Of the many conversations I’ve had or have overheard in the last 11 days, very few mentioned the jury. It’s a shame. Any deliberation process that involves the woman who made The Piano and the director of Drive is one worthy of rubbernecking. But, to date, the only story to come out about that gang this year involved a flap over the Iranian actress Leila Hatami exchanging cheek kisses with the festival’s storied outgoing president Gilles Jacob. News reports claim that at least one appalled Iranian religious group has called for Hatami to receive the maximum sentence of 50 lashes for violating Sharia law. She made a public apology, and the festival has moved on. But, for the public, that’s as rousing as things appear to have been for the jury. You hope they’re not serious for her.
It’s also been a weak year for harbingers. You can no longer gauge much by the duration of epic standing ovations. Audiences are reported to have leaped to their feet and cheered (and cheered) for films as different as Naomi Kawase’s bloodless sex-and-death tone poem, Still the Water, and Damien Chazelle’s jazz band action-thriller, Whiplash. I saw the reaction to the Chazelle, which was a big hit in January at Sundance, and it was so unceasingly enormous that its stars, Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons, were at an emotional loss. Nonetheless, as far as standing ovations go at Cannes, we might now be at a place where you’re nobody if you haven’t had one.
During the festival, the French trade magazine Le Film Français publishes a daily issue — as does its foreign counterparts — that includes a grid featuring 15 of the country’s major critics and their evaluations of the two main competition lineups, represented by a frowning emoticon, one to three stars, or a yellow palm frond. The frond is an unsurpassable measure of enthusiasm. In past years, there’d typically be one main-competition film — Amour or Blue Is the Warmest Color — to hit the jackpot and win a near boulevard of palms.
Of the 18 films up for the 2014 Palme d’Or, Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardennes’Two Days, One Night came closest with eight palms. What we were facing going into Saturday’s ceremony was the lack of a decisive winner. No one seemed to know what Jane Campion’s jury was going to do. No one seemed concerned, either. Every year we come looking for the film of the festival — or, come the final days, a masterpiece to save it.
This wasn’t the year for that. And it turned out to be refreshing not having a single film or director suck all the oxygen out of Cannes. Instead, a not-insignificant amount of time was devoted to talking about animals. It was an extraordinary year for beasts. A woman turned into a bird, a gang of dogs turned on Budapest. A cow was speared, a hog shaved, a goat garroted, a camel domesticated, and a pet dog almost stole a Jean-Luc Godard movie. So by the time people started streaming down the red carpet for Saturday’s closing ceremony, suspense and surprise were in the air. Often, when you see the casts and directors of competition films heading inside the Grand Théâtre Lumière, it means they’ve won one of the seven prizes. About a half an hour before the show started, Kawase walked in. She wore a creamy gown with something dark and botanical-looking spurting up and down the bodice. As a juror last year, she wore a kimono with more drama than any film she’s made. This year’s dress was simpler than her movies tend to be.
Before the festival began, Kawase generated a lot of attention, some of it mocking, for declaring her new movie a masterpiece and saying she’d be satisfied with nothing less than the Palme. Maybe Campion agreed. In the meantime, Kawase was having a moment. For the duration of the festival, the pillars in the Lumière lobby were decorated with large photos of the directors in the official selection, most of whom are in the main competition. Kawase happily stood beside hers and had her companion take several photos. She caught me watching her, and rather than run off in embarrassment, she widened her smile, did one of those va-va-voom shakes, and kept posing. When I find myself nodding off at her next adventure in erogenous spiritualism, I’ll treat that shimmy like a can of Red Bull.
Kawase wasn’t gone a minute when three women made their way over to her panel on the column and started snapping away. Then two handsome, handsomely attired men did the same. What was going on? The two men turned out to be the producer of Timbuktu and Abel Jafri, who plays the most charismatic of the film’s suffocating jihadist hypocrites. They didn’t seem to know why exactly they were there. “We hope it’s good,”Jafri said. So did I.
Timbuktu was one of the strongest films in the main competition. It’s a patiently done work of impressionism set in the Malian city of the title. Armed Islamists have come to town and dropped the hammer of Sharia law. Denial filters out like a virus, casting a pall over all pleasure. No adultery? Fine. But no music or soccer, either? It’s hard to do a film like this, a tragic farce. There’s something about the melancholic tone that allows the Islamists’ vivid ideological contradictions to resonate without resorting to blatancy. Abderrahmane Sissako conjures one lyrical scene of ironical outrage after another, the most evocative being a full-field soccer match played by boys kicking an imaginary ball. A character is tried for murder (he did do it), but your heart breaks because the arbiters seem to kill for sport. Musicians are publicly lashed, children rendered orphans. A fishmonger offers to have her hands sliced off rather than do her job in gloves. It’s absurd! The desert setting leaves your eyes dry of tears, but all this oppression beneath an oppressive sun manages to boil your blood.
