Cannes Awards: Controversial Swedish Satire ‘The Square’ Wins Palme d’Or

Cannes The Square Winner
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CANNES — The 70th anniversary Cannes Film Festival has wrapped, culminating with an unconventional awards ceremony in which Pedro Almodóvar and his jury bestowed a couple unexpected bonus prizes, including a tie for screenplay and a special award to Nicole Kidman, who appeared in four projects in this year’s official selection, including competition titles “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” and “The Beguiled,” season two of “Top of the Lake” and special screening “How to Talk to Girls at Parties.”

Meanwhile, the fabled Palme d’Or went to Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s cutting art-world (and real-world) satire “The Square,” which dares to bring aspects of conceptual and performance art into the sphere of cinema. The choice came as something of a surprise, if only because the masterful, 142-minute film has divided audiences so far, and jury prizes rely on consensus.

Östlund’s follow-up to Un Certain Regard winner “Force Majeure,” “The Square” centers on a posh museum curator who is perfectly comfortable wining and dining wealthy donors, but must step outside his comfort zone after having his pockets picked on the way to work. After the show, Almodóvar explained their choice: “It’s contemporary, it’s about the dictatorship of being politically correct,” adding, “They live in a paranormal hell because of that.”

The Grand Prix went to “BPM (Beats Per Minute),” director Robin Campillo’s wrenching, deeply humanistic look at the early-’90s war on AIDS, set on the front lines of the French gay-rights movement, in which the members of ACT UP-Paris take on pharmaceutical companies, politicians and bureaucratic institutions slow to acknowledge the devastating toll of the disease. “BPM” marks French director Campillo’s first time in competition, although he had a hand in the creation of a previous Palme d’Or winner as co-writer of Laurent Cantet’s “The Class.”

Best director went to Sofia Coppola for “The Beguiled,” a fresh adaptation of Thomas Cullinan’s female-driven Civil War novel, about a wounded Union soldier who takes refuge in a Virginia girls’ school. In the press conference following the awards, jury member (and French multi-hyphenate) Agnès Jaoui expressed her disappointment at how few films in competition passed “the Bechdel test” — which asks whether at least a film contains two or more female characters who talk to one another about something other than a man.

In what amounts to third place, the Jury Prize went to “Loveless” by Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev, who uses the search for a missing child to take a cold, hard look at all that is rotten in modern-day Russia — and the world.

Diane Kruger earned best actress for her role in Fatih Akin’s “In the Fade,” a tour-de-force performance in which the German-born actress tackled her first starring role in her native language. In accepting the prize, she acknowledged anyone who, like her character, “has survived an act of terrorism and who is trying to pick up the pieces and go on living after having lost everything. Please know that you are not forgotten.”

A stunned-looking Joaquin Phoenix accepted best actor honors for “You Were Never Really Here,” appearing on stage in a pair of Converse sneakers. He may not have been prepared for the honor, but it hardly felt undeserved: The actor transformed himself for the role, assuming the look of a grizzled war veteran you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley.

Almodóvar’s jury bucked tradition by awarding a tie for best screenplay(s) to “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (co-written by Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou) and “You Were Never Really Here” (penned by its director, Lynne Ramsay). Doing so allowed the jury to double down on its prizes for Ramsay’s film, since Cannes rules don’t allow multiple awards, except for the screenplay-performance combo (last granted to Cristian Mungiu’s “Beyond the Hills” five years ago).

The Camera d’Or, awarded to best first film from any section of the entire festival, went to Léonor Serraille for “Jeune femme” (Montparnasse-Bienvenüe), which premiered in Un Certain Regard. The Paris-set film offers a lively, turbulent portrait of a young French woman disoriented by a recent breakup, which La Femis graduate Serraille directed while pregnant.

Almodóvar presided over a jury that included German director Maren Ade, American actress Jessica Chastain, Chinese actress Fan Bingbing, Jaoui, South Korean director Park Chan-wook, American megastar Will Smith, Italian director Paolo Sorrentino and French composer Gabriel Yared.

