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Cannes: Ken Loach Wins His Second Palme d’Or for ‘I, Daniel Blake’

The final awards ceremony of the 69th Cannes Film Festival has concluded, with veteran British filmmaker Ken Loach winning the second Palme d’Or of his career for the impassioned protest drama “I, Daniel Blake.”

The film, chronicling the social-welfare battle fought by a struggling Newcastle carpenter, scored a strong emotional reaction from Cannes audiences when it unspooled early in the festival — though many critics were more reserved in their praise. This year’s jury, led by “Mad Max” director George Miller, evidently voted with their hearts, handing the 79-year-old Loach the festival’s top honor exactly 10 years after his Irish historical drama “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” landed the prize.

Accepting the award onstage, Loach said, “Film can bring us the world of the imagination. But it can also bring us the world that we live in…We must give a message of hope. We must say that another world is possible, and necessary.”

Loach now joins an elite group of two-time Palme champs, including Michael Haneke, Francis Ford Coppola, Emir Kusturica, Bille August, Shohei Imamura, Alf Sjoberg and Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne — the latter duo among the filmmakers who left this year’s Competition empty-handed.

Miller’s jury diverged from critical consensus in many of their decisions, beginning with the complete shut-out of German filmmaker Maren Ade’s moving father-daughter comedy “Toni Erdmann” — a film that topped most of this year’s festival critics’ polls by a significant margin, and was named the best in Competition yesterday by the FIPRESCI critics’ jury.

Asked about the omission of “Toni Erdmann” during the post-awards ceremony press conference, Miller steadfastly refused to discuss the jury’s reasoning in any detail. He and his fellow jurors, who included Kirsten Dunst, Donald Sutherland, and Vanessa Paradis, presented themselves as a united front that bordered, at times, on a cinephile love-in. Asked to sum up the jury experience in three words, Miller responded, “Intelligent, fierce, beautiful.”

As part of that united front, members of the jury were notably tight-lipped about the process behind their decisions. No comment was offered, for instance, on the choice of “I, Daniel Blake” for the Palme d’Or — apart, that is, from Sutherland sounding a bit irked at a question about whether the poshness of the Cannes setting influenced the jury’s viewing of Loach’s film, with its theme of working-class economic desperation. Sutherland totally dismissed the idea, saying, “We weren’t at Cannes, we were at the cinema.”

Among the other films honored was 27-year-old Canadian auteur Xavier Dolan’s “It’s Only the End of the World,” which took the night’s second most prestigious honor, the Grand Prix. The high-pitched dysfunctional family drama premiered earlier this week to a chorus of boos at its press screening, followed by largely scathing reviews. Dolan, who has pointedly hit back at his critics in subsequent interviews, was evidently overwhelmed, accepting with a lengthy, teary speech that — impolitely if unsurprisingly — prompted a fresh round of jeers in the festival’s press room.

At the jury press conference, “Son of Saul” director László Nemes said of Dolan’s latest work, “I was thrilled to see the film. We all felt that it was a moving journey. When it started, you could feel the very specific choices of the director.”

On a good night for British cinema, iconoclastic writer-director Andrea Arnold won the Jury Prize for her youthful, unruly, music-filled Midwestern road movie “American Honey” — her first U.S.-set production. It’s the third time Arnold has been presented with this particular award by the Cannes jury, following her debut “Red Road” in 2006 (coincidentally, the year of Loach’s last Palme triumph) and “Fish Tank” in 2009.

While her admirers may have been hoping for more, Arnold at least carried the flag for women in cinema at the end of a festival dominated by talk of prominent female narratives and perspectives in the program. It’s a theme not heavily reflected in the jury’s final selections — which, in addition to the female-directed “Erdmann,” overlooked such largely acclaimed femme-powered stories as Paul Verhoeven’s “Elle,” Kleber Mendonca Filho’s “Aquarius” and Pedro Almodovar’s “Julieta.”

Asked about the ongoing discussion of women filmmakers at Cannes this year, Miller dismissed any talk of controversy, saying that the issue simply had no bearing on the jury’s decisions. “Each film was judged on its merits,” he said. “Filmmaking is filmmaking. It didn’t really come up as a specific thing.”

The best actress contest had been viewed as a particularly competitive one this year. Indeed, the field was so deep this year that the jury managed to blindside virtually every punter with their choice of winner — a stunned Jaclyn Jose, the Filipino star of Brillante Mendoza’s “Ma ‘Rosa.” Some thought that Rose’s role was, in fact, too small to merit the award. Speaking for the jury, the Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen answered that by saying, “We found her to be a wonderful leading actress, a master of her skills. It was not a supporting character.”

Best actor, meanwhile, went to Iranian actor Shahab Hosseini for Oscar-winning director Asghar Farhadi’s “The Salesman.” The film, an Arthur Miller-referencing combination of neorealism and suspense, also landed Farhadi the best screenplay award — making it the only multiple winner of the night.

In what was widely deemed the richest Cannes competition in years, it was to be expected that the jury would prove indecisive with certain awards. The night’s one tie came with the best director prize, which was jointly presented to Romanian auteur Cristian Mungiu for his well-received society study “Graduation,” and Frenchman Olivier Assayas for the more divisive “Personal Shopper,” an unorthodox ghost story starring Kristen Stewart.

Mungiu was a Palme d’Or winner in 2007 for “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” but this marked the first Cannes win for Assayas, an unpredictable festival mainstay who has been in Competition on four previous occasions. In a year where several of the jury’s decisions may have given seasoned Cannes-watchers a sense of déjà vu, such breakthroughs were cause for applause.

The full list of winners below:

COMPETITION

Palme d’Or: “I, Daniel Blake” (Ken Loach, U.K.)

Grand Prix: “It’s Only the End of the World” (Xavier Dolan, Canada-France)

Director (tie): Olivier Assayas, “Personal Shopper” (France), and Cristian Mungiu, “Graduation” (Romania)

Actor: Shahab Hosseini, “The Salesman” (Iran)

Actress: Jaclyn Jose, “Ma ‘Rosa” (Philippines)

Jury Prize: Andrea Arnold, “American Honey” (U.K.-U.S.)

Screenplay: Asghar Farhadi, “The Salesman” (Iran)

OTHER PRIZES

Palme d’Honneur: Jean-Pierre Léaud

Camera d’Or: “Divines” (Houda Benyamina, France-Qatar)

Short Films Palme d’Or: “Timecode” (Juanjo Jimenez, Spain)

Special Mention – Short Films Palme d’Or: “The Girl Who Danced With the Devil” (Joao Paulo Miranda Maria, Brazil)

Ecumenical Jury Prize: “It’s Only the End of the World” (Xavier Dolan, Canada-France)

UN CERTAIN REGARD

Un Certain Regard Prize: “The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki” (Juho Kuosmanen, Finland)

Jury prize: “Harmonium” (Koji Fukada, Japan)

Director: Matt Ross, “Captain Fantastic” (United States)

Screenplay: Delphine and Muriel Coulin, “The Stopover” (France)

Special Jury Prize: Michael Dudok de Wit, “The Red Turtle” (France-Japan)

DIRECTORS’ FORTNIGHT

Art Cinema Award: “Wolf and Sheep” (Shahrbanoo Sadat)

Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers Prize: “The Together Project” (Solveig Anspach)

Europa Cinemas Label: “Mercenary” (Sacha Wolff)

CRITICS’ WEEK

Grand Prize: “Mimosas” (Oliver Saxe)

Visionary Prize: “Album” (Mehmet Can Mertoğlu)

Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers Prize: “Diamond Island” (Day Chou)

FIPRESCI

Competition: “Toni Erdmann” (Maren Ade, Germany-Austria)

Un Certain Regard: “Dogs” (Bogdan Mirică, Romania-France)

Critics’ Week: “Raw” (Julia Ducournau, France-Belgium)

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