Before the closing show, I parked myself in front of the lobby photo in which Godard smokes a cigar so hilariously foregrounded that it seemed more accurate to say that it’s smoking him. Every 10 minutes or so, a wave of sacrilege would come over me, and I’d ashamedly step around the column to stand in front of whoever was on the other side (my apologies to Zhang Yimou). But that was the right vantage to see the actor Daniel Brühl laugh as he struggled for a good 60 seconds to find his ticket; and to catch Bruce Wagner, the bald screenwriter of David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars, shuffle in, wearing big black glasses, tattoos on his fingers, and carrying an e-cigarette. If smoking is bad for your health, smoking electronically is proving bad for your style.
Some men, like Brühl and Jafri, looked like a million bucks. Adrien Brody looked as if he’d just lost that much at the casino. For some reason, he’d folded the cuffs of his shirt over the sleeves of his tuxedo jacket. That svelte carriage and exotically fatigued visage of Brody’s gave him a lick of emergency style — it all said, “In my country, we do like this.” Still, if the look were an ice-cream flavor, it’d be Rat Pack Schvitz. He was somewhat calmer than he was a couple of nights before, when he appeared to be having the time of his life on and off the red carpet during the premiere of Yimou’s new weepie, Gui Lai. Brody wore a tux and smiled and danced and, for a relatively long time, took selfies on the Croisette. (Mind you, he’s not in Yimou’s movie. Gong Li is). Brody would pose, look up at the giant monitor, double over cracking up, then move on. On Sunday night, he simply made it to the top of the stairs and, in front of all the photographers, proceeded to snuzzle with the woman he’d brought; that went on for a relatively long time, too.
The evening climaxed with Sophia Loren. At 79, she still has a nonsensical beauty. It’s neither scarily inappropriate nor unduly surgical. It simply is what it is. She arrived with Edoardo Ponti, her son with the legendary Italian producer Carlo Ponti. She wore beaded black Armani and had a pair of sunglasses on her pillowy orange mane. There’s an easy law for sunglasses worn atop the head: no. But Loren has diplomatic plates and can do as she pleases.
Not much later, the show was under way, with Lambert Wilson returning from the opening ceremony as the MC. He had better material this time and a better trim suit (it was the color of a tablecloth after it has absorbed a glass of Côtes du Rhône). He introduced Abbas Kiarostami and the singing actress Yuchun Li, who wore a white blouse that looked like cloud shavings up close, but from the stage gave the impression that it had come from the Sesame Street slaughterhouse. The sartorial winner was Simón Mesa Soto from Colombia, who captured the short-film prize for Leidi.
Wilson brought out Campion, who introduced her jury. One by one they took the stage and sat in one of the nine white chairs stationed to the right of the house. They never stop being funny, those chairs. They have an intergalactic tribal council quality. The long, dapper Dane Nicolas Winding Refn came out first and was followed by Hatami, the Chinese director Jia Zhangke, Sofia Coppola, the Korean actress Jeon Do-yeon, Gael García Bernal, Carole Bouquet, and Willem Dafoe, who remains boyish in height, countenance, and haircut.
Then out came Jacob and the French actress Nicole Garcia. For Jacob, the audience rose and clapped for a good long time. He has been at or near the top of the festival since 1979. As kid, I remember how much he seemed to be the festival, standing with all the stars at the entrance of the Palais, shaking their hands and kissing their cheeks. He’s 83 now, and in the year since I last saw him, he’s grown frail. Had he not motioned for an end to the applause, it probably would’ve gone on all night.
Jacob spoke briefly, let Garcia announce that the winner of the Camera d’Or (the prize for first-time directors) went to the trio that made the Un Certain Regard opener, Marie Amachoukeli, Claire Burger, and Samuel Theis’s Party Girl. The film is a kind of biographical docudrama about a 60-ish French nightclub hostess (played by Theis’s own mother) who surprises herself by marrying a sweet bulldog of a man. I wasn’t crazy about it — the filmmaking is shaggy — but it does have heart, and people seemed genuinely moved by it. That programming category is a Jacob concoction, and some years the films it comprises are better than what’s in the main competition. After Amachoukeli, Burger, and Theis’s speech, Jacob began his labored exit, and back to its feet went the audience. He walked alone, with a deliberate gait, until he was fully out of view. A few of the staffers wiped away tears.