Questions of diversity and representation came up in the press conference afterwards, during which Chastain said, “If you have female storytelling, you have more authentic female characters. What I took away from this experience is how the world views women, which was quite disturbing to me, to be honest. … When we have more female storytellers we will have more of the women I recognize in my day-to-day life, who are proactive, who have their own agency, don’t just react to the men around them, but have their own point of view.”

Elaborating on the point, “Toni Erdmann” director Ade insisted that the jury “didn’t give awards to women because they are women” and called for not only more female directors, but more suitable material as well. “We are missing a lot of stories they can tell, not just about female characters but their view on men.”

The latter point applies to Ramsay’s “You Were Never Really Here,” which takes an aggressive, male-driven thriller plot and gives it a surprising psychoanalytic depth. Still, Chinese star Fan stressed, “We want to encourage female filmmakers to present more female characters.

“A couple of black folks wouldn’t hurt neither,” added Smith. “But we’ll talk about that another time.”

Guy Lodge contributed to this report.

COMPETITION

Palme d’Or: “The Square” (Ruben Östlund)

70th Anniversary Award: Nicole Kidman

Grand Prix: “BPM (Beats Per Minute)” (Robin Campillo)

Director: Sofia Coppola, “The Beguiled”

Actor: Joaquin Phoenix, “You Were Never Really Here”

Actress: Diane Kruger, “In the Fade”

Jury Prize: “Loveless” (Andrey Zvyagintsev)

Screenplay — TIE: “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou) and “You Were Never Really Here” (Lynne Ramsay)

OTHER PRIZES

Camera d’Or: “Jeune femme” (Montparnasse-Bienvenüe) (Léonor Serraille)

Short Films Palme d’Or: “Xiao Cheng Er Yue” (Qiu Yang)

Short Films Special Mention: “Katto” (Teppo Airaksinen)

Golden Eye Documentary Prize: “Faces Places” (Visages Villages) (Agnès Varda, JR)

Ecumenical Jury Prize: “Radiance” (Naomi Kawase)

UN CERTAIN REGARD

Un Certain Regard Award: “A Man of Integrity,” Mohammad Rasoulof

Best Director: Taylor Sheridan, “Wind River”

Jury Prize: Michel Franco, “April’s Daughter”

Best Performance: Jasmine Trinca, “Fortunata”

Award for Poetry of Cinema: Mathieu Amalric, “Barbara”

DIRECTORS’ FORTNIGHT

Art Cinema Award: “The Rider” (Chloe Zhao)

Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers Prize — TIE: “Lover for a Day” (Philippe Garrel) and “Let the Sunshine In” (Claire Denis)

Europa Cinemas Label: “A Ciambra” (Jonas Carpignano)

CRITICS’ WEEK

Grand Prize: “Makala” (Emmanuel Gras)

Visionary Prize: “Gabriel and the Mountain” (Fellipe Barbosa)

Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers Prize: “Ava” (Léa Mysius)

FIPRESCI

Competition: “BPM (Beats Per Minute)”

Un Certain Regard: “Closeness” (Kantemir Balagov)

Directors’ Fortnight: “The Nothing Factory” (Pedro Pinho)

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  1. Of course years after Brokeback Mountain it is still accepted as OK for straight women and men to direct films about gay male characters. Gay male filmmakers are not even included in the diversity discussion if they are not black. Even latinos are getting left out of the diversity discussion unless you are naive when they get a token mention so as to not appear racist.

  2. Greg says:

    “Actor: Joaquin Phoenix, “You Were Never Really Here” If you saw Joaquin Phoenix on the David Letterman show a few years back, having him in a movie with this title would surely put a smile on your face. :)

  3. Bliz says:

    “When we have more female storytellers we will have more of the women I recognize in my day-to-day life, who are proactive, who have their own agency, don’t just react to the men around them, but have their own point of view.” Yea. Like two dimensional strong multifaceted lives of women like kardashian and melania trump and all those millions of white women that vote for and love misogynist narcisists. Great agency. All women are powerful well thinking individuals not choosing men and objectification etc.

