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

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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