Next Monica Bellucci arrived to the hoots and cheers of men in the audience. Bellucci still has the kind of beauty that can bring out the worst in an otherwise classy man. She became an international star, in part, courtesy of movies that degraded her, and I’ve always wondered if they’ve compromised her reception in some way. In any case, she helped Wilson and Campion award Timothy Spall the male acting prize for playing the painter J.M.W. Turner in Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner. There was talk that Steve Carrell, in Foxcatcher, had become the favorite, but there’s more to what Spall’s done. It’s a primal, almost bestial piece of acting. The energy is simultaneously high and low. Carrell is good, but this is a different league of performance.
Spall took a while to get to the stage. Upon reaching it, he failed to find his speech, which was on his phone, which was off. Also: Where were his glasses? He improvised until the phone had powered back on, then thanked Leigh, the jury, his wife, the cinematographer Dick Pope, and God. When Leigh’s Secrets & Lies won the Palme d’Or in 1996, he missed it because he was having chemotherapy. He said he “had the audacity not to die.” His speech on this night began by mentioning that he understood exactly two French phrases. One of them was “vin rouge,” which at the moment might have been working its magic.
Daniel Auteuil was on next to say a few words and toss it to Wilson, who tossed it to Campion, who tossed the female acting prize to Maps to the Stars’s Julianne Moore, who wasn’t there. Wagner accepted for her and kept calling her Julie. There was real competition for that award (there always is here): Marion Cotillard in the Dardennes’ movie, Suzanne Clément for Mommy, Hilary Swank in The Homesman, and Juliette Binoche, who gave the most emotionally and psychologically rich performance of the festival as a famous international actress in Olivier Assayas’s equally complex Clouds of Sils Maria. But Moore, as an altogether trashier, nuttier kind of actress, goes out on a longer, funnier, more gonzo limb.
The actress Paz Vega helped give the screenwriting prize to Andrey Zvyagintsev and Oleg Negin for Zvyagintsev’s epic satire of Russian bureaucracy, Leviafan. Zvyagintsev was there to accept. The movie screened toward the tail end, and it divided a lot of us. Were its politics too obvious? Too self-congratulatory? Too timely? I don’t know: With Russia, as with most countries, the question of whether the system is failing its citizens feels timeless. You’d need a weight belt to lift this script — that, or nine jurors. There were other strong screenplays, but this had a grim literary grandeur that can’t be denied.
Next came Brühl to assist with the Jury Prize, which was a tie, a gimmicky but exciting one: Xavier Dolan’s comic-melodrama, Mommy, and Godard’s latest theoretical thumbing of the nose, Goodbye to Language. At 25 and 83, respectively, Dolan and Godard are the youngest and oldest filmmakers in the competition, and the prize seemed to be about their forward-thinking approaches to what movies can be and how they can look. In accepting his prize —which for most winners is a rolled-up certificate tied with a red ribbon — Dolan could barely contain himself. He gave Brühl a double cheek kiss that had more passion than you tend to see at award shows or on the street. He breathlessly switched between English and Quebec-accented French to send a message to the kids of Earth: You can change the world. Then he turned to Campion and paid her a substantial, moving tribute that amounted to this: You made me a feminist director! She left her seat to give him a hug and he didn’t seem to want to release her.
Meanwhile, the producer Alain Sarde, who waited off to the side to accept on Godard’s behalf, wore a look of bemusement as Dolan emoted. Like his movies, Dolan was lugubrious, but the lugubriousness wins you over. Sarde’s behind too many great art films to count, but he’s done a handful for Godard, who’d never previously won anything at this festival.
Soon Brody was bounding out to greet us, his sleeves still turned up. He was handling the directing prize, which, in a mild shock, went to the American director Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher. Miller’s certainly deserving. The film has an even, foreboding tone; it’s a sort of psychological horror film. But the competition seemed stiff enough to make you want to file a request for a transcript of that portion of the deliberation. This is a man who can go back to Los Angeles and actually say, “I beat Godard!”
