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Cannes 2024 Jury “Led With Our Hearts”

Mikey Madison in Sean Baker’s Anora (2024)

Asked about awarding this year’s Palme d’Or to Sean Baker’s Anora, Cannes jury president Greta Gerwig said that “we really led with our hearts.” The story of a Brighton Beach stripper who allows herself to be whisked away by the son of a Russian oligarch was “something that we collectively felt we were transported by,” said Gerwig. “It felt both new and in conversation with older forms of cinema. There was something about it that reminded us of classic structures of a Lubitsch or a Howard Hawks, and then it did something completely truthful and unexpected.”

As played by Mikey Madison (Better Things) “with a sweetness that humanizes even the most transactional situations and a defensiveness that makes her dangerous when threatened, Anora, who goes by Ani, stands alongside the defiantly resilient protagonists of Baker’s last handful of films, from Starlet and Tangerine through The Florida Project and Red Rocket,” writes the Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney. Ani’s lap dance for twenty-one-year-old Ivan (Mark Eydelshteyn) leads to a Pretty Woman–like $15,000-a-day arrangement, and eventually, a flight on a private jet to a Las Vegas wedding.

When news of the fling reaches Ivan’s family back in Russia, the heavies are called in to put a stop to it. “This is a Cinderella story,” writes Mark Asch at InsideHook, “but the countdown to midnight begins after the poor girl wins her prince.” Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson isn’t the only critic to point out that the latter half of Anora is “in line with something like Uncut Gems, a kinetic race through a New York City rarely seen on film. It’s a wild, profane blast.” For Time’s Stephanie Zacharek, though, “it’s more in league with Something Wild– and Married to the Mob–era Jonathan Demme. For the space of one movie, at least, it’s as if Demme, with his golden heart, has been restored to us. Baker has that kind of generosity.”

Introducing his ranked and annotated list of all twenty-two films to premiere in competition, the New Yorker’s Justin Chang writes that Baker, the first American director to win the coveted top prize since Terrence Malick won for The Tree of Life in 2011, gave “the best, most eloquent and impassioned acceptance speech I’ve ever heard a Palme winner give.” Dedicating his award to sex workers around the world, Baker also nodded to two heroes, Francis Ford Coppola, whose Megalopolis sucked all the air out of the room during the first weekend of the festival’s seventy-seventh edition, and David Cronenberg, whose The Shrouds won no awards but placed high on the Moirée critics grid. Baker’s biggest applause line: “I see the future of cinema as where it started: in a movie theater.”

Grand Prix

Gerwig’s jury, which included Juan Antonio Bayona, Ebru Ceylan, Pierfrancesco Favino, Lily Gladstone, Eva Green, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Nadine Labaki, and Omar Sy, gave the Grand Prix—second place, essentially—to Payal Kapadia’s All We Imagine as Light. “With its simple emotions and straightforward storytelling, the film couldn’t be more different from the experimentalism and political edge which propelled the Indian filmmaker’s found-footage documentary A Night of Knowing Nothing to the film-festival stratosphere in 2021, when she won Cannes’ Golden Eye award for best documentary,” writes Clarence Tsui at Film Verdict. “But her delicate touch remains very much the same, as she offers a gentle but clear critique of the challenges faced by women in India today. A two-parter which begins in a monsoon-soaked, magenta-hued Mumbai and ends amidst the crimson-and-green landscapes of a fishing village, All We Imagine as Light is as soothing on the eye as it is on the heart.”

Prabha (Kani Kusruti) is an overworked but conscientious nurse whose family arranged her marriage to a man who left for Germany several years ago. She hasn’t heard much from him since, but out of the blue, a bright red rice cooker arrives at the apartment Prabha shares with a young receptionist, Anu (Divya Prabha). Neither roommate can readily decipher the message Prabha’s husband may be trying to get across. Anu has been seeing Shiaz (Hridhu Haroon), but because she’s Hindu and he’s Muslim, they have to meet in secret. The women’s older colleague, Parvaty (Chhaya Kadam), is being forced out of her apartment, so she decides to move back to the seaside town where she grew up. Prabha and Anu have their own reasons for coming along.

In the first Indian film to premiere in competition in three decades, cinematographer Ranabir Das’s “use of diffused light, slow pans, tilts, and zooms, production designer Shamim Khan’s naturalistically over-decorated, time-worn sets, and the mix of intimately recorded voiceover and twinkling jazz instrumentals are all carefully modulated to produce a tone that’s light but never airless,” writes Ryan Coleman for Slant. “As for the film’s pace, Kapadia keeps it slow but never languorous. Monsoon season itself is tamed into submission. Gently, Kapadia begins to let in enough water to expose the cracks in each characters’ foundation.”

Best Director

Grand Tour has landed at the top of the International Cinephile Society’s critics grid and scored a Best Director award for Miguel Gomes. Writing for Sight and Sound, Giovanni Marchini Camia notes that Gomes, cowriters Telmo Churro, Maureen Fazendeiro, and Mariana Ricardo, and cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom (known for his work with Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Luca Guadagnino) dreamed up the story while traveling through Asia before the COVID-19 outbreak sent them all back home.

In Portugal, Gomes, working with cinematographer Guo Liang, remotely directed sequences set in China and staged further scenes in a studio in Lisbon with cinematographer Rui Poças. Set in 1918, Grand Tour stars Gonçalo Waddington as Edward, a British civil servant preparing to greet the fiancée he hasn’t seen in seven years, Molly (Crista Alfaiate), in Rangoon. But he gets cold feet and jumps on a ship to Singapore. Molly telegrams that she’s on her way, and the slow-motion chase is on through Bangkok, Saigon, Manila, Osaka, and Shanghai.

“From the beginning,” writes Jessica Kiang in Variety, “Gomes’s eccentric, puckish sensibilities are in evidence, with every beautifully rendered black-and-white, period-set interior alternating with bustling, bristling contemporary footage of the various towns and countries featured. Between 1918 and now, some of them have changed their names—Burma is now Myanmar, Siam is now Thailand—but none have changed their spirit, a fact that the seemingly reckless but actually deceptively meticulous construction makes clear.” Marchini Camia points out that, as opposed to Christian Petzold’s Transit (2018), “the collapsing of past and present does not convey a political message—the effect is purely poetic. The story and its emotions might be anchored in reality, but they follow a logic that is exclusive to cinema.”

Special Jury Prize

The story behind the making of Grand Tour may be odd, but it’s nowhere near as harrowing as the one behind The Seed of the Sacred Fig. Mohammad Rasoulof was close to completing it when he heard that Iranian authorities would soon enforce a sentence of eight years in prison and a flogging. “I faced a choice: being incarcerated or leaving Iran,” said Rasoulof in a statement released just as the festival was opening. “With a heavy heart, I opted for exile.”

A few days later, Sean Baker, Payal Kapadia, and several other prominent filmmakers and stars signed an open letter of solidarity with Rasoulof, and the director’s appearance at the premiere The Seed of the Sacred Fig, where he held up photos of his absent lead actors, “made for one of the most emotional moments in recent Cannes memory,” writes Justin Chang. “It’s a remarkable film and we wanted to pay tribute to it,” said Gerwig after awarding the film a Special Jury Prize. “We wanted to shine a spotlight on the bravery it took to make this film, underline the sacrifice.”

“Timely, anguished, and ultimately cathartic, the movie meets its moment,” writes Mark Asch at Little White Lies. For the Telegraph’s Robbie Collin, it’s “a mesmerizingly gripping and controlled parable-thriller in which the paranoia, misogyny, and rage of the Iranian state are mapped seamlessly onto an ordinary family unit.” Lawyer Iman (Missagh Zareh) becomes an investigating judge in the Revolutionary Court in Tehran just as the Woman, Life, Freedom movement swells following the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the morality police in 2022. Iman’s daughters, Rezvan (Mahsa Rostami) and Sana (Setareh Maleki), steal illicit glimpses of the protests on social media, and his wife, Najmeh (Soheila Golestani), cleans the wounds of a woman who has been shot in the face by the police.

“Up until its halfway point,” writes Asch, “the film resembles one of Asghar Farhadi’s painstakingly procedural dramas, which capture the intense legal and moral scrutiny of life in the Islamic Republic, showing how one barely-glimpsed incident, or a single personal miscalculation, reverberates through a web of closely interconnected characters to life-altering effect.” But then Iman’s gun goes missing, and Rezvan and Sana’s “budding feminine defiance flowers into final-girl resourcefulness as Rasoulof stages a home-invasion thriller with Iman as something like the Islamic Republic’s Jack Torrance, a once-familiar father figure turned embodiment of masculine demons and childhood terrors, a pursuing ogre in a fairy-tale labyrinth.”

“Is it all a bit over the top?” asks Jordan Mintzer in the Hollywood Reporter. “Certainly. Is it worse than what’s happening on Tehran’s streets? No.” Besides the Special Jury Prize, The Seed of the Sacred Fig also won a FIPRESCI Prize and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury, and it tops the final critics grids at Screen International and Ioncinema.

Jury Prize and Acting and Screenplay Awards

The competition wasn’t offering much to argue about until Jacques Audiard’s Emilia Pérez, a musical about a Mexican cartel boss who undergoes gender affirmation surgery, and Coralie Fargeat’s The Substance, a bloody body-horror story pitting a former movie star against her younger self, came along. We took a look at first impressions of the two most divisive films at the festival last week, and so, too, has Kyle Buchanan for the New York Times.

