Just a few days ago, we were noting that, with Shoplifters, Japanese writer and director Hirokazu Kore-eda was seeing some of the best reviews of his career. On Saturday night, he won the Palme d’Or, the coveted top prize at the Cannes Film Festival, for his story of a family struggling to keep their heads above water in contemporary Japan. Shoplifters is the eighth film Kore-eda has brought to Cannes, the fifth in competition, but all he’s had to show for it up to this weekend is a Prix du Jury for 2013’s Like Father, Like Son. While many critics had other favorites—the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw, for example, is disappointed to see Lee Chang-dong and Nuri Bilge Ceylan go home empty-handed—no one’s begrudging Kore-eda his top prize.
Perhaps just as significantly, the jury, led by Cate Blanchett and including Chang Chen, Ava DuVernay, Robert Guédiguian, Khadja Nin, Léa Seydoux, Kristen Stewart, Denis Villeneuve, and Andrey Zvyagintsev, decided to award a Special Palme d’Or—the first ever presented—to Jean-Luc Godard for “continually striving to define and redefine what cinema can be,” as Blanchett put it during the evening’s awards ceremony.
It practically goes without saying that it will take time to fully absorb Godard’s The Image Book, a meditation on themes ranging from war and revolution, industry and law, and the West and the Arab world, but we have gathered a first round of reviews here. We can also heartily recommend Daniel Kasman and Kurt Walker’s video interview in the Notebook with one of Godard's key collaborators, editor, cinematographer, and producer Fabrice Aragno, who has accepted the award on Godard’s behalf. Kino Lorber will be bringing The Image Book to the States, and MUBI has taken rights for the UK.
Spike Lee came to the Croisette with his strongest film in years, BlacKkKlansman, a furious and furiously entertaining version of the true story of a black detective who managed to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1970s. The jury’s awarded him the Grand Prix, essentially the festival’s second-most prestigious award.
None of the jury’s decisions could have been easy. When the lineup for this year’s edition was first announced, it was met with general grumbling about what looked to be one of the least promising official selections in years. But once the festival opened, and after a good number of titles had screened, the mood begin to shift. By Thursday, the Los Angeles Times’ Justin Chang, having just taken in the “staggering double bill” of Bi Gan’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night and Lee Chang-dong’s Burning, was tweeting out the question, “If this is a weak Cannes, who needs a strong one?” Sight & Sound editor Nick James agrees that Cannes has just presented “one of the strongest collection of films I can remember from recent years.”
The 2018 edition was also the first to be staged following last fall’s Harvey Weinstein scandal and the subsequent rise of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, a point driven home when Asia Argento, presenting an award alongside Ava DuVernay, announced: “In 1997, I was raped by Harvey Weinstein here at Cannes.” The festival, she added, “was his hunting ground,” and further: “Even tonight, sitting among you, there are those who must still be held accountable for behavior that does not belong in this industry. . . . You know who you are, and most importantly, we know who you are, and we’re not going to allow you to get away with it anymore.”
In the New York Times, Manohla Dargis notes that this was “a powerful moment that came a week after eighty-two women—representing the small number of films by female directors that have competed in the festival over the years—rallied on the red carpet to denounce gender inequality in the industry.”
And a female director, Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki, has won the the Prix du Jury, sort of a second second prize, for Capernaum, in which a boy in the slums of Beirut sues his parents for giving him life. As we note in our overview, nearly all critics grant that the film is gripping; the question some raise is whether Labaki’s direction is overly manipulative.
Pawel Pawlikowski has won the award for best direction for Cold War, a love story inspired by his parents about two musicians whose intense affair sees them criss-crossing each other’s paths when the Iron Curtain was still all but impenetrable.
This year’s best screenplay award is a tie, with Nader Saeivar winning for her work on Jafar Panahi’s 3 Faces, in which the director and actress Behnaz Jafari travel to the Iranian countryside in search of a distressed teenaged girl; and Alice Rohrwacher, for Happy as Lazzaro, the tale of a simpleton that blends magic realism and social drama. Netflix, which caused such a ruckus when it pulled all its titles from the lineup before the festival began, has picked up North American and Latin American rights to Lazzaro.
Those who have seen Matteo Garrone’s Dogman have expressed no surprise whatsoever that Marcello Donte has won the best actor award for his lead performance as a dog groomer who faces up to a bullying former boxer in a desolate Italian coastal town.
Samal Yeslyamova, who appeared in Sergey Dvortsevoy’s Tulpan (2008), has won the best actress award for her lead performance in the Kazakh writer-director’s follow-up, Akya. The Hollywood Reporter’s Leslie Felperin calls the new film “a far dourer affair set in the drabbest, grubbiest hellholes of Moscow.” Yeslyamova plays a young woman who’s in Russia illegally, has just given birth, and has no money, no job, and barely a place to stay. For Notebook editor Daniel Kasman, Ayka is “a bracing dose of the kind of allegiance cinema can have with those for whom simply existing at all is never a simple matter.” For more, see Mónica Delgado (desistfilm), Tim Grierson (Screen), Bénédicte Prot (Cineuropa), and Barbara Scharres (RogerEbert.com).
The Caméra d’Or, presented to the best first feature by a jury headed up this year by Ursula Meier, goes to Girl, directed by Lukas Dhont, who’s had an amazing festival overall. In a minute, we’ll get to three other awards he’ll be taking home.