Cannes, the final day: Britain’s Loach wins Palme for ‘I, Daniel Blake’

Hayley Squires and Dave Johns in "I, Daniel Blake."
Hayley Squires and Dave Johns in “I, Daniel Blake.”

 

In a big surprise, Britain’s Ken Loach won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival Sunday evening, his second after 2006’s “The Wind That Shakes the Barley.”

And in yet another surprise, the highly divisive “It’s Only the End of the World” from French-Canadian director Xavier Dolan took the grand prix, or second prize, while the critical favorite, “Toni Edmann,” by Germany’s Maren Ade was shut out. Also missing from the award winners were two highly acclaimed American films, Austin director Jeff Nichols’ “Loving” and Jim Jarmusch’s “Paterson.”

“The Salesman” from Iran’s Asghar Farhadi took best screenplay and best actor, for Shahab Hosseini. Best director was shared between Romania’s Cristian Mungiu for “Graduation” and France’s Olivier Assayas for “Personal Shopper,” another highly divisive film that starred Kristen Stewart.

Britain’s Andrea Arnold won third place, the jury prize, for the American-set “American Honey,” while Jaclyn Jose of Brillante Mendoza’s “Ma’ Rosa” won best actress. The latter was also a surprise, since Isabelle Huppert wowed critics with her performance in Paul Verhoeven’s thriller “Elle.”

The Camera d’Or, which goes to first-time directors, went to “Divines,” which played in Directors’ Fortnight.

MORE FROM CANNES: Talking animals and religion with director Jim Jarmusch

The ceremony capped a contentious festival, where many critics voiced strong opinions about the competition entries. The biggest victim of the annual barrage of vitriol was Sean Penn’s “The Last Face,” which ended up getting the lowest score in history from the critics featured in the British trade journal Screen International. It got only 1 star from two critics, and the rest gave it an “X,” or “F.”

Loach’s Palme winner, however, was in the middle of the critical pack. It has an overt political message, criticizing the bureaucracy that administers the British welfare system. It stars Dave Johns as Daniel Blake, a pensioner who faces loss of payments, and Hayley Squires as Katie, a single mother of two who is befriended by Daniel after she, too, loses battles with the welfare bureaucracy.

It’s a very touching, humanistic tale, as most of Loach’s movies are. But it treads dangerous ground in almost becoming too preachy — a turnoff for most critics. Still, it has heart, and Loach is a veteran, beloved filmmaker in Cannes.

Dolan’s victory was greeted with boos in the press audience. But his movie, which deals with a gay man who goes home to tell his family that he is dying,  has been far underrated by critics, some of whom deride the 27-year-old for his early success. He first appeared in Cannes when he was only 19 and has become Canada’s filmmaking prodigy.

It’s too early to say which films from Cannes will be contenders for an Oscar. Certainly, Iran’s “The Salesman” should be among the best foreign language Oscar contenders, if Iran chooses to submit it. Variety and other American outlets have been predicting that Nichols’ “Loving” will also be an Oscar contender.

Cannes Day 10: Two fine movies close out competition

Isabelle Huppert gives a wicked performance in "Elle."
Isabelle Huppert gives a wicked performance in “Elle.”

Two fine but very different movies — Paul Verhoeven’s “Elle” and Asghar Farad’s “The Salesman” — closed out the competition this weekend for the Palme d’Or in Cannes. And either one could get a major prize.

First, let’s talk about the deliciously evil and perverse “Elle.” Verhoeven, who brought “Basic Instinct” to Cannes in 1992, is back with another tale of a woman in danger who is also dangerous.

This time, it’s the brilliant Isabelle Huppert as Michele, a video game company founder in Paris who is raped by a man in a black ski mask in her luxurious home at the beginning of the film. Michele doesn’t act the way you might think. Once the rapist leaves, she calmly cleans up the broken glass from the floor. Then she takes a hot bath, not crying, just going about cleaning up in a methodical way.

She doesn’t call the police. At first, she doesn’t even tell anyone. She goes to work the next day and pretends nothing happened while giving instructions to her employees about how to build the suspense in a violent video game.

