The Festival de Cannes closing ceremony makes for a fun and festive night, particularly, I suspect, if you get to watch it live from the Lumiere, the largest theater in the Palais de Festival complex and the spot where all the major events take place. Most journalists watch a simulcast from the smaller theater, the Debussy, and that’s usually plenty of fun by itself — provided the technology works, which it didn’t last night: The feed kept cutting out, leaving us literally in the dark for long stretches of the ceremony. C’est la vie.
But we did hear jury president Jane Campion mangle the names of Andrey Zvyagintsev and Oleg Negin, screenwriters of the somber Russian drama Leviathan, which won the Best Screenplay prize. You can’t really blame her — those Russian names are hard — and while plenty of people chortled in amusement and dismay, I can’t say her error was nearly as funny, or as charming, as the time a few years back when then-jury president Robert De Niro, speaking clumsy French and attempting to bestow a compliment on his fellow jurors, inadvertently referred to them as mushrooms (champignons).
But who am I to talk? My grasp of French is almost as vaporous as De Niro’s is, and now, having reached the tail end of this 10-day festival, I feel I have sufficiently mangled the language: I beg the forgiveness of the people of Cannes, and of the festival, who by and large have been lovely and patient. But before I leave the land of the mysterious handheld shower apparatus, a few more words about the winners.
Turkish filmmaker (and critics’ favorite) Niri Bilge Ceylan won the Palme d’or for his leisurely character study Winter Sleep, a choice that surprised almost no one, though many hoped that Leviathan would take the top prize: Director Zvyagintsev’s fourth feature — he may be best known for The Return (2003) and Elena (2011) — is a quiet and challenging drama with bitter social and political undertones. It’s a movie about suffering that’s extraordinarily graceful, and it’s scathing in its indictment of Russian bureaucracy. Zvyagintsev has taken a risk in making this picture and putting it before the world.
Italian filmmaker Alice Rohrwacher took the Grand Prix for The Wonders, a gentle little movie about a family of beekeepers. Bennett Miller snagged Best Director for Foxcatcher, his study of the twisted relationship between rich weirdo John Du Pont and two Olympic-champion brothers, featuring a killer trio of performances by Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, and especially Channing Tatum. Julianne Moore (David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars) and Timothy Spall (Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner) took the best actress and actor prizes. Moore wasn’t present to accept her award, but a clearly stunned Spall made his way to the stage and launched into a rambling speech that, even if it seemed to annoy some of the more uptight Europeans, ended with a touching grace note: When Leigh brought his 1996 feature, Secrets and Lies, to Cannes, Spall couldn’t come — he was being treated for leukemia at the time. After making a joke about having had the “audacity not to die,” he ended a sprawling list of thank you’s by adding, “Most of all, I just thank God that I’m still here and alive.”
The top prize in Un Certain Regard competition — announced Friday night — went to Hungarian filmmaker Kornel Mundruczo’s White God, a dystopian allegory about a pack of stray dogs which I didn’t get to see, though those who did report that it’s intense and harrowing. Un Certain Regard jury prize went to the extraordinary Force Majeure, Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s wry, observant, and often extremely funny picture about a family navigating shifting dynamics during a ski vacation.
The Camera d’or, for first film, went to Marie Amachoukeli, Claire Burger and Samuel Theis for Party Girl, a somewhat overwrought drama about an aging bar hostess. And in the main competition, the Jury Prize was split between two entries, Xavier Dolan’s hyperactive mother-son melodrama Mommy and Jean-Luc Godard’s Goodbye to Language. The Québecois Dolan, just 25, seemed to be genuinely thrilled with this prize. And though the famously elusive Godard wasn’t on-hand to accept his — it’s the first time he’s won a prize at Cannes — let’s hope the honor at least means extra treats for his dog, Roxy Miéville, the true star of his movie. It appears she’s his lucky charm.