Fargeat won Best Screenplay and Emilia Pérez won the Jury Prize and the award for Best Performance by an Actress, which went to Karla Sofía Gascón, Selena Gomez, Adriana Paz, and Zoe Saldaña. “Separating them would have broken the magic of what they had managed to create,” said Gerwig. Jesse Plemons won the award for Best Performance by an Actor for playing three roles in another film that split the critics, Yorgos Lanthimos’s Kinds of Kindness. Many would like to have seen at least one of the two awards for Emilia Pérez go to either Jia Zhangke or his star, Zhao Tao, but Caught by the Tides—which tops Justin Chang’s list and the Moirée grid—was sent home empty-handed.

Un Certain Regard

The Caméra d’Or jury, presided over by Emmanuelle Béart and Baloji, presented the award for the best first feature premiering in any of the festival’s sections to Armand, an Un Certain Regard selection directed by Halfdan Ullmann Tøndel. We can’t not mention that Tøndel is the grandson of Ingmar Bergman and Liv Ullmann.

Renate Reinsve and Ellen Dorrit Petersen play mothers called in by an elementary school principal to discuss a dispute between their two young sons. Armand “starts by promising a bourgeois social drama about secrets and lies, suspicions and rivalries, and the troubled waters of juvenile and adult sexuality,” writes Jonathan Romney for Screen. “What it ultimately becomes is much harder to define, but the result is resonant and haunting.”

The Un Certain Regard jury—Xavier Dolan (president), Maïmouna Doucouré, Asmae El Moudir, Vicky Krieps, and Todd McCarthy—gave their top award to Guan Hu’s Black Dog. Eddie Peng—“the most charismatic leading man Chinese cinema has produced in the twenty-first century,” according to Sean Gilman at In Review Online—stars as Lang, a loner who returns to his desolate hometown and finds it overrun by abandoned dogs gone wild. Jia Zhangke shows up as “a variation on his ‘Boss Jia’ persona from a few of his own films,” notes Gilman.

Boris Lojkine’s The Story of Souleymane won the Jury Prize and the Best Actor award for Abou Sangaré, who plays an immigrant bicycling hot meals through the streets of Paris. In two days, he’ll have an interview that will determine whether or not he’ll be allowed to stay in France.

“Lojkine’s taut, honed screenplay, cowritten by Delphine Agut (Inshallah a Boy), coupled with Tristan Galand’s unobtrusively elegant yet dynamic camerawork and the pacy energy of Xavier Sirven’s editing, make the film a far smoother, better oiled vehicle than Souleymane’s scraping bike,” writes Jessica Kiang. “But the formal mechanics are most impressive in how they understand that their purpose is supportive, to be there to give structure to the showcase of Sangaré’s extraordinary performance. Initially embodying a rangy, street-level physicality, Sangaré is magnetic, but as Souleymane’s psychology is more deeply explored, there appears to be no limit to how much soul and sensitivity the actor can bring to a character who could easily have ended up a thin collection of ‘good immigrant’ tropes.”

The Best Director award went to both Roberto Minervini for his first fully fictional feature, The Damned, and to Rungano Nyoni for her follow-up to I Am Not a Witch (2017), On Becoming a Guinea Fowl. Set during the Civil War, The Damned hunkers down with a group of Union soldiers sent to patrol uncharted western territories. “It’s possible to watch The Damned as a rugged journey with a rank-and-file company of bewhiskered volunteers, who trade marksmanship tips and tin-pot coffee in an isolating wilderness,” writes Nicolas Rapold at the top of his interview with Minervini for Filmmaker. “But it’s perhaps inevitable that the underlying tension of that era’s schism doesn’t feel especially far from today’s feeling of mounting volatility, the not-so-calm before a bigger storm.”

In Guinea Fowl, Shula (Susan Chardy) discovers the dead body of the uncle who abused her as a child. The question of whether to mourn or celebrate is split along the generational lines in her Zambian family. “Blending molasses-dark comedy with searing poetic realism to capture contemporary Zambian society at a generational impasse between staunch tradition and social progress, this is palpably new, future-minded filmmaking, at once intrepidly daring and rigorously poised,” writes Guy Lodge in Variety.

Anasuya Sengupta won the Best Actress award for her portrayal of Renuka, a Muslim sex worker who flees a Delhi brothel in Konstantin Bojanov’s The Shameless. Sengupta gives “an impeccably, self-assured performance, rife with enrapturing nuances that create a liberating sense of queer Indian femininity seldom depicted on screen,” writes Siddhant Adlakha in Variety.

In Holy Cow, the debut feature from Louise Courvoisier and the winner of the Youth Award, eighteen-year-old Totone (Clement Faveau) loses a father and inherits a failing farm in southeastern France. Screen’s Lee Marshall calls Holy Cow “a small but likable coming-of-age tale that reeks of dung, grilled sausages, sweat, and diesel oil.”

The general consensus seems to be that, while this year’s Cannes Film Festival got off to a ho-hum start, by the end, it proved itself to be a pretty solid edition. On Monday, IndieWire published the results of its poll of fifty-five critics who were there, and coming in at #1 for best film, director, and screenplay was Sean Baker’s Anora.

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