France wins big, Italy, Blanchett lose out in Cannes

25 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Cannes 2015: French film Dheepan wins coveted Palme d’Or prize.

Dheepan, a French film about a former Tamil Tiger paramilitary seeking a new life in France, has been variously reviewed as an “unremarkable drama” that runs for long periods “with nothing much happening”.

It was a bit of a surprise for the critics when the jury choose the winning film, which is about refugees fleeing post-civil war Sri Lanka and going to France.The Palme d’Or was awarded to Jacques Audiard for his film that sees a Tamil Tiger use the know-how he picked up from fighting the Sri Lankan Civil War to survive the hardships and difficulties faced by immigrants living in the suburbs of Paris.

The film was awarded four stars by The Times, describing the story of the fighter and the people who pose as his wife and daughter as an “intimate and carefully observed portrait of three strangers clinging to the secret that might just save them”. True to eccentric form, the American filmmakers and 2015 Cannes jury heads brought this year’s festival to a close with an offbeat, even controversial set of prizes that had journalists in the press room wiping away tears one minute, scratching their heads — and even booing — the next. While Audiard has drawn widespread acclaim for films such as A Prophet and Rust and Bone, some critics were disappointed by the thriller climax of Dheepan. “This isn’t a jury of film critics,” Joel Coen told reporters after the awards ceremony, alongside fellow jurors like Guilliermo del Toro and Jake Gyllenhaal. Dheepan is a radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head, and takes a faceless immigrant coming from a war barely covered in the media and turns him into a Travis Bickle-type anti-hero.

Film lovers assumed that Joel and Ethan Coen, the directors who served as joint heads of the prize jury, would select a mainstream entry such as Carol, which stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara as women swept up in a lesbian romance. The win for Dheepan comes at a time when Europe is particularly attuned to the experience of immigrants, following the recent deaths of hundreds crossing the Mediterranean trying to get to Italy. The decision from the Cannes film festival jury jointly presided over by the Coen Brothers to award the unfancied outsider the top prize was met with boos.

Cameron Bailey, the black Artistic Director of the Toronto Film Festival, suggested in a tweet that the colour of the protagonist might have been a factor in the failure of many critics to recognise the brilliance of the film. The drama about Sri Lankan immigrants in Paris was hailed by some (mostly Anglophone) critics for its solid storytelling and sharp critique of French society, but slammed by others for its abrupt, brutal denouement.

Justin Chang, a film critic for Variety magazine, spoke for many critics when he tweeted his astonished response: “A perfectly fine, unremarkable drama, is the most surprising Palme d’Or winner in recent memory, and certainly the least deserving.” In a weak year for British cinema at the festival, the jurors decided against awarding prizes to eligible British actors such as Michael Caine, whose performance in Youth was praised as one that featured “relish, emotional intelligence, and some of the comic timing of Eric Morecambe”. Notably, a significant portion of France’s press seemed to take umbrage with the movie’s portrayal of underprivileged, minority-heavy Parisian suburbs as ghettoized hotbeds of literally explosive violence. Rachel Weisz, Caine’s co-star who was also eligible for her performance in The Lobster, was also passed over, as was Emily Blunt for her leading role in the drugs war thriller Sicario.

Yorgos Lanthimos, a Greek filmmaker working in English for the first time, took the jury prize for his The Lobster, a deadpan dystopian comedy, starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz, about a near-future where unmarried singles are turned into the animal of their choice. Mainstream maestro Steven Spielberg similarly stepped outside his “comfort zone” by crowning the emotionally and sexually raw epic lesbian romance Blue is the Warmest Color when he chaired the Cannes jury in 2013. Audiard is a master of celebrating the outsider, his heroes are often from the lower depths of society, from the gangster in The Beat That My Heart Skipped, to the Arab who goes to jail and becomes a mafia kingpin in A Prophet, the critically acclaimed film that won a BAFTA for Best Foreign Film in 2010. A more baffling move was giving a double Best Actress prize to Rooney Mara, for her understated turn as an enamored young woman in Todd Haynes’ Carol, and…Emmanuelle Bercot, the leading lady of Maiwenn’s widely dismissed Mon Roi.

That French entry — in which Bercot plays a ski accident survivor haunted by her roller-coaster marriage to a sexy sketchball (Vincent Cassel) — yielded a much-noted gender divide among critics, with many women praising its attention to female desire and most men responding with a collective groan. The only explanation anyone could fathom was that the jury figured Blanchett has already snagged enough statuettes in her time, and may continue to do so for this very role when awards season kicks off in earnest. Another prize that drew eye-rolling from journalists was Best Screenplay for Michel Franco’s Chronic, an austere drama about a terminal care nurse (Tim Roth) that features a pared-down script, as well as a sketchily plotted third act and a broadly unpopular shocker of a final sequence. Many expected Roth to take home Best Actor for his compelling, committed turn, but that went to the even more deserving Vincent Lindon, quietly magnetic as a French factory worker who gets laid off in Stephane Brize’s stirring The Measure of a Man. He gives a virtuoso performance in which he has to both try and play the romantic lead, as he falls for his fake wife and then be macho enough to take on the roughest elements of the housing estate.

A visibly moved Lindon, the most macho-looking of France’s leading men, embraced each jury member individually before noting in his speech that he had never won an award before. A weakness in Audiard’s previous work has been his female characters, but here Indian actress Kalieaswari Srinivasan more than holds her own, as she goes out to work as a housemaid, only to find herself winning the heart of a French gangster. It was one of the few moments in the ceremony to be heartily applauded by journalists, one of whom broke down in loud sobs when the actor thanked his recently deceased mother. Meanwhile, the harrowing Auschwitz thriller Son of Saul, which many thought had a good shot at the Palme, grabbed the second-place Grand Prize (not bad for a feature-length debut).

By choosing not to give the Hungarian film the highest honor, the jury dodged a different kind of controversy; the movie, which uses an almost square aspect ratio, shallow depth of field and lots of close-ups to relegate much of the Jewish suffering on display to the background, has its share of vocal detractors (including The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis, who acknowledged the film’s technical prowess but called it “intellectually repellent”). And, much to the disappointment of his avid fans, Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-Hsien had to settle for Best Director for his 9th-century-set martial arts film, The Assassin.

Somewhat predictably, Hou seemed to split critics into two camps: formalists who were enraptured by his ravishing visuals and traditionalists who bemoaned the diffuse, hard-to-follow plot. In the days preceding the closing ceremony, some speculated that The Lobster, Yorgos Lanthimos’ bleakly funny dystopian fantasy, would strike the Coens’ fancy; of all the competition entries, it’s probably the one that comes closest to their satirical sensibilities.

But the film, for all its many pleasures (including a funny, pot-bellied Colin Farrell), loses steam in the final act; it ended up with the third-place Jury Prize. Perhaps the greatest irony of the winners’ list was the strong showing by France — best film, actor and actress — given that the country’s whopping five films in competition (including Valerie Donzelli’s staggering misfire of an incestuous love story, Marguerite and Julien) were considered, as a group, underwhelming.

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