We slowly discover why Michele has an aversion to going to the police, and why she’s so determined to stay in control of life. When she was a child, her father went on a killing spree in Paris, and after the massacre, he came back home and asked his girl to help burn up the family possessions. She did, and as her father was being arrested, she was photographed in front of the fire, with ashes on her face. Ever since, she has been associated with the murders and has fought hard to build a prosperous life.

The rapist has her cell number and starts texting her, and she suspects that the perp might be someone who works for her. But we’re kept guessing.

She has a loser son, Vincent (Jonas Bloquet), who works at a fast-food joint. The husband whom she divorced is named Richard (Charles Berling), and he’s a frustrated writer. Her best friend is Anna (Anne Consigny), who co-founded the game company with Michele. And her next-door neighbors are the stockbroker Patrick (Laruent Lafitte) and his religious wife Rebecca (Virginie Efira).

All of these characters are introduced with skill by Verhoeven, but the movie centers on Huppert’s Michele, who is in every scene.

The movie is full of suspense, irony and, surprisingly, many laugh-out loud moments. Most of these come from Michele’s bluntness about those around her, and her peculiar take on life — that she’s going to live her life in freedom and not be constrained by societal norms.

In no way does the movie suggest that she’s come to terms or is OK with the rape, as some have suggested. Far from it. She plots to figure out who the rapist is, and then she carefully maneuvers the man, who knows that his identity has been discovered. And rather than immediately turn him in to police, she begins a rather unnerving game. It’s not a revenge thriller, necessarily, although you might end up interpreting it that way. But there’s more ambiguity than you might think. And the movie is very French. It’s hard to imagine anyone except, perhaps, Sharon Stone, playing such a role in an American film.

Huppert does so with wry glee. There’s a disturbing glint in her eye, and you come to understand that she’s completely amoral, in an almost scary way. But that’s why the movie is deliciously perverse. Huppert and Verhoeven are a great team, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t walk away with the best actress prize at Sunday’s awards ceremony. Her main competition: Ruth Negga of Austin director Jeff Nichols’ “Loving,” or possibly Kristen Stewart of “Personal Shopper.”

Shahab Hosseini and Taraneh Alidoosti in "The Salesman."
Shahab Hosseini and Taraneh Alidoosti in “The Salesman.”

The other late standout in Cannes is Iran’s “The Salesman,” which follows the fate of Rana (Taraneh Aliodoosti) and her husband  Emad (Shahab Hosseini). The two work at a local school, and both are starring in a play, Arthur Miller’s “The Death of a Salesman.” One day, Rana thinks the person ringing her high-rise bell below is her husband, coming home from practicing the play, and she buzzes the caller in without asking. She starts to shower, but ends up being attacked by an intruder. She hits her head on the bathroom glass and goes unconscious, and neighbors discover her lying on the floor as the intruder runs down the steps.

When Emad gets home, he discovers that his wife is in the hospital, possibly with a concussion. But his wife won’t tell Emad exactly what happened. He suspects the worst, possibly a sexual assault, but his wife refuses to discuss the matter. She’s scared, and she doesn’t want to stay in the apartment any more.

While Rana tries to return to normalcy, her husband becomes obsessed with finding the attacker. It turns out that the man left his keys to his truck, a cellphone and some money behind. And Emad finds the truck and waits for the owner to come back to claim it, planning on a confrontation.

To say much more would give away some key plot points, but the director, whose previous films include “The Past” and “A Separation,” is masterful at building tension between the wife and husband, leading us to wonder where all of this will go.

With the premieres of “Elle” and “The Salesman,” the race for the major prizes on Sunday becomes more complicated. Some think “American Honey,” from British director Andrea Arnold, will score big. Others think Nichols’ “Loving” has a shot at a major prize. Some, including me, think Jim Jarmusch’s “Paterson” has to be among the contenders. And it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see Germany’s Maren Ade become the second woman to win the Palme d’Or, for “Toni Erdmann.” Jane Campion is the only other woman who has won such an honor in Cannes, for “The Piano.”

