The Croissette was slick with rain again on Sunday night for the 65th Cannes Film Festival’s closing ceremony, which one colleague joked was a tribute to the 1964 Palme d’Or winner The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Inside the Grand Théâtre Lumière, this year’s jury was led by president Nanni Moretti, the Italian filmmaker whose Habemus Papam (We Have a Pope) screened in 2011’s main competition. Moretti’s jury also included actor Ewan McGregor, The Descendants writer-director Alexander Payne, Inglourious Basterds actress Diane Krueger, British auteur Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank), Palestinian actress-filmmaker Hiam Abbass (The Visitor), French actress Emmanuelle Davos (Kings & Queen), Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck (Lumumba), and designer Jean-Paul Gaultier in the wild-card slot. For this writer, comfortably dry and watching the awards on TV at a nearby flat, that nine-member think tank’s choices proved parochial, or at least yawn-stifingly uninspired, but that reaction might be because the competition’s four best films—Leo Carax’s Holy Motors, Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, Jacques Audiard’s Rust & Bone and David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis—were entirely shut out.
At least the Camera d’Or, given to a first-time feature filmmaker, went to the worthiest of contenders: Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, a Southern-fried 16mm triumph in magic-realist allegory, as seen through the eyes of a frizzy-haired, six-year-old bayou girl named Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis, seemingly wise beyond her few years). Though Zeitlin’s debut conspicuously raises liberal-guilt flags with its stylized depiction of a marginalized milieu, this tale of real and makeshift families surviving the elements is too visually dazzling, tenderhearted and downright imaginative to find much fault.
Cristian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills took two awards home to Romania, or rather, three: the Palme d’Or-winning director of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days inexplicably won the Best Screenplay award for his austere, overwrought psychodrama about two young women from the same orphanage (Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur) who reunite and attempt to rekindle their intense, more-than-platonic relationship—the major issue being that one of the lovers has renounced her worldly possessions and joined a monastery. Trumping two very showy, complicated performances—Marion Cotillard’s world-weary amputee in Rust & Bone and Paradise: Love‘s middle-aged sex tourist Margarethe Tiesel—the Best Actress prize was shared by Stratan and Flutur.
As predicted in our earlier Cannes coverage, The Hunt‘s Mads Mikkelsen was an early frontrunner for Best Actor, and indeed nabbed it. The titular hunt of Thomas Vinterberg’s urgent psychological drama directly references both big game and the “witch” variety, as Mikkelsen’s sunny kindergarten teacher is ousted as a remorseless monster in his tight-knit Danish community after group hysteria twists the little white lie of a child into fact.
One of the more divisive films among critics was the maddening Mexican whatsit Post Tenebras Lux, from Silent Light auteur Carlos Reygadas. The film starts promisingly with a magnificent overture: during a lightning storm, a little girl runs around a muddy field chasing cows and dogs. (Were those “boos” or “moos” heard after the first press screening?) In the next sequence, a glowing scarlet demon, seemingly escaped from 2010 Palme d’Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, creepily enters a suburban home with a toolbox in his hand. The non-linearity only gets stranger from there, with a father who feels guilt over brutally beating his dog, a members-only sauna that’s home to seedy orgies, British kids playing rugby and a self-destructive dénouement that might make your head pop. For all his quasi-profound chaos, mysteriously shot with a kaleidoscopic lens filter and in Academy ratio, Reygadas’ stunning but pretentiously hollow bit of randomized weirdness earned him the Best Director prize.
It’s a shame that Moretti’s jury only awarded filmmakers who have previously been honored at Cannes. The Prix du Jury (essentially the bronze medal) went to Ken Loach’s The Angel’s Share, an exuberant but ultimately slight working-class comedy that doubles as a social-realist crime caper. Previously feted for Gomorrah, Italy’s Matteo Garrone took the Grand Prix (again, think silver medal) for Reality, a cautionary tale of faith and misreading “signs” that’s based on the true story of a man who—after being egged on by friends and family to audition for the reality-TV show “Big Brother”—grows increasingly obsessed with becoming rich and famous.
The Palme d’Or, the highest honor in international cinema, predictably but worthily went to Michael Haneke for Amour—which marks a back-to-back win for the wintry Austrian auteur, whose last film The White Ribbon took home the Palme in 2009. (The only other filmmaker to achieve this trick was Bille August for 1988’s Pelle the Conquerer and 1992’s The Best Intentions.) As written about here previously, Amour follows the devastating last act of a marriage, as two 80-year-olds (Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant) are faced with the inevitable, humbling truth that dying is a fact of life. It’s a masterfully made drama, and a surprisingly accessible one to boot—but hey, can we spread the love next year and reward the outstanding achievements of someone new to the fray?