Trying to predict the winners of the annual Cannes Film Festival is a bit of a fool’s errand. After all, the awards are decided upon by a small group of artists and industry professionals with their own tastes and priorities; it’s anyone’s guess what they’ll end up gravitating towards. That much was made abundantly clear yesterday, when George Miller and his fellow jurors—a group that included Kirsten Dunst, Donald Sutherland, Mads Mikkelsen, and French director Arnaud Desplechin—brought Cannes to a close with their official picks for best of the festival. To say that the winners defied expectations is an understatement.
Mel Gibson, star of Miller’s first three Mad Max movies, was on hand to present the Palme D’Or—the Best Picture prize of the competition lineup—to venerated British director Ken Loach for his latest naturalistic ode to the struggles of the working class. I, Daniel Blake, about an ailing carpenter (stand-up comedian Dave Johns) battling Social Services for disability, screened early in the festival and was warmly received, although plenty—including our own man on the scene, Mike D’Angelo—were quick to note that the film was basically business as usual for Loach, now a two-time Palme winner.
The decision might have been met with less puzzlement had this been an off year for Cannes. But more than a few of the competition selections earned passionate raves from the press in attendance. By far the most beloved film of the festival, at least among film critics, was the reportedly uproarious father-daughter dramedy Toni Erdmann, from German writer-director Maren Ade. The film didn’t just top the annual critics’ poll conducted by Screen International, which tracks responses to the competition titles day by day. It actually scored the highest average rating in the history of the poll, with a 3.8 out of 4. Critics also loved Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson, starring Adam Driver as a bus-driving poet, as well as the last competition title screened, Paul Verhoeven’s rape-revenge thriller Elle.
None of these films won any awards. Miller and company further proved how out of sync they were with the critical consensus by handing the Grand Prix (honorable mention, essentially) to French-Canadian director Xavier Dolan, whose stage adaptation It’s Only The End Of The World earned some of the worst reviews of the fest. Dolan, who trashed his critics earlier in the week, gave a trembling acceptance speech that—if nothing else—has gifted the world an amazing new reaction-shot GIF.
In one of the few overlaps of jury and press enthusiasm, the Jury Prize (or third place) went to another U.K. filmmaker, Andrea Arnold, who has now won this particular prize three times at Cannes. (Her American Honey, a U.S.-set road movie featuring Shia Labeouf, was favored for the Palme in some critical corners, though not our own.) Meanwhile, the jury issued a split decision for Best Director, handing it to former Palme winner Cristian Mungiu (for his reportedly, reliably exacting Romanian drama Graduation) and French filmmaker Oliver Assayas (for his reportedly ambitious, divisive Personal Shopper, starring Kristen Stewart).
The Salesman, from Iranian director Asghar Farhadi (A Separation), picked up two awards: one for Farhadi’s screenplay, the other a Best Actor prize for Shahab Hosseini, who plays a stage actor whose wife is assaulted in their home. Best Actress was another out-of-nowhere surprise, as the jury went for Jaclyn Jose in Philippine director Brillante Mendoza’s Ma Rosa—a film many insist is an ensemble piece without a lead performance. Jose beat out some stiff competition, including Stewart, Sandra Hüller in Toni Erdmann, Elle Fanning in Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon, Isabelle Huppert in Elle, and Adèle Haenel in the Dardenne brothers’ The Unknown Girl.
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