In a big surprise, Britain’s Ken Loach won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival Sunday evening, his second after 2006’s “The Wind That Shakes the Barley.”
And in yet another surprise, the highly divisive “It’s Only the End of the World” from French-Canadian director Xavier Dolan took the grand prix, or second prize, while the critical favorite, “Toni Edmann,” by Germany’s Maren Ade was shut out. Also missing from the award winners were two highly acclaimed American films, Austin director Jeff Nichols’ “Loving” and Jim Jarmusch’s “Paterson.”
“The Salesman” from Iran’s Asghar Farhadi took best screenplay and best actor, for Shahab Hosseini. Best director was shared between Romania’s Cristian Mungiu for “Graduation” and France’s Olivier Assayas for “Personal Shopper,” another highly divisive film that starred Kristen Stewart.
Britain’s Andrea Arnold won third place, the jury prize, for the American-set “American Honey,” while Jaclyn Jose of Brillante Mendoza’s “Ma’ Rosa” won best actress. The latter was also a surprise, since Isabelle Huppert wowed critics with her performance in Paul Verhoeven’s thriller “Elle.”
The Camera d’Or, which goes to first-time directors, went to “Divines,” which played in Directors’ Fortnight.
The ceremony capped a contentious festival, where many critics voiced strong opinions about the competition entries. The biggest victim of the annual barrage of vitriol was Sean Penn’s “The Last Face,” which ended up getting the lowest score in history from the critics featured in the British trade journal Screen International. It got only 1 star from two critics, and the rest gave it an “X,” or “F.”
Loach’s Palme winner, however, was in the middle of the critical pack. It has an overt political message, criticizing the bureaucracy that administers the British welfare system. It stars Dave Johns as Daniel Blake, a pensioner who faces loss of payments, and Hayley Squires as Katie, a single mother of two who is befriended by Daniel after she, too, loses battles with the welfare bureaucracy.
It’s a very touching, humanistic tale, as most of Loach’s movies are. But it treads dangerous ground in almost becoming too preachy — a turnoff for most critics. Still, it has heart, and Loach is a veteran, beloved filmmaker in Cannes.
Dolan’s victory was greeted with boos in the press audience. But his movie, which deals with a gay man who goes home to tell his family that he is dying, has been far underrated by critics, some of whom deride the 27-year-old for his early success. He first appeared in Cannes when he was only 19 and has become Canada’s filmmaking prodigy.
It’s too early to say which films from Cannes will be contenders for an Oscar. