When Cannes jury president Vincent Lindon announced on Saturday evening that this year’s Palme d’Or would be going to Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness, the press room erupted with what the Telegraph’s Robbie Collin called “the first proper boos of the festival—and raucous cheering too!” Such was the tenor throughout the seventy-fifth edition. Hours before the awards ceremony, Collin noted that there had been “hits and misses everywhere: it’s just no one can agree which were which.” The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw declared that he had “never seen a Cannes like this for radical disagreement among critics on almost every single title: there’s hardly been a film here that hasn’t experienced a range of takes of all different temperatures.”
The split reaction to Triangle of Sadness is fairly well summed up by Rory O’Connor when he observes at the Film Stage that Östlund “might like his fish in a barrel, but he’s a ruthless shot.” A model (Harris Dickinson) and an Instagram influencer (Charlbi Dean) take a free ride on a luxury yacht and mingle with the filthy rich—British arms dealers, a Russian oligarch, a Swedish tech billionaire, and a Marxist captain (Woody Harrelson)—until sea sickness and further calamities upend the social order.
At two and a half hours, Triangle is “a glib movie, self-indulgent in its extended running time and far too amused with its easy digs at wealth and privilege,” finds the Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney. But for the Los Angeles Times’s Justin Chang, this is “the sharpest, grandest such excoriation we’ve had in a while, etched in Östlund’s beautifully composed master shots, which he then sets brilliantly askew once the boat sails into turbulent, pirate-infested waters. From there, the director pours on the acid—and the diarrhea, and the vomit—in some of the most remarkably modulated and attenuated gross-out comedy scenes in recent memory.”
Writing for Screen,Jonathan Romney wishes that “this immensely talented filmmaker had shown a surer, lighter touch at the wheel. There are flashes of the incisive, caustic insight of his Force Majeure and Palme d’Or-winning art-world satire The Square,” but Triangle “lacks the pitiless ironic cool that made those two films so memorable.” For Slate’s Sam Adams, what Triangle “lacks in specificity it more than makes up for in gusto, but it’s also the kind of movie that almost anyone can walk away from without feeling implicated. It’s a critique you laugh at, rather than one you feel.”
Lindon’s jury, which included Asghar Farhadi, Rebecca Hall, Ladj Ly, Jeff Nichols, Deepika Padukone, Noomi Rapace, Joachim Trier, and Jasmine Trinca, split both the Grand Prix and the Jury Prize between two films each, suggesting that they, too, had a tough time reaching a consensus. Many critics predicted that Close, Belgian director Lukas Dhont’s second feature and one of the winners of the Grand Prix, would take the Palme d’Or, and nearly as many thought it should. One of the few detractors is IndieWire’s David Ehrlich, who notes that Dhont’s Girl (2019) “was understandably controversial both for its casting of a cisgender boy in the role of a trans ballet dancer, and for the way its final moments weaponized the film’s clarity toward a violent ending that verged on the emotionally pornographic. Dhont’s follow-up steers clear of the first problem, but only mitigates the second.”
Thirteen-year-old friends Léo (Eden Dambrine) and Rémi (Gustav De Waele) are affectionate with each other in ways that their families embrace but their schoolmates reject. As Jay Weissberg notes at the Film Verdict, tragedy strikes about forty-five minutes in, but Close “doesn’t howl and it doesn’t wail: its subtleties wrap themselves around us, perfectly calibrated and profoundly moving. We talk about the evanescence of childhood and yet we never escape its deathless imprint on our psyches; Dhont gives us a window onto its beauty and fragility, setting thoughts backwards towards inevitable what-ifs and showing us a state of grace destroyed like a sandcastle whose form nevertheless remains.”
Critical response to the other winner of the Grand Prix, Claire Denis’s Stars at Noon, has been far more divergent. Working with cowriters Léa Mysius and Andrew Litvack, Denis has adapted—and updated to the COVID-sodden present—Denis Johnson’s 1986 novel about a struggling American journalist (Margaret Qualley) who hooks up with a British wheeler-dealer (Joe Alwyn) in Nicaragua. Writing for InsideHook, Mark Asch notes that “a very smart friend” suggested to him that Stars at Noon might “conceivably” be Denis’s worst film. “To which I could only respond: ‘. . . okay? So?’”
