A tense courtroom drama about a writer accused of her husband’s murder won the Palme d’Or at the 76th Cannes Film Festival, capping a strong year for female directors.
French director Justine Triet won the festival’s top prize on Saturday for the tense and icy drama, Anatomy of a Fall, led by a powerful performance from German actress Sandra Hueller.
Triet slammed the government of President Emmanuel Macron in her acceptance speech for its “repression” of pension protests and its cultural policies.
“The commercialisation of culture that this neoliberal government supports is in the process of breaking France’s cultural exception, without which I wouldn’t be here today,” she said.
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Anatomy of a Fall, also featured a standout performance by “Messi” – the border collie who plays a pivotal role in the film, and won the Palm Dog award a day earlier.
There were a record seven women among the 21 entries in the competition at Cannes this year, and many films featured complex female characters.
Hueller also starred in one of the most shocking films of the competition, The Zone of Interest, a harrowing and unique look at the private life of a Nazi family at the Auschwitz concentration camp, which won the runner-up Grand Prix.
The film by cult British director Jonathan Glazer – his first in 10 years – never showed the horrors of the camp directly, leaving them implied by the disturbing background noises and small visual details.
Hueller chillingly portrays the wife of the Nazi commandant, happily tending her garden and boasting that she is “the queen of Auschwitz”.
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Glazer thanked Martin Amis, the British novelist on which the film was partly based, and who died a week ago just a day after the film’s premiere.
The jury of nine film professionals was led by last year’s winner Ruben Ostlund (Triangle of Sadness), and included Hollywood stars Paul Dano and Brie Larson.
‘Fighting for her life’
Best director went to Vietnamese-born French filmmaker Tran Anh Hung for, The Pot-au-Feu, a lustrous homage to French cuisine that was loved by many international critics but seemed to leave many local pundits cold.
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He thanked his star Juliette Binoche, saying she was “quite extraordinary in the film”.
Best actor went to Japan’s Koji Yakusho for, Perfect Days, who thanked his German director Wim Wenders for creating “a magnificent character” with his touching tale about a Tokyo toilet cleaner with a complex backstory.
There was a surprise choice for best actress in Turkey’s Merve Dizdar for, About Dry Grasses, the latest from previous Palme-winner Nuri Bilge Ceylan.
She said she played “someone who is fighting for her life and she has overcome a lot of difficulties.”
“I live in a part of the country which enabled me to fully understand who she is,” she added.
It was a fitting statement in a strong year for women in Cannes.
Presenting the Palme d’Or, Hollywood legend Jane Fonda recalled the first time she came to Cannes in 1963.
“There were no women directors competing at that time and it never even occurred to us that there was something wrong with that,” she said. “We have come a long way.”
The third-place Jury Prize went to Aki Kaurismaki for his sweet, deadpan and very Finnish film, Fallen Leaves, which garnered huge cheers from festival-goers.
The veteran director was not present, but his actors carried a short message saying he was “deeply honoured”.
The 76th edition of the world’s leading film get-together was a particularly glitzy affair, with world premieres for the new Indiana Jones and Martin Scorsese films playing out of competition.
Glazer received his award from Quentin Tarantino and 97-year-old director Roger Corman.
Corman’s appearance was apt since the festival often felt like a dream retirement home populated by ageing male icons from Hollywood.
Harrison Ford, 80, got weepy when he received an honorary Palme d’Or ahead of the premiere of, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.
Martin Scorsese, also 80, said he was happy to stay out of the competition with his Native American epic, Killers of the Flower Moon, joking to AFP, “It’s time for others. I got to go. There are kids around.”
European auteurs Ken Loach, 86, Marco Bellocchio, 83, and Victor Erice, 82, all brought new films to the festival.