    Director Ade insisted that the jury “didn’t give awards to women because they are women” …hmmm, bizarre statement seeing as how coppola, kidman, kruger, kawasi, varda, trinca, zhao, denis, mysius and a few more, all won major awards…also stranger, seeing as how many of the top films all had women content (ie. Beguiled is virgina girls dchool filled with female actresses and content and only one male in the film; in the fade; juenne femme; ava…that is four films overtly self consciously women films with women agency that won major awards…in addition to the multiple awards women won versus the overwhelming larger ratio of men that didnt win lol).

    It seems as almost as if these morons are either wilfully ignorant or hysterically delusional when it cones to identity politics.

    • Liibaan M.Ahmed says:

      God bless you Bliz

    • Steve says:

      Percentage of films directed by women in the US last year: 7%.

      You were saying?

      • Nate says:

        That’s still about 6% too much IMO….;-)

      • Bliz says:

        Also the most badass masculine film (you were never here, starring phoenix much deserved win) that screened at cannes in terms of storytelling was directed by ramsay–a woman…women are diverse and are talented and not all feminist girl power mad pink hatters…nor is there a patriarchal conspiracy casted against them in film

      • Bliz says:

        I also forgot to add ramsay…so there are more than 10 women winning cannes awards in top tier versus more men that competed…and the percentage of women that take film and pursue film in directiin and technical dept is like 7%…theres also more women nurses and its not due to misandry either…

        You were saying….?

        Please, ignoramus, enlighten us…

      • Susan says:

        Omg enough of the women story.
        We are all just people trying to do our best. Women don’t need special treatment. They’ll never be considered an equal by demanding to be a special consideration.

  4. The screenplay-performance combo was last given last year (not five years ago) to The Salesman.

    • Winona Ryder says:

      Exactly, I was going to point that out, The Salesman won Best Screenplay and Actor last year, making it the previous film to achieve that.

  5. Lucky says:

    Can’t wait to see all of these, “Force Majeure” was fantastic so not too surprised “The Square” was a winner

  6. SPIKE says:

    come on Frenchies, she’s mediocre at best

  7. SPIKE says:

    Hey Chastain, if you think America is chauvinist and male-dominated, welcome to the rest of the world. They make us look inclusive.

  8. Wayne says:

    While I don’t doubt that Coppola won on talent, she had an easy path to becoming a director because of her father (who i think is a brilliant director but who practiced nepotism as a religion it seems). Some of her work has been grear, some not so much. I am thankful she continue to direct because she’s an awful actress.

    • SPIKE says:

      She’s an overrated director too. Giving her a director’s award in Cannes is like giving Sly Stallone an award for class.

      • John says:

        No, she’s not “overrated”. I did not see her new film, but “Somewhere” and “Lost in Translation” are fantastic films and all the others are close. She has a very delicate style that’s similar to Antonioni.
        She’s very much her own artist & doesn’t need to be compared to her father.

  9. “Doing so allowed the jury to double down on its prizes for Ramsay’s films, since Cannes rules don’t allows multiple awards, except for the screenplay-performance combo (last granted to Cristian Mungiu’s “Beyond the Hills” five years ago).”

    Actually that happened last year with “The Salesman” which won the screenplay honor for Asghad Farhadi and Best Actor for Shahab Hosseini.

  10. stevenkovacs says:

    Love the independence of the Cannes jury system!

  11. Steve says:

    So, it looks like the jury wanted to spread the love around. Seems valid. I really do want to see most of those films, especially You Were Never Really Here and The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

    There should have been a special award for Best Dressed Juror. Jessica Chastain crushed it every time she went out. Such a beauty. And she looked like she was having the time of her life.

    • Bliz says:

      Yea. You seem like a barrel of laughs.

    • Bliz says:

      Apparently that uptight beotch was more concerned with women agency rather than enjoying hersekf–despite the fact women won many awarss and the major films were all women films lmfao.

      • Steve says:

        Many of us can be concerned and enjoy ourselves at the same time. It’s really not that difficult.

  12. The audience winner of this year Canes film festival will inspire you again to believe in cinema as an art form!

  13. Michael Anthony says:

    “American Mega-star Will Smith”

    Thanks Variety! Best laugh in days!

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