×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Cannes: ‘Border’ Leads Un Certain Regard Award Winners

Iranian-Danish filmmaker Ali Abbasi takes the top prize from this year's Un Certain Regard jury, presided over by Benicio Del Toro.

Ali Abbasi’s genre-bending Nordic puzzler “Border” won the top prize in the Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard competition. It emerged victorious in a varied international field of 18 titles from newcomers and established festival favorites alike, with Sergei Loznitsa’s “Donbass,” Meryem Benm’Barek’s “Sofia,” João Salaviza and Renée Nader Messora’s “The Dead and the Others” and Lukas Dhont’s “Girl” completing the list of prizewinners.

The second feature by Iranian-born, Danish-based Abbasi, the classification-defying film — based on a short story by “Let the Right One In” author John Ajvide Lindqvist — centres on a Swedish customs officer with an uncanny sense of smell, thrown into a moral and personal quandary over a suspicious traveler that upends the world as she knows it. Screening early in the festival, it swiftly became one of the buzziest titles in the section with critics and audiences alike. Variety critic Alissa Simon was among the yay-sayers, predicting “cult classic” status for “an exciting, intelligent mix of romance, Nordic noir, social realism, and supernatural horror that defies and subverts genre conventions.”

The film immediately inspired heated competition among buyers, with hip new U.S. distributor Neon — the outfit behind Oscar winner “I, Tonya” and upcoming Sundance sensation “Assassination Nation” — snagging North American rights. “Border” is only second foreign-language title in their portfolio, following French feminist thriller “Revenge”; Neon is evidently counting on strong arthouse crossover potential for Abbasi’s film.

Though Abbasi, who was not present at the ceremony, received some attention for his 2016 debut, the Berlinale-premiered art-horror exercise “Shelley,” “Border” marks a clear breakout for the 37-year-old writer-director. The Best Director prize on the other hand, went to an auteur with established Cannes credentials: Ukraine’s Sergei Loznitsa, who opened the Un Certain Regard section with his fevered, surreal war study “Donbass.”

A sometime docmaker who continues to experiment radically with form in his narrative work, Loznitsa has been in Competition at Cannes three times, most recently with last year’s harrowing anti-administration protest “A Gentle Creature.” That he was dropped to the lower-profile Un Certain Regard strand with his latest, a study of conflict between Ukrainian nationalists and Russia’s Donetsk People’s Republic, suggests Cannes selectors may have deemed it more of a niche item than his previous work.

Variety’s Jay Weissberg agreed, forecasting that the film would “struggle to find audiences beyond Loznitsa fans,” but was nonetheless impressed by “[a scream] against a society that’s lost its humanity and can’t be bothered to care.” Loznitsa, also not present at the ceremony, sent a statement both thanking the festival and protesting Russia’s imprisonment of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov.

A third absent winner was Victor Polster, the 16-year-old star of Belgian entry “Girl,” who received the prize for best acting performance in the festival. The newcomer received rave notices for his moving, physically demanding portrayal of a transgender girl fighting to realize her dreams of being a ballerina, even as his casting reignited the ongoing debate over the acceptability of cisgender actors playing trans roles. Variety‘s Peter Debruge described Polster’s work as “stunning,” emphasizing the challenges of a part requiring not just refined thespian skill but impressive dance ability.

Accepting the award for Polster, the film’s director, Lukas Dhont, also underlined Polster’s physical and emotional commitment to the part, adding, “Victor showed that the most important tool for any artist is empathy.” Stating his aim to make “a film that sets examples about how young people can shape their own gender identity,” he concluded by looking ahead to “a day when homophobia and transphobia will becomes redundant.”

Moroccan writer-director Meryem Benm’Barek tearfully accepted the Best Screenplay award for her debut feature “Sofia”; a Casablanca-set drama about a 20-year-old woman facing arrest after giving birth to a baby out of wedlock, it draws heartfelt attention to the lack of women’s rights in the filmmaker’s home country. A Special Jury Prize, meanwhile, was presented to Portuguese-Brazilian duo João Salaviza and Renée Nader Messora for their film “The Dead and the Others,” a visually ravishing tale of indigenous traditions and mythology in north Brazil; in their speech, the directors explained they intended the film as a rejoinder to less positive, urban-dominated portrayals of the country in its national cinema.

The awards were presented, briskly and with little preamble, by this year’s Un Certain Regard jury president Benicio Del Toro — himself an award winner at Cannes 10 years ago, when he won Best Actor in Competition for Steven Soderbergh’s “Che.” His fellow jurors included actor Virginie Ledoyen, filmmakers Annemarie Jacir and Kantemir Balagov, and Telluride festival director Julie Huntsinger.

The 71st Cannes Film Festival will conclude tomorrow with the selections of this year’s Competition jury, presided over by Cate Blanchett.

The full list of Un Certain Regard winners:

Un Certain Regard Award: Ali Abbasi, “Border”

Best Director: Sergei Loznitsa, “Donbass”

Best Performance: Victor Polster, “Girl”

Best Screenplay: Meryem Benm’Barek, “Sofia”

Special Jury Prize: João Salaviza and Renée Nader Messora, “The Dead and the Others”

More Film

  • The Kings Man

    Film News Roundup: Disney Sets 'The King's Man' Spy Comedy for February

    In today’s film news roundup, “The King’s Man” and “A Kid From Coney Island” get release dates, and “Barry” star Anthony Carrigan joins “Bill & Ted Face the Music.” RELEASE DATE Disney has set its Fox spy comedy prequel “The King’s Man” for release on Feb. 14, 2020. Disney made the announcement Wednesday at its [...]

  • Shyrakshy: Guardian of the Light

    Shanghai Film Review: 'Shyrakshy: Guardian of the Light'

    The bombastic English title might sound like it describes some comic book sci-fi epic, but in “Shyrakshy: Guardian of the Light” our hero does not wear a cape but a weathered cap, and the light he guards is not an interstellar death ray but the flickering beam of a battered old movie projector. Prominent Kazakh [...]

  • Wanda Film's Zeng Maojun

    Shanghai: China's Once-Mighty Wanda Casts Itself in Role of Survivor

    The soundtrack for the introductory showreel at Wednesday evening’s Shanghai press event announcing Wanda Pictures’ annual line-up was aspirational and strangely defiant.  It began with Nina Simone crooning, “It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me, and I’m feeling good,” and then continued with “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child. “You [...]

  • 'The Souvenir' Costume Designer Fashioned 1980s'

    'The Souvenir' Costume Designer Put a Decadent Twist on Opulent ’80s Style

    Set against the backdrop of London’s early-1980s cultural renaissance, British auteur Joanna Hogg’s exquisitely sculpted and critically acclaimed “The Souvenir,” which A24 has been widening in platform release for the past month, follows film student Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) and her gradually destructive romance with the magnetic Anthony (Tom Burke). “We didn’t want a film [...]

  • Anne Hathaway

    Crew Member Stabbed on Set of Anne Hathaway's 'The Witches' in England

    A crew member has been stabbed in the neck on the set of Anne Hathaway’s “The Witches” remake, which is being shot at the Warner Bros. Studios stages in Leavesden, Hertfordshire. The Hertfordshire Constabulary said in a statement that the victim was hospitalized and his alleged attacker was arrested. The two men are believed to [...]

  • paranormal-activity-1

    Paramount, Blumhouse Announce Seventh 'Paranormal Activity' Movie

    Paramount Pictures and Jason Blum’s Blumhouse are teaming on a seventh “Paranormal Activity” movie. Paramount chief Jim Gianopulos announced the untitled project Wednesday during the studio’s CineEurope presentation in Barcelona. Plot details are also under wraps. The franchise was launched with 2007’s “Paranormal Activity,” a micro-budget film about a young couple who had who moved [...]

  • Steve Buscemi

    Steve Buscemi Joins Judd Apatow's Upcoming Pete Davidson Comedy (EXCLUSIVE)

    Steve Buscemi, Kevin Corrigan, Domenick Lombardozzi and Mike Vecchione have rounded out the cast of Universal’s untitled Judd Apatow comedy starring Pete Davidson. Marisa Tomei, Bill Burr, Bel Powley, Maude Apatow and Pamela Adlon had been previously announced. Apatow is directing from a script he co-wrote with Davidson and Dave Sirus. The film is a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content