No one at Cannes was surprised that Abdellatif Kechiche's Blue is the Warmest Color won the Palme d'Or this year. Three hours long, this simple story of love hypnotizes the spectator from the first to the ending shot. In fact, it is the film in Cannes that most remains in my mind (that and Jodorowsky's autobiographical Danza de la Realidad) perhaps the effect of all its intense close-ups on the lovers' faces (see the latest neuroscience on how close-ups affect the brain).
Steven Spielberg commented at the press conference:
For me the film is a great love story that made all of feel like we were privileged to be flies on the wall, to be invited into this story of deep love and deep heartbreak. The director did not put any constraints on the narrative and we were absolutely spellbound by the amazing performances of the two actresses, and especially the way the director observed his characters and just let the characters breathe.
One major concern at the press conference was whether US spectators would appreciate a film about lesbians, especially since a few scenes show explicit love-making between the girls.
Whether it plays in the US was not a criterion for our choices. We just liked that someone had the courage to tell the story. Politics were not in the room with us. I think this film carries a very positive message. It has a perfect choice of actresses and Kechiche is an incredibly observant and sensitive film maker.
Jury member director Lynn Ramsay added: "People saw beyond the fact that it was a lesbian love affair. Everyone could recognize their own relationships in it, whether straight or gay."
Two other jury members concurred. Rumanian director Christian Mungiu noted: "We weren't rewarding films for their political message. We chose this film because Kechiche is testing the limit of cinema. And actor Daniel Auteuil: "The film talks above all about human feelings and the birth of desire in a young girl."
The awarding of the Palme d'Or to Kechiche's film was expected.
No one was surpised as well by the other prizes given out at the festival. Best actress for Berenice Bejo for her passionate performance as an upset ex-wife in a family saga, in the Iranian film The Past. Best actor to veteran Bruce Dern, for his role as the demented father in Alexander Payne's Nebraska, whose daughter Laura Dern picked up the phone when Payne called to tell her and said, "Amazing! Amazing! We're driving to Pasadena now. Could you call me in thirty minutes?"
We journalists in the press conference laughed. In the film Nebraska, Bruce Dern is often in the car as well.
The Jury Prize went to Kore-Eda's sweet movie Like Father, Like Son, about a father who learns that biology makes no difference when it comes to loving a child. Again, a non-controversial choice. "It's a universal story," the Japanese director told us, accepting the award with a humble bow.
And Jia Shangke's much-appreciated film Touch of Sin won the best screenplay. A highly stylized and violent film composed of four stories about the underclass in China, the film received unanimous praise from critics at its premiere. "It is the most political film in the festival," said the Egyptian journalist next to me in the conference, Salah Hashem Mustafa (El Watan). "It goes into the changes that are taking place in China, economically and socially, and tells us that it is the Chinese poor who are paying the price."
Spielberg gave his rationale for the prize: "This film shows a visionary depiction of four different characters. We were all impressed by the structure and the screenplay."
Japanese directer Naomi Kawase added: "We admired the courage of this director to make these characters, who are murderers, not look like bad people."
director Jia Zhangke
Director Jia Shangke, accepting the prize, explained his own reason for his film: "I wanted a story about real people. I would like this film to make people to think about the inner violence in our heart."
Mexican director Amat Escalante won Best Director, for his controversial film, Heli, about the horrific power of a drug cartel over an average family in Mexico. Even this came as no surprise. While the film was criticized for its excruciating depiction of torture (including a burning penis), most critics concurred that the director knew how to create a masterful cinematic experience, shifting from shots of desert to the kitchen in a constantly moving rhythm.
The only surprise about the awards, for me, was that the Grand Prize went to the Coen Brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis, rather than to another strong contender in the festival, Paolo Sorrentino's The Great Beauty. While a charmingly humorous film, following the Coen formula of a loser (this time, an aspiring folk musician) who meets various obstacles, including an unloving ex-lover, this new opus does not have a distinct storyline nor the wacky unforgettable characters of their previous masterpieces, such as Barton Fink and Fargo. My favorite character was the cat, who makes his debut walking down the corridor with his tail straight up.
Joel Coen commented at his press conference: "You are right the movie does not have a plot. That concerned us at a certain point, which is why we threw the cat in."
Interestingly (for this article), one theme in Inside Llewyn Davis is the difficulty of being a success.
Justin Timberlake, who plays a musician in the film, was asked about his own relationship to success in the arts.
It is a comment appropriate to this overview of winners:
You can't consider yourself an expert at [your art] unless you have spent 100,000 hours on it . But there are people who play that much and still don't get heard. I have been in the right place and met the wrong people, and in the wrong place and met the right people, and the second can catapult one's career I don't measure success by how it is received, but just by the fact that it is done and out there. People who understand that are the ones who persevere in the field. Do not get caught up in the rat race of how your art might be perceived.