There are several people, mainly among the European press, who think Olivier Assayas’ “Personal Shopper,” starring Stewart, will be among the award winners. And it would not be a surprise to see Kleber Mendonca Filho of Brazil win something for his Brazilian tale of a widow fighting a corrupt developer in “Aquarius.” And, no, you can’t rule out the Dardenne brothers, who premiered “The Unknown Girl” and are longtime Cannes favorites.

Sunday should be interesting.

Tonight, the winner of Un Certain Regard, the prestigious sidebar event, will be named.

 

Cannes Day 10: 5 reasons why Sean Penn’s ‘The Last Face’ is a disaster

Javier Bardem and Charlize Theron in "The Last Face."
Javier Bardem and Charlize Theron in “The Last Face.”

 

Sean Penn told the Financial Times that he had a lot riding on the Cannes premiere of his new directorial effort, “The Last Face.” If he was counting on gaining support in Cannes for his film, he’s in a lot of trouble. It was one of the worst receptions of a film I’ve ever seen in Cannes, and he still has to do a press conference later in the day. Here are a few reasons why the movie failed so badly.

  1. Here’s a film about the ravages of war in Africa, mainly in Liberia and the South Sudan. But unlike last  year’s “Beasts of No Nation,” there are no significant roles for black people.
  2. Instead, Penn focuses his story on a love affair between two doctors who work in refugee camps. They’re played by Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem, and the central argument in their relationship is whether they could do more good at the United Nations in Switzerland or helping the wounded in Africa. Theron’s character prefers the halls of the U.N., while Bardem prefers the camps. They argue and argue. But the dialogue is dreadful. And most of the words spoken in the film are mumbled voiceovers.
  3. The supporting cast is equally awful, including poor Jean Reno, who utters some of the most ridiculous lines ever penned for the screen.

    MORE FROM CANNES: Five weird moments at the festival

  4. The movie features lots of surgeries, with an approach that almost seems like war-wound porn. We see legs being chopped off. We see a Caesarean section done in the jungle, on a woman who has had her throat slit. We see gaping wounds in legs and stomachs and elsewhere. It’s rather clear that Penn is trying to show us the horrors of war, but he goes too far.
  5. The movie is so didactic that it ends with a lecture, given by Theron at a gathering of philanthropists, where she talks of the dreams of refugees and how they’re just like us. But lets make this clear: While Penn’s intentions might be good and warm-hearted, his movie is woefully tone-deaf. Cannes is the temple of art films, and there’s an artful way to tell the tragic story of African wars. See the aforementioned “Beasts of No Nation.” This is didacticism at its worst. It’s hard to believe that Penn, who has been known for his philanthropic works, hasn’t been warned about the “white savior” complex. But he walks right into it in “The Last Face.” He might want to return to acting.

Another day, another silly Internet falsehood

Oh dear, another day, another trending Internet falsehood. Here’s the latest, and it has to do with a movie called “100 Years — The Movie You Will Never See,” which is a joint project of John Malkovich and Robert Rodriguez.

Back in November, a cognac company that ages its spirits for 100 years said that the two movie celebrities had made a film that was being put in a vault and would not be seen for 100 years. That original story had all sorts of reasons for raising an eyebrow. For instance, just exactly what kind of technology do they think will be available in 100 years?

And today, folks started saying that the Cannes Film Festival would be “showcasing” or “displaying” the movie. Um, no.

If you care to look, you’ll find that it’s not screening in any way, with any connection with the official festival. The competition and official selection can be found here.

The screenings for Critics Week can be found here. The screenings for Directors’ Fortnight can be found here.

The reason for skepticism: Do you see in any of these reports who’s actually making the statement?

As anyone who has ever been to the Cannes Film Festival knows, there’s a concurrent Market, where anything can screen, and where all sorts of promotional events happen, usually with a corporate sponsor. That’s probably what this is. But in no way is the Cannes Film Festival screening or showcasing this movie. A company is probably screening some footage as part of a marketing event. Sigh.

