lead character in the movie, Haluk Biilginer, one of the two men in the truck at the time. The son has been poisoned against Bilginer by his father, as he is his landlord and recently was responsible for the repossession of their TV and refrigerator for not paying their rent. The father is a volatile ex-con who hasn't been able to find work since serving a six-month sentence. Like many of the conversations it starts out reasonably but then escalates to anger and rage.
The landlord runs a small hotel in the spectacular Cappadocia region of central Turkey that is a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its fairy chimneys and eroded "Badlands" landscape.The hotel is carved out of one of the many dazzling sandstone mounds in the valley. The landlord is a former actor and writes a column for the local newspaper. In one of the conversations his sister tells him his writing isn't as good as he thinks it is and says a column he is particularly proud of "stinks of sentimentality." He doesn't get angry at first, but the conversation leads to a full appraisal of both of their life's with each speaking harsh truths, just as goes on throughout the movie. Unlike "Mommy," where such confrontations were shouting matches, these are written with the depth and veracity of great literature. They penetrate to the essence of what makes individuals who they are, such as it would take a year of therapy to achieve. There are similar extraordinary conversational battles with his much younger estranged wife who lives in separate quarters of their house and a teacher at the local school he doesn't respect.
One of the themes of the movie is the contrast between the haves and have nots as the Dardennes and Loach attempted in their films. Ceylan goes well beyond with a simple grace their less than fully flushed out takes on the issue even though that was the main thrust of their movies. Though the others were well-received, Ceylan makes their versions seem superficial and demonstrates why many were disappointed that they didn't go further than they did. They clearly did not put the extra effort into their scripts as did Ceylan. This was truly a great film for all of the ages. Of course its running time and all the talk will be daunting to many, and a different jury could have penalized it for that, but fortunately this jury did not and immortalized if with the Palm d'Or.
The jury also recognized the other great film in the festival, "Foxcatcher," by giving Bennett Miller the best director award, something juries often do. These two films stood head and shoulders above all the others. The jury could have doled out their five other awards to any of the other all very good films other than Egoyan's. Giving the best actor award to Timothy Spall was no surprise. He gave one of the best acceptance speeches in Cannes history holding stage for nearly five minutes fumbling through a speech he had composed on his phone while flying from Holland, where he had been working on his boat before being summoned back to the festival at noon today to receive his award. He tearfully said the award was as much as Mike Leigh's as his. They have worked together for 33 years and spent three years on this film. "Mike made me start learning to paint two years ago," he said.
Xavier Dolan also tearfully accepted the Jury Prize award that he shared with Godard, the youngest and oldest directors in the Competition. He told jury president Jane Campion that it was seeing her film "The Piano" as a fifteen year old that inspired him to become a filmmaker and to portray strong women characters with soul and will and strength and not as victims. Godard hadn't been at the festival to present his film nor to come to accept his award.
The other three awards were all somewhat surprises, but gave understanding to the juries thinking process. It had almost been considered a given that Marion Cotillard would win the best actress award on the grounds that she was due after being overlooked the past two years and also because her film deserved an award. The jury rather than being sentimental gave the award to what many thought was truly the best performance by Julianne Moore in the Cronenberg film. I won't know for sure until tomorrow when I will finally see it. Moore wasn't able to return to accept her award.
A bigger surprise than that was the Italian film "The Wonders" winning the Grand Prix. Here was the Jane Campion influence awarding one of the two female directors in the Competition. No one expected this. A jury is often influenced by recognizing a film by an unknown to give it some attention rather than giving it to a better film by a known director who doesn't need the help of an award. So it was here.
The screen writing award went to "Leviathan," a big disappointment to Ralph and its other supporters who thought it should have won the Palm d'Or. That had to be a compromise choice by the jury, as there were other much better scripts, but evidently strong supporters who wanted to recognize it with some award, having to settle for the least of the awards.
Another surprise was the jury neglecting "Timbukto," a smaller film by the Mauitanian director Abderrahmane Sissako that I was able to see this morning. It was a film that an award could have helped and about a pressing current issue, armed Islamic fundamentalists pushing their agenda on a small town banning music and soccer and forcing women to wear gloves and socks in public at all time. Its subject matter was certainly more topical than the bee keeping of "The Wonders," though its film-making not so dazzling despite the spectacular Sahara landscapes and the authentic performances of its cast.
My day included another African film, "Run," from the Ivory Coast. It was a lesser film of someone who assassinates the prime minister of a country and then goes into hiding. I was joined by Gary Meyer, former director of the Telluride Film Festival and now its lead curator, at this screening. Afterwards we headed to the Soixante to see "Mommy," which he had missed and I was curious to see again to try to appreciate it more than I did at my first screening. But it was sold out, allowing us to dash up to the Director's Fortnight for its award winner "Love at First Bite," or "Les Combattants," its French title. I wasn't aware it was screening so I was actually pleased to be shut out of "Mommy."
We arrived just as it was starting and were the last ones allowed into this delightful romantic comedy. The first fight is a small grapple forced upon a guy and a girl by an army recruiter who has come to their town. The guy doesn't want to fight the girl, but the solid girl who thinks she is as tough as any guy is a willing participant in the exercise. When she takes him down and has him pinned he bites her arm to gain his release. Later they meet a second time when he comes to her parent's house to build a shed for their swimming pool. Neither is happy to see the other. But during his process of building their shed they warm up to each other and enlist together for a two-week military training camp.
Ralph and I were sorry to have to leave twenty minutes before its dramatic conclusion to see the always entertaining awards ceremony. Gary stuck it out. We were hoping to get together for dinner afterwards but failed to connect. That meant I could stay for the post-awards film "For a Fistful of Dollars," Clint Eastwood's spaghetti western from 1964 by Sergio Leone, played somewhat in honor of Quentin Tarantino in town for the 20th anniversary screening of "Pulp Fiction" and also to present the Palm d'Or along with Uma Thurman. The French truly love Tarantino, the consummate cinephile, and find a way to lure him to Cannes whenever they can.
I met up with Ralph afterwards at the Arcades for its final screening of the festival, "The Tale of the Princess," just planning to get a taste of this two-hour animated Japanese film that we knew would not have English subtitles. Ralph lived and worked in Tokyo for nearly a decade up to 1999 so speaks some of the language and appreciates its culture. We were both enjoying the film, but decided to leave after half an hour, hoping to get to catch up a little bit in our sleep, which hadn't been much more than five hours a night.
Usually the Awards Ceremony is on Sunday, the final day of the festival. It was moved up a day not to conflict with the European elections. Without the awards signaling the final day of the festival we had one more day of cinema to look forward to. I will be able to complete the full roster of the Competition films with Godard's and Cronenberg's and also two of the award-winning Un Certain Regards films--Wenders' doc and also "Turist," a Swedish film that takes place at a ski resort. It ought to be Another Great Day of Cinema.