There’s no doubt Bong Joon Ho has made an excellent film in Parasite and it now takes its place among the illustrious winners of the Palme d’Or. It wasn’t my favourite of the Competition but its win is good news for cinema, because this will prove a popular success – a Bong hit, if you please – and pack ‘em in at the arthouses.
It’s probably the most ‘fun’ winner of the Palme ever, and its entertainment comes laced with political satire, too.
So yes, I did feel for Celine Sciamma when she was given the Screenplay prize. I was, like many, hoping to see her film win the big one, just to lay to rest this whole Jane Campion, female director thing. As I said in an earlier piece, A Portrait of a Lady on Fire was sumptuous, exquisite and emotional but, in the end, I felt it was just too delicate to appeal to macho Innaritu, the Jury chair. I wonder if this is the whole thing, about the lack of female winners – even as these awards recognised three female directors, there was still the sense that none of them was ‘ballsy’ enough to win the Palme. Bong’s film has the ‘cojones’, and that still seems to be a problem in terms of some viewers’/voters’ understanding parity and accepting there’s something more feminine in a movie that gives it equal strength.
I had an interview with Celine during the week and did actually compliment on her on the beauty of the writing in her film, which is what it finally got an award for, but you do take away so much more from it that this prize feels a little disappointing and an opportunity missed.
So, the second female win was the Grand Prix for Mati Diop’s haunting, romantic revenge fantasy Atlantique, which was so distinctive and full of memorable images but mainly lingered in my soul in the form of a sea-mist of poetry and longing.
The Jury Prizes for Les Miserables and for Bacurau – directed by Kleber Mendonca Filho and Juliano Dornelles were very welcome, rewarding two films from early in the festival that I enjoyed hugely. The former, set in the Paris suburbs is deliriously exciting, bursting with energy and fury, featuring a roaring lion and packing a political punch; as does the Brazilian film, which is more left field and cultishly out-there, and has its own unique kind of brilliance, tonally and visually.
Emily Beecham was a strange choice for Best Actress, the prize for her stylised, slightly chilling performance in Little Joe taking most of us here by surprise. Brits don’t win the prize very often (Kathy Burke was the last, in 1997) but Kathy’s was a performance that had been buzzed and talked-about and blown everyone away; Beecham went largely unnoticed until there she was, on the red carpet at the closing ceremony. I don’t know much about her – she was in a British film Daphne, that I recall being a bit like a long episode of Fleabag but not quite as sharp or smart. Other than that, we’ve not seen her much and although when I also interviewed her at the festival, I remember thinking: she doesn’t give much away. Maybe it was just a crap interview, but I do recall her director Jessica Hausner, with whom Emily was paired that day, being on fine form and fulsome in her answers.
The Dardennes winning Best Director is a bit of a waste of a good prize. Of course, they’re great directors but Young Ahmed was a bad film and I didn’t think they got anywhere near their subject, a 13-year-old Belgian kid who’d become radicalised as a fervent Muslim. Don’t pretend for a moment that Ken Loach or Quentin Tarantino weren’t on better form than the Dardennes, as was even Italian maestro Marco Bellochio with his great-looking mafia story The Traitor.
Banderas, though. I mean, I called this one as soon as I saw it, which is a shame for Pedro Almodovar because I wanted him win a Palme (no film can win Best Actor and the Palme, though I don’t know why) and I still do want him to win one of these years. Pain and Glory was good enough, gorgeous and emotional and funny and playful enough to merit it. What a rich delight that film is, one his very best works, but then there he is, Antonio, right in the heart of it delivering the finest performance of his career, bottling all that customary charisma up and unleashing torrents of technique. It’s wonderful to watch him do it, such a physical performance yet one in which you tend to just focus on his eyes. He plays, really, a screen surrogate of Pedro, the tired, veteran, blocked director, so in many senses this was an award to both an actor and director who’ve worked together 8 times now and are intimately entwined.
So. It was a very good Cannes, full of interesting, bright, original films. Cinema looks in good health – responsive to the ills of the world yet formally spry to pop up in many formats and guises, and in many languages, both visual and aural.
Personally, I had a blast presenting the radio show The Cannes Review every day, getting critics from around the world to come into my Radio Festival studio and talk about their jobs and their Cannes. It was hugely entertain to host and I hope that came over in the shows. Thanks to all my guests for taking the time in what’s always a busy schedule, every day in Cannes.
I leave you with my personal highlights in:
Les Jasons d’Or
Best Film: A Portrait of a Lady On Fire
Best performance: Noemie Merlant, (Portrait); Debbie Honeywood (Sorry We Missed You); Brad Pitt and Antonio Banderas
Best Whistling: The Whistlers
Best Singing: Breton choral choir in Portrait
Best Songs: On screen: Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show, Neil Diamond (Once Upon a Hollywood); Elton John and Taron Egerton duetting Rocketman on the Carlton Beach, with just Elton bashing away at the piano.
Best Goal: Diego Maradona, the second one, against England at Mexico ’86 (in Diego Maradona)
Best Death: Decapitation on a motorcycle in Wild Goose Lake
Best Dinner: Off screen: tuna tartare at Diego Maradona premiere (thanks Altitude and Asif); On-screen: Noodle soup (Wild Goose Lake)
Best Outfit: On screen: Banderas’ green leather jacket; Off screen, Catherine Deneuve, giving it the full Imperatrice de Cannes with her glittering green gown to present the Palme.
Best Gag: In Elia Suleiman’s It Must Be Heaven, a pilot is welcoming disembarking passengers to Paris, standing in that little corridor outside the cockpit. Suddenly you hear a flush, and Suleiman comes out of airplane toilet, opening the door right into the pilot’s smiling face. And you hear a crumple. Simple, pure burlesque, but perfectly timed and shot.
Best Scenes: The first courtroom shot in The Traitor; Brad Pitt fighting Bruce Lee in Hollywood; the male kiss in Almodovar; the final shot of Portrait; and how will anyone ever forget the 16-minute oral sex scene in Mektoub Mon Amour: Intermezzo? As the old Not The Nine O’clock News sketch would have it, the memory cunnilingus.
Best Palme d’Or winner ever: Everyday, I asked my guests on the show for their favourite Palme winner and it became a high point of the show, listing all these great films and why they meant so much to those who’d selected them. So, I have to reveal mine: Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz, which won in 1980.
Personal Moment: Presenting my final results show on Radio Festival, I’d already done one review show and then a live results show in French, commentating on the awards as they happened. Then it was suddenly my turn to do the English-language results show, a show I’d pleaded to do an afterthought, an extra just when we were supposed to start taking down the studio and packing up and everyone wanted to go home. I was going to do it straight, as a monologue, but suddenly asked one of the regulars on the station, Marie Sauvion, who was on the French results show with me and was nipping off, as all the French do, for a cigarette, if she’d join me. I loved this woman throughout the week – she co-presented an excellent nightly show called Sous Les Marches, interviewing all the directors. We’d been chatting all week in the office, but in French, but I just sensed her English would be great. She took a deep breath and nailed it. It was a real thrill to find someone you’ve never really worked with and you’re both just in the zone and flying live on air. We got to the end of the recording and it was a buzz. The production team clapped, which never happens. Turns out, says Marie – a very well-known critic in France on telly and radio – that it was her first-ever time doing her thing in English. She was fabulous, she was a buzzed about it as I was, the show was great and it was the perfect end to one of the best Cannes I can remember. And Marie Sauvion’s favourite Palme ever? The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Just perfect.