Jury president Jane Campion hugs director Xavier Dolan during the closing ceremony of the 67th Cannes Film Festival. Photo: Reuters
Young Canadian film-maker Xavier Dolan broke with Cannes convention on Saturday night by topping his own speech of thanks for the festival’s jury prize, awarded to his sweeping melodrama Mommy, to address himself directly to jury president Jane Campion.
Swapping from his native Quebecois French to English and biting back tears, he declared that her film The Piano, which won the festival’s top prize the Palme D’Or in 1993, was one of the first films that touched him. He was then 15.
Director Xavier Dolan, Jury Prize award winner for his film 'Mommy', and actress Suzanne Clement pose on the red carpet.
“It made me want to write roles for women: beautiful women with soul, will and strength, not victims or objects,” he said.
Mommy stars Quebecois actress Anne Dorval as a feisty working-class woman grappling with a violent, bi-polar son; the respected cinephile website Indiewire described it as “amazingly alive” and “one of the most vibrant, intoxicating, illuminating films of this or any other Cannes’’.
Campion responded by breaking with formality in her turn; she rose from her chair at the side of the stage to give Dolan – who, at 25, has already directed five feature films – a bear hug.
Cannes jury president Jane Campion kisses director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Palme d'Or award winner for his film 'Winter Sleep'.
To nobody’s surprise, the Palme D’Or went to Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan for Winter Sleep, a Chekhovian study of a family running a rural hotel where the off-season gives them leisure to sink into melancholy and air their mutual hostilities. Ceylan brilliantly maintains its intensity for over three hours.
He made a strong point of dedicating his prize to “the young people of Turkey who have died over the last year”.
Campion’s jury was the first in the Cannes Film Festival’s 67 years to have as many women as men deciding the awards.
In another small win for gender equality, the Grand Prix – effectively the second prize – went to Alice Rohrwacher, one of only two female directors in the main festival competition, for her popular film The Wonders.
Despite her name, Rohrwacher is very much an Italian; her film deals with artisanal agriculture, a young girl’s attempts to establish her own identity and the fabulous vulgarity of Italian television in a heady mix of story strands, stubbornly misfit characters and glorious views of Umbria.
Dolan’s precocious achievement was balanced by a second jury prize for New Wave veteran Jean-luc Godard who, at 83, could be forgiven this time for his customary refusal to come to Cannes to collect his award.
His film Goodbye to Language is a collage of images, maxims, old movie clips and shots of the film-maker’s dog that invokes his old heroes, Che Guevara and Mao, in a general lament for the loss of several kinds of language, including that of cinema.
The prize for best screenplay went to a Russian film, the majestic Leviathan written by Andrey Zvyagintsev and Oleg Negin, which describes an individual taking on a massive state; its implied condemnation of Putin’s Russia is inescapable.
Otherwise, it was an unusually strong year for Anglophone films. Bennett Miller took the best director’s prize for Foxcatcher, an accomplished biopic about the eccentric heir to an industrial fortune who devotes himself to training wrestlers that features an unexpectedly searching performance by comic Steve Carell as John Du Pont.
The best actress award went to Julianne Moore – unfortunately absent in Los Angeles – whose portrait of a neurotic, bullying actress in David Cronenberg’s Hollywood satire Maps to the Stars is one of many peaks in the American actress’s admirable career.
Both the most firmly predicted and most popular award, however, was that of best actor to Timothy Spall for his gruff, grunting, grumbling portrayal of the lauded English painter William Turner in Mike Leigh’s Mr Turner.
Spall takes Turner, whose talent eclipses his rough manners sufficiently to get him into the finest houses in England, from early middle age to death, but the film is less a biopic than the cinematic equivalent of a vast genre painting stuffed with period detail, with Turner as its central figure.
Spall, apparently taken by surprise, fumbled in his pockets for his glasses and his phone to check whom he should thank while rambling for several minutes in a way that nobody at the customarily brisk Cannes awards ever does.
There was general amusement, however, when he said what a “funny old thing” it was to receive an award “in your later years … I’ve often been the bridesmaid, but this is the first time I’ve been the bride’’.
The Camera D’Or jury for a best first film in any festival section – not just the competition films – was also headed by a woman, French film-maker Nicole Garcia.
The prize went to the opening film in the Un Certain Regard section for innovative films, Party Girl, directed by a triumvirate of friends from the north of France: Marie Amachoukeli, Claire Burger and Samuel Theis.
It starred Theis’s own mother as a lightly fictionalised version of herself: a strip-club hostess hitting her 60s torn between her life in the demi-monde and the offer of a home with a steady man.