The runner-up prize — the Grand Prix — went to 33-year-old Alice Rohrwacher’s The Wonders. This was a total shock. The movie’s a coming-of-age story about a rural family of beekeeping Italians. As the festival wore on, I ran into people who liked it, but emotionally it didn’t stick with me, and there’s a scene so good and strange toward the end that it exposes the rest of the movie as rather ordinary. Evidently, it moved the jury, and the prize moved Rohrwacher. She took the stage with a translator, but her presenter happened to be Loren, who seemed happy to stand beside a fellow Italian. Loren got a robust ovation and greeted a projected photo of her frequent costar Marcello Mastroianni. Her sunglasses were gone.
So were Quentin Tarantino’s. He and Uma Thurman had arrived to present the Palme d’Or. What were they on? Earlier, on the red carpet, they danced and posed. The fans screamed for him. The photographers screamed for her. At the top of the stairs, they waved some more. Thurman seemed to be in higher spirits than she was the previous night when she, Tarantino, and John Travolta introduced a beach screening of Pulp Fiction, which won the Palme d’Or 20 years ago. Onstage, Tarantino reeled off a list of Palme winners, all of which were American, which was surprisingly parochial coming from him. With his steaky build, shell of dark hair, and that hopped-up way of addressing the public, he seems to be easing into self-caricature.
Anyway, the winner was Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep, a Turkish movie with as much talking as a Tarantino picture. Ceylan didn’t stick around long. He dedicated the prize to “the young people in Turkey and those who lost their lives,” presumably the ones injured and killed in the country’s ongoing anti-government protests.
The film is set in and around a Turkish boutique hotel and takes up matters of moral philosophy. Ceylan is one of the world’s great filmmakers at the moment — the Palme is his fourth award at this festival. His seriousness and intelligence are legitimate. It’s a movie you find yourself arguing with and over. You treat it with respect because it was made with respect for ideas and audiences, even if, ultimately, you respectfully regret where Ceylan takes you — or, in this case, doesn’t.
Ceylan headed to the front of the stage to have his photo taken as fellow winners joined Wilson, the presenters, and the jury for an unruly photo session. You never quite know where to look, but I noticed Brody talking up Bellucci, who seemed indifferent until she wasn’t, and Thurman congratulating Spall and making him laugh. It all felt unusually anticlimactic. Maybe anointing Ceylan the winner was inevitable after all.
Profundity isn’t why you come to the jury’s post-show press conference. Well, maybe it is, but you learn that it’s unachievable. It lasts for half an hour, and this year, time for journalists’ questions was clipped to answer inquiries from Twitter and Facebook. Thankfully, the ones selected yielded short answers. Or maybe: Thankfully, Nicolas Winding Refn was on hand to respond to some of them.
Question: Did you see any movie twice?
Question: Was giving Dolan and Godard the Jury Prize a gimmick?
Refn: We finally shut Godard up and gave him a prize.
Dafoe barely disguised that the deliberations were tense and impassioned. That’s me reading between the lines, since what he really said was that “it was an interesting process.” But you could detect rue in his voice as he spoke. And Bouquet said she loved listening to the other jurors fight for the films they loved.
Someone asked skeptically about Rohrwacher’s film, and it was Coppola and Refn who came together and rose to its defense. Refn said The Wonders made him cry, which is like hearing a professional wrestler say he loves ponies. You want the Kleenex submitted as evidence. But Refn, in his flippant way, didn’t seem to be kidding: “You should see it again.” Hatami spoke a lot, in French, but in light of her recent headaches back home, the frequent adjustment of her hood, which kept slipping, said more.
But it was Campion’s night, if not as a jury president then as an institution. At the show, while Rohrwacher was receiving translation, she stepped back and bowed to Campion, who blew a kiss back. With that and Dolan’s weeping and the warm thanks Ceylan offered her, I’d never seen so much affection and elated respect returned to a jury president. For her part, Campion seemed relaxed. If there are rehearsals for this show, she also seemed as if she might not have attended them. She started to make her pronouncements before Wilson had finished asking her to do so. Her repeated attempts to say “Andrey Zvyagintsev” were the equivalent of watching someone try to get up from a patch of ice.
But there was no doubt she meant something to these winners — and that they meant something to her. Dolan was a “genius,” and Ceylan made a three-hour-and-20-minute movie that, for her, wasn’t long enough (for different reasons, I agree). When a reporter asked Campion to defend Ceylan’s female characters, she seemed to have no idea what the problem was. She said she loved the women. He’s “ruthless” with all of them. Over and over, she mentioned how liberated these filmmakers were. “This is a free man,” she said of Godard. That word came up adoringly more than once during those 30 minutes: free. That’s actually what comes through in the best movies here, and you hope it’s the sensation the artists on the jury remember to shove into their luggage for the trip home.