Suzanne Cordeiro / For American-Statesman Texas Film Awards Honoree Robert Rodriguez walks the red carpet held at Austin Studios on March 12, 2015 in Austin, Texas.
Suzanne Cordeiro / For American-Statesman
Texas Film Awards Honoree Robert Rodriguez walks the red carpet held at Austin Studios on March 12, 2015 in Austin, Texas.

John_Malkovich_KVIFF_2

Four things you might not know about Cannes 2016

We’ll have a preview of what’s happening at the Cannes Film Festival in our Sunday editions. But here’s some extra stuff to whet your appetite.

Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart in Woody Allen's "Cafe Society." (Amazon Studios)
Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart in Woody Allen’s “Cafe Society.” (Amazon Studios)

1. Kristen Stewart is far more highly regarded as an actress in Europe than she is in the United States. Part of the U.S. reaction to her abilities probably has something to do with her being the star of the “Twlight” movies, which aren’t exactly art-house fare. But since she rose to fame in the “Twilight” films, she has been making interesting – and smart – choices with her career. She’s carefully picking her roles and making sure that she’s working with a well-regarded director. This year in Cannes she’ll be starring in two movies that are part of the official selection: Woody Allen’s opening-night film, “Café Society,” and French director Olivier Assayas’ “Personal Shopper,” the latter of which is in competition for the Palme d’Or. Interestingly, Stewart starred in Assayas’ last movie, “Clouds of Sils Maria,” which played in the Cannes competition, and Stewart went on to win the French Cesar Award for best supporting actress for her role as Juliette Binoche’s personal assistant. She was also in Walter Salles’ “On the Road,” which screened in the 2012 Cannes competition. And she’s set to star in Ang Lee’s “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” which is based on the novel by Dallas author Ben Fountain and is scheduled to be released this winter. “Walk” is already getting raves from early screenings for its technological achievements, fyi, and is expected to be a player during this year’s awards season.

2. When someone writes or tells you that a movie played in Cannes, you need to know that such a phrase means little or nothing. It’s all about WHERE it played in Cannes. If it’s part of the official selection, that’s a big deal. If it’s in the competition for the Palme d’Or, that’s the biggest deal possible. If it’s in one of the official sidebars, like Directors’ Fortnight or Critics Week, that’s also a big deal. But it means very little if a movie is playing in the Market – the simultaneous event that takes place in the caverns of the Palais. Anybody can screen anything there, as long as they’re willing to pay. And if someone has a movie showing in the Short Film Corner, it simply means that they’re spending their own money to network and show a short in the basement of the Palais, where various booths are set up for folks to network. Such screenings are NOT curated, and being in the Short Film Corner isn’t a sign of artistic achievement, in any stretch of the imagination, unless you think that the trend of “everybody gets a trophy” is actually worthwhile.

3. Americans are going to be getting far more attention in Cannes this year than they have in some previous years, at least if you’re looking at the official selection. The movies are: Woody Allen’s “Café Society,” Jeff Nichols’ “Loving,” Sean Penn’s “The Last Face,” Jim Jarmusch’s “Paterson,” Michael O’Shea’s “The Transfiguration,” Matt Ross’ “Captain Fantastic,” Shane Black’s “The Nice Guys,” Jodie Foster’s “Money Monster,” Steven Spielberg’s “The BFG,” Jonathan Littell’s “Wrong Elements,” Jarmusch’s “Gimme Danger,” with a special tribute to Robert De Niro with a screening of “Hands of Stone,” directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz, a longtime friend of Austin’s Robert Rodriguez and Elizabeth Avellan and a former student at the Radio Television Film Department at the University of Texas.

4. Cannes always has some wild movies in the competition. This year, the wildest promises to be Nicoloas Winding Refn’s “The Neon Demon,” which the Danish director filmed in L.A. It’s about cannibalism and supermodels. Refn is hit-or-miss at Cannes. His movie “Drive,” starring Ryan Gosling, was a hit when it played at Cannes in 2011. But in 2013, “Only God Forgives” fell flat with most critics.