“Leave behind any idea that this is a robust production of an English-language thriller,” suggests Daniel Kasman in the Notebook, “and instead embrace the way the great French impressionist and master elliptician skims the bare surface of the genres that provide the film’s framework in order to evoke the tenuous limbos—national, mortal, romantic—of its sweaty, horny imperialist couple.” While “everything feels off” to Filmmaker’s Vadim Rizov, for Guy Lodge in Variety, much of Stars, from its “bristling, dust-licked atmospherics to its frank, corporeal eroticism to yet another shivery, enveloping score by longtime collaborators Tindersticks, is vintage Denis.”
We’ve already taken measure of the overwhelmingly positive response to Jerzy Skolimowski’s Eo, a picaresque tale inspired by Robert Bresson’s Au hasard Balthazar (1966), and of the split verdict on Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch’s The Eight Mountains, which traces the friendship of two Italian men across three decades. Skolimowski’s first order of business on Saturday night was to thank the six donkeys who took turns playing the lead in Eo. Then, after Vandermeersch thanked the jury, she gave van Groeningen one of the most genuinely loving kisses ever seen at an awards ceremony.
Directing, Writing, Acting
Decision to Leave, Park Chan-wook’s love story dressed up as a murder mystery, is another film we’ve weighed early reactions to, and it seems the jury agrees with most reviewers. Park won Best Director, and he was among the many in the Grand Théâtre Lumière thrilled to see Sang Kang Ho—whom he directed in Joint Security Area (2000), Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002), and Thirst (2009)—win Best Actor for his performance in Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Broker.
While detectives Su-jin (Doona Bae) and Lee (Lee Joo-young) watch from a distance, a distraught mother played by Lee Ji-eun, known to K-pop fans as IU, leaves her newborn child in a baby box at the Busan Family Church. There, a part-time worker, Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won), slips away with the baby to a laundry service run by Sang-hyun (Song). The partners in crime make for caring if temporary surrogate parents while they look for prospective buyers. “The contrasting sights of a baby alone on the street, then cradled in Song Kang Ho’s big bear arms” amount to “Kore-eda’s way of telling us to leave knee-jerk moral judgements at the door,” writes Sophie Monks Kaufman for Sight and Sound.
Some critics object to what Ioncinema’s Nicholas Bell calls “a heightened sense of schmaltz” in Kore-eda’s first Korean-language film, but others are won over. “By Kore-eda’s gentle standards,” writes Screen’s Tim Grierson, “Broker is a more suspenseful, plot-driven affair than usual, but the enormity of his compassion and melancholy air remain undiminished.”
Accepting the award for Best Screenplay, Swedish-Egyptian writer and director Tarik Saleh mentioned that he “hates to direct,” and “honestly,” writes Blake Williams at Filmmaker, “that checks out.” In Boy from Heaven, Adam (Tawfeek Barhom), a fisherman’s son, wins a scholarship and enrolls at the prestigious Al-Azhar University in Cairo. When the Grand Imam dies, Adam is pulled into a power struggle that will determine his replacement. For Jihane Bousfiha at the Playlist, Boy from Heaven is “a searing political thriller brimming with tension,” but at In Review Online, Chris Mello finds that “the largely linear A-to-B progression of the plot denies the pleasure of a truly labyrinthine espionage movie.”
Zar Amir Ebrahimi won the Best Actress award for playing Rahimi, a journalist who arrives in Mashhad from Tehran to report on a series of murders of sex workers in Holy Spider, directed by Danish-Iranian filmmaker Ali Abbasi (Border). While the film does take liberties, it’s based on a real-life serial killer who believed he was on a sacred mission in the early 2000s.
The Telegraph’s Tim Robey sees Rahimi as a “hardbitten terrier of an investigator” and “the feminist crusader the film straightforwardly requires to make a lot of its points, about a top-down conspiracy to blame women for a problem originating, as Abbasi uses his entire film to argue, in the sick hearts of men.” Justin Chang notes that Holy Spider was “one of the competition’s more divisive entries, attacked by some as exploitative, dismissed by others as conventional, and praised by others for its furious attack on systemic misogyny.”
75th Anniversary Prize
Many have been disappointed to see David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future, James Gray’s Armageddon Time, Cristian Mungiu’s R.M.N., Kelly Reichardt’s Showing Up, and Albert Serra’s Pacifiction go home empty-handed. We can quibble over their choices, but the jury did seem to try to stretch its reach as far as it could, presenting awards to ten of the twenty-one films in competition. They even created a special 75th Anniversary Prize in order to give another nod to Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, who have won the Palme d’Or twice (Rosetta,L’enfant) as well as the Grand Prix (The Kid with a Bike), Best Director (Young Ahmed), and Best Screenplay (Lorna’s Silence).
In Tori and Lokita, two refugees from Benin, a preadolescent boy and teenaged girl, pass themselves off in Belgium as brother and sister in the hopes of securing for her the papers he already has. At Little White Lies,Mark Asch finds the Dardennes’ twelfth feature to be “more despairing” than “the redemptive hits of Cannes competitions past: Tori and Lokita is at once more brutal and more maudlin. Has the world changed or have they changed?”
Daniel Kasman argues that the Dardennes “showcase exactly how to do this kind of story: with surgical precision. It is a film supremely uninflected and unadorned so as to confront us with the blunt brutality of everyday living of those who go unseen except by law enforcement and exploiters. Performances are stripped to a functional, behavioral minimum, actions and acts like the infliction of violence or a gesture of love and commiseration are spare, pointed, and without excess. This makes the story of the hand-to-mouth struggle of displaced living all the more ruthless.”
Un Certain Regard
Saturday’s boos and cheers were preceded by Friday’s boos and cheers. When the Un Certain Regard jury—Valeria Golino (president), Benjamin Biolay, Debra Granik, Joanna Kulig, and Edgar Ramirez—announced this year’s winners, critics wanted to know how some of their favorites, including Hlynur Pálmason’s Godland, Maksym Nakonechnyi’s Butterfly Vision, Emin Alper’s Burning Days, and Maryam Touzani’s The Blue Caftan, could slip by unmentioned.
But the jury could have done worse than present its top award, the Un Certain Regard Prize, to The Worst Ones, the debut feature by former casting directors Lise Akoka and Romane Gueret. A fictional Belgian director in his midfifties is looking to cast real, down-to-earth kids from a working class suburb in northern France in order to ensure that his first feature captures “that ‘certified organic’ sense of gritty realism that is sure to wow festival audiences,” as Lee Marshall explains in Screen. Deadline’s Anna Smith finds The Worst Ones to be “thought-provoking and sometimes darkly funny.”
Saim Sadiq’s Joyland, the first Pakistani film to premiere in Cannes, won the Jury Prize. Haider Rana (Ali Junejo) is a happily married man who falls for a transgender woman, Biba (Alina Khan), and Sadiq “has no qualms about exploring how the tension between religious conservative norms and modern sexual freedom can often be awkward and absurd,” writes Siddhant Adlakha at IndieWire. The narrative “may be linear and simple, but it feels always on edge, always unpredictable, as if its most human moments could lead either to harrowing disaster or to unconstrained euphoria.”
Alexandru Belc, who has worked with Cristian Mungiu and Corneliu Porumboiu, won the Best Director award for his first feature, Metronom. The title is also the name of a program Radio Free Europe broadcast into Ceaușescu’s Romania in the early 1970s. When seventeen-year-old Ana (Mara Bugarin) and her friends decide to send a letter to the station, the secret police show up at the door. “The restraint of Belc’s filmmaking is impressive, especially in the film’s thornier, more fraught second half, when the temptation must have existed to go bigger and more extreme, to punch home points that instead land like paper cuts so subtle you don’t notice till they bleed,” writes Jessica Kiang in Variety. “This is not a drama of sharp, stabbing theatrics, but of quietly ramping internal tension, as it comes to feel like an entire society’s moral fate hangs in the balance of Ana’s faltering resolve.”
The Best Performance Prize was presented to two actors—Vicky Krieps, for her portrayal of Empress Elizabeth of Austria—“Sissi”—as she turns forty in 1877 in Marie Kreutzer’s Corsage; and Adam Bessa, who plays Ali, a young Tunisian charged with caring for his sisters after the death of his father in Lotfy Nathan’s Harka.Corsage was a big critical favorite. “Playing wryly with anachronism before boldly abandoning historical reality entirely, it nonetheless stays true to the spirit—as defined by legend, at least—of its subject,” writes Guy Lodge at Film of the Week. “Best of all, Krieps’s witty, sexy, serpentine performance finds the angular feminine modernity in a figure too long encased in a ceramic glaze.”
Bessa delivers “an extraordinary, hounded performance” in Harka, writes Tim Robey. “Remarkably good-looking, he’s the only professional actor in the cast. You can’t take your eyes off his closed face and weary stare, as the film builds a one-man-against-the-system polemic from the utterly convincing predicament of his character.”
The Best Screenplay award went to writer and director Maha Haj for Mediterranean Fever. Waleed (Amer Hlehel), a middle-aged Palestinian in Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city, is a chronically depressed would-be novelist with writer’s block. He clashes with his new neighbor, Jalal (Ashraf Farah), a small-time crook, until they become friends and hatch a plan. “Keeping us guessing right up to the end, Haj’s anecdotal comedy about depression is a refreshing look at the region’s political turmoil,” writes Kaleem Aftab at Cineuropa.
The rarely awarded Coup de cœur Prize went to Rodeo, Lola Quivoron’s debut feature about a young woman (Julie Ledru) who demands and wins the respect of a band of outlaw dirt bikers in the Parisian suburbs. “Rodeo is a combustible fusion of crime story, character study, and existential mystery, a tale of celebration and lament, and it announces the arrival of a gifted and adventurous filmmaker,” writes Sheri Linden in the Hollywood Reporter.
Any first feature premiering in any competition in Cannes, including the independent programs Directors’ Fortnight and Critics’ Week, is eligible for the Caméra d’Or. As it happens, Rossy De Palma’s jury decided to give this year’s prize as well as a special mention to two films premiering in the Un Certain Regard program. Gina Gammel and Riley Keough worked closely with cowriters Bill Reddy and Franklin Sioux Bob to tell the stories of twenty-three-year-old Bill (Jojo Bapteise Whiting) and twelve-year-old Matho (LaDainian Crazy Thunder)—both nonprofessional actors from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota—in War Pony.
Collaboration on this “slice-of-life work of neorealism” is “the greatest virtue of Keough and Gammell’s approach,” finds Charles Bramesco at Little White Lies, “the ability to decentralize their own perspectives and be subsumed by someone else’s. For Keough in particular—who’s put as much space as possible between herself and the upper crust into which she was born by bringing depth to ‘white trash’ with her American Honey and Zola roles—it feels like the culmination of a lifelong project that’s only just beginning in earnest.”
In Chie Hayakawa’s Plan 75, the recipient of the special mention, Japan’s elderly are encouraged to volunteer for a euthanasia program to help relieve society of its burdens. Writing about this “quietly devastating” debut for Vulture, Rachel Handler notes that “while it very clearly aims its pointed social critiques at our current culture of individualism and detachment in the face of total government abandonment, it’s not preachy. That doesn’t mean it won’t leave you feeling soul-sick.”
Every critic dispatching from the festival seems to have found at least one film to fall in love with this year, but overall, the general consensus was that the seventy-fifth edition couldn’t measure up to last year’s, when a bumper crop of backlogged films after the cancellation of the festival in 2020 made for such a rich lineup that artistic director Thierry Frémaux created an extra program, Cannes Premiere, to accommodate the overflow. In the meantime, the staff at Screen is already looking ahead to Venice, suggesting that we may be able to look forward to new work from Wes Anderson, Yorgos Lanthimos, Andrew Dominik, Sarah Polley, Alice Diop, and the list goes on. The lineup for the seventy-ninth edition, running from August 31 through September 10, will be announced in July.
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