Cannes 2015: The Winners

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Our guest film correspondent Séamas McSwiney with his final report from the Cannes 2015 film festival.

The perfect sun shines down on Cannes, as the packed wagons get in line to trek out of town after Cannes 68, a revolutionary number that did not really live up to its significance.

While the 1968 festival was abandoned mid-stream through protest by enraged French cineastes such as Godard, Truffaut et al, and though the last two years brought tempests, the high winds and rain also brought with them some great films. Alas, this year's balmy weather brought cinematic doldrums and few reel pleasures in the form of artistic turbulence. In the end, even the prestigious jury presidency of Joel and Ethan Coen did little to enhance the spotty selection by coming up with a puzzling palmarès.

Cannes is a bubble with its own tastes that are revised in real cinemas as the films are released (or not) throughout the year and the jury process is a bubble within the bubble. In years like this one there is even more talk of the politics of the prizes and the unwarranted democracy of each film getting only one prize. Thus, once the red carpet walk begins, the gowned and tuxedoed filmmakers called back for the ceremony are spotted and a new shortlist is hastily jotted down. But who will win what remains the question.

 

Palme d'Or: Dheepan

Those of us who left town early did manage to miss three of the laureates, notably Dheepan (pictured top), Jaques Audiard's mostly Paris based Tamil immigrant drama. Though quite well appreciated by most of the press and punters many were surprised that it took the top gong, the Palme d'Or. It tells the socio-political tale of a Tamil Tiger who seeks to flee Sri Lanka. To qualify for asylum he cobbles together with a young woman he's just met, who in turn recruits an orphan girl to complete the ideal application. They wind up in an immigrant Paris housing project where Dheepan's paramilitary skills become necessary again in this haven for local drug gang wars.

One of the interesting things about the film is that Jesuthasan Anthonythasan who plays Dheepan was himself a teenage Tamil Tiger before finding his way via Thailand to Paris, where he became a foreign based activist for the Tamil cause and later a writer. In many ways his own story mirrors that of Dheepan.

 

Best Actor: Vincent Lindon

Lindon

Dheepan was one of five French films in Competition. Most had their narrative roots in social issues and two of them managed to pluck the actors awards.

Vincent Lindon, an actor of great merit, bagged the male award for his emotionally constrained turn as newly unemployed factory worker in La Loi du Marché/The Measure of a Man by Stephane Brizé. Jumping through the hoops of the French social system and retraining programmes, he finally finds a job as a security officer in a large provincial supermarket. It all rolls out in a series of canvas scenes in a French Ken Loach environment (though without the jokes!) and its denouement somewhat saves it from tedium.

 

Best Actress: Rooney Mara and Emmanuelle Bercot

The actress award was shared by Rooney Mara in Todd Haynes' Carol and Emmanuelle Bercot in Mon Roi by Maiwenn. While most found Carol quite sublime, many (including most French critics) were seriously irritated by Mon Roi, a hysterical tale of an ill-advised marriage.

Bercot plays a lawyer who marries the wrong guy (Vincent Cassel) and takes many years to find out what a mono-maniac he really is. Meanwhile we have to sit through two hours of frantic marriage counselling when we could see from the get-go this was not on. Think Cassavetes, stripped of the poetry and humanity. Bercot is a good actress (she also directed opener La Tete Haute), but here she is badly written into a performance that has far more troughs than summits than Vincent Lindon, and much less meaning.

Her co-Laureate Rooney Mara also plays more reserved and nuanced, though it is odd that Cate Blanchett, the leader of the amorous duet, should be notably excluded. All in all, Carol was sold short and Mon Roi overrated.

 

Other Awards

Jorgos Lanthimos' The Lobster from County Kerry picked up the bronze, so to speak, in the form of the Jury Prize. Colin Farrell and his fellow cast were in fine fettle (especially Olivia Coleman) in this dystopian drama where singletons are prohibited. Farrell also became a ‘Dad Bod' icon in the new trend for dumpy middle aged men in the semi-raw in this film. His fan base will be relieved to learn the Dubliner was back to his dapper athletic best for the Cannes experience.

The Assassin (pictured above) by Hsiao-Hsien Hou got Best Director. Set in 9th century China it recounts the odyssey of a general's 10-year-old daughter abducted by a nun who initiates her into martial arts, transforming her into an exceptional assassin charged with eliminating corrupt local governors...

A bright spot in the prizes was the silver or Grand Prix going to Saul Fia (Son of Saul), the Hungarian holocaust epic directed by first tile director Laszlo Nemes. The fact that he made his film - from shooting, right through to the projection - in 35mm film only added to the satisfaction of discovering a truly artistic and singular, if harrowing, cinematic experience of feeling the spiritual necessity of pointless resistance against relentless tyranny.

Despite all of this, it was again a good Cannes worthy of itself. The films are only part of the circus. After the revolutionary #68 that fizzled, we look forward to the erotic #69 that rises to the hype...

Séamas McSwiney has decades of experience in film journalism, and work published in top international publications. Read more of his posts here.


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