Over at Write out of L.A. I’ve been churning out (as the oh-so-clever title suggests) 70 posts to illustrate a huge handful of the winners over the decades of the Cannes Film Festival as it hits 70. And rather than just pick the topical “best” films to win the Palme d’Or, the lists of which you can find easily at this time of year, I wanted to also include the victors of some of the other prizes that are handed out. So while there are some Golden Palm winners in this collection, I have also included honorees of prizes in acting and writing, but also the Jury and Grand Prizes too – not to mention the En Certain Regard section, the Palme Dog, and the Queer Palm. Anyway, here are just 7 plucked from the list, and the marvelous history of Cannes, for your perusal.
2009 Prix Un Certain Regard:
Kynodontas / Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos)
Efthymis Filippou and Yorgos Lanthimos are almost the definition of original with their mesmerizing screenplay for Dogtooth. A penetrating, mind-boggling family drama, something you are not prepared for, and unwilling to let go. For me, the movie has aged like a wine I was not entirely sure how to place the first taste, but as time goes by my admiration and awe for the picture grows. Not only that, the film triggers deep curiosities and fears, whether you can fully grasp what they are or not – about adolescence, about parenthood, about the supposed big, bad world. Taking the prize for Un Certain Regard in Cannes 2009, Dogtooth put the Greek filmmaker firmly on the map. He would be a prize-winner again with The Lobster, and once again competes in 2017 with The Killing of a Sacred Deer.
1978 Prix d’interprétation féminine:
Isabelle Huppert (Violette Nozière)
Sharing the Best Actress prize with the then more universally well-known Jill Clayburgh for An Unmarried Woman, was fresh-faced, 25 year-old Isabelle Huppert, playing a young woman hiding her taboo profession from her parents in Claude Chabrol’s magnetic Violette Nozière. Huppert was no stranger to French audiences, an up-and-coming star in the making. What we know now, in a filmography crammed with performances of the highest order, is that Huppert deserves mention alongside the American greats a la Meryl Streep, Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn – though fans of the French actress like moi could understandably be perturbed by such comparisons as she warrants incredible merit on her own terms. In Violette Nozière, Huppert balances the clandestine, the wry gaze, the seductive poise, with the boiling emotion, impressive outbursts, elements of her acting we’ve long since come accustomed to and in admiration of. A regular it seems at Cannes, Huppert would win again in 2001, and feature in many, many films in and out of competition – but it took 40 years for AMPAS to finally nominate her.
2012 Queer Palm:
Laurence Anyways (Xavier Dolan)
Laurence Anyways (2012) is a well-thought out tale of the turbulent love between Frédérique and Laurence, who no longer wants to live as a man, but as a woman. Writer, editor, and director Xavier Dolan (then 23, sickening), has already been hailed as a master of movie-making, seemingly crafting on his own terms, and with each new venture shining a light on a new aspect of his ability. No stranger to Cannes, the Canadian may as well move there, with an array of awards in such a short, flourishing career. I Killed My Mother won three prizes at the Director’s Fortnight, Heartbeats then repeated the Regards Jeunes Prize win, Mommy shared the Jury Prize with none other than Jean-Luc Godard, before It’s Only the End of the World took both the Grand Prize of the Jury and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury just last year. Oh, and in 2015 Dolan was a member of the competition jury. Sheesh. Laurence Anyways was part of the Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2012, in which the outstanding Suzanne Clément won Best Actress, and the film was awarded the Queer Palm.
1986 Prix du Jury:
Thérèse (Alain Cavalier)
Alain Cavalier‘s film of Thérèse, and her longing to commune with God, is an extraordinary experience, told with intricate poise and grace, the religious pleasure a saint like Thérèse can feel is hardly inaccessible. Winner of 6 César Awards in 1986, defeating the likes of 37°2 le matin, and Jean de Florette, Thérèse shone brightly in Cannes too, not only winning the Jury Prize, but also garnering a Special Mention with the Ecumenical Jury. Truth be told, and this will not be everyone’s cup of tea, there is no film quite like it. The visual style has a kind of elaborate, human restraint, while director Cavalier and cinematographer Philippe Rousselot capture within the frame a lingering, provoking nature. There is little reason for lavish sets and props, instead items are isolated, and the film’s use of minimal scenery and production design is by no means a reflection of budget restraints – nor does it ever cheapen the atmosphere. Rather this simplistic tool segregates not only the characters, almost like a theater sound stage, but also us, the audience, without making it claustrophobic. Cavalier’s direction dictates the pace, what we see, and ultimately how and when we experience it. The central performance by Catherine Mouchet is riveting and resonates with a hopeful, sullen beauty – the striking resemblance to Thérèse too is easy to see.
1997 Palme d’Or:
Ta’m e guilass / Taste of Cherry (Abbas Kiarostami)
Abbas Kiarostami is a name you ought to know. Crafting some truly memorable, intelligent, authentic depictions of social Iran, the film-maker knows his culture like the back of his hand. In 1997, Ta’m-e gilas (Taste of Cherry) shared the Palme d’Or win with Shohei Imamura’s The Eel. It was quite a victory, given what the film has to say about a composed, planned suicide, and the intellectual, philosophical conversations that Mr Badii (brilliantly subtle Homayoun Ershadi) the protagonist has as he drives around rural Tehran in search of someone to assist him in his post-ritual wishes. The characters he encounters are finely tuned, and offer Mr Badii varying perspectives of right and wrong, but also the deep-seated morality and consequences of his actions. Seemingly going ahead with his plan during a thunderstorm we are given the seconds to ponder on the outcome – Kiarostami turns the narrative on its head in the final moments, blending the bemusing with the genius.
2014 Palm Dog:
Canine cast of Fehér isten / White God (Kornél Mundruczó)
The Palm Dog Award at the Cannes Film Festival is no joke, gloriously honoring the performance of the dog variety in film. Look at terrific previous winners like Lucy (Wendy and Lucy), Mops (Marie Antoinette), and of course the late, great Uggie (The Artist), and then tell me this is not a bone-afide merit (pun intended). In 2014 the Palm Dog was awarded to a canine ensemble, led by Body / Luke as Hagen, in the Hungarian film Fehér isten (White God) directed by Kornél Mundruczó. Teenager Lili fights for her companionship with her dog Hagen against family, school, but it is the vengeful dog that seeks Lili out. It is a gripping movie in its own right, but the sequences with the dogs in action are executed so proficiently the credit to the film-makers, and the dogs as cast members, is completely warranted. Fehér isten also scooped the Prize Un Certain Regard.
2016 Caméra d’Or:
Divines (Houda Benyamina)
A significant shout-out to a new, breakthrough film-makers will vie for the Caméra d’Or (Golden Camera, naturally) at the Cannes Film Festival, and last year that honor went to Divines, directed by Houda Benyamina. Part of the Directors’ Fortnight section, Divines tells the gritty, refreshing, engaging story of Parisian slumdogs, or two teenagers in particular living in poverty, turning to running errands and eventual drug liaisons for the local dealer. Headed by an outstanding lead performance by Oulaya Amamra (the director’s little sister) as Dounia, Divines is bold in its depiction of youngsters in their journey through education, street-life, family feuds, potential romance, and that longing and ambition to escape the shackles and explore adulthood with a free mind. Benyamina exudes a deft social tone, themes we’ve experienced before, but given a fresh flavor and real compelling vigour. The stark contrasts between the rough-around-the-edges lifestyle and deep emotional seed is portrayed with unflinching brilliance, again shone brightly through Amamra’s commanding turn.