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‘Olli Mäki,’ ‘Captain Fantastic’ Win Big in Un Certain Regard at Cannes

Studio Ghibli title 'The Red Turtle' also scored a win from the jury in the festival's second-most prominent competition.

Happiest Day in the Life of
Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

Finnish boxing biopic “The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki” scored a knockout in this year’s Un Certain Regard competition at the Cannes Film Festival, beating 17 other titles to take the top prize from a jury headed by Swiss actress Marthe Keller, while “Captain Fantastic” and “The Red Turtle” also joined the winners’ circle.

“Thank you for your weird taste in cinema,” stammered flabbergasted “Olli Mäki” director Juho Kuosmanen upon accepting the final award for the black-and-white period piece — his first feature film. “I am so surprised and happy.”

The film, set in 1962, covers a few weeks in the life of the eponymous Finnish pugilist, a former European lightweight champion, as he gruelingly prepares for a world featherweight title fight against American champion Davey Moore. Shot in richly textured, monochrome 16mm format, the film spends less time in the ring than it does on the underdog fighter’s exhausting training and publicity circuit. Warmly received by Cannes audiences, it will surely be a title to contend with in the next foreign-language Oscar race. Les Films du Losange is handling international sales. (Variety‘s review is forthcoming.)

The runner-up Jury Prize went to Japanese writer-director Koji Fukada’s “Harmonium,” a complex moral tale of familial tensions stoked by a mysterious interloper, with an ensemble cast led by international Japanese star Tadanobu Asano. “Shot in a meticulous yet unmannered style, the film provides the veteran cast with an ideal framework to mount masterful performances,” enthused Variety critic Maggie Lee in her review.

There was more good news for Japanese cinema with the Special Jury Prize, which was awarded to the French-Japanese animation “The Red Turtle” — the first feature by Oscar-winning Dutch shorts animator Michael Dudok de Wit, deemed a “tiny artistic treasure” by Variety critic Peter Debruge. An unusual collaboration with revered animation house Studio Ghibli, this gentle, entirely dialogue-free fable was snapped up for a U.S. release earlier this week by Sony Pictures Classics, and is already considered a significant player for next year’s best animated feature Oscar — a category that has, in recent years, been friendly to foreign arthouse toons.

Best Director was presented to a film already established as a festival favorite: U.S. helmer Matt Ross’ “Captain Fantastic” unspooled at Sundance in January, winning over audiences with its colorful story of a free-spirited widower (vibrantly played by Viggo Mortensen) determined to raise his children his own way. Ross took the stage with his leading man in tow, to a roar of approval from the gathered crowd in the festival’s Debussy theater. “I couldn’t have done this without [Viggo],” Ross said. “He’s my collaborator.”

Finally, in a festival dominated by talk of female-driven narratives and perspectives, femme filmmakers did not go home empty-handed. French sister duo Delphine and Muriel Coulin landed the Best Screenplay prize for their feminist military drama “The Stopover.” The film, adapted by the Coulins from Delphine’s novel “Voir du pays,” traces the tensions between two Brittany-born servicewomen returning from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Variety‘s review praised it for being “as cuttingly observed as it is pristinely composed.”

No acting awards were presented by this year’s Un Certain Regard jury — which, unlike in Cannes’ premier Competition, has the flexibility to allocate prize categories as they see fit. Keller’s fellow jurors included Austrian director Jessica Hausner, Mexican actor and filmmaker Diego Luna, French actress Celine Sallette and Swedish director Ruben Őstlund, an Un Certain Regard prizewinner two years ago for “Force Majeure.”

The complete list of winners:

Un Certain Regard Prize: Juho Kuosmanen, “The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki”

Jury Prize: Koji Fukada, “Harmonium”

Best Director: Matt Ross, “Captain Fantastic”

Best Screenplay: Delphine and Muriel Coulin, “The Stopover”

Special Jury Prize: Michael Dudok de Wit, “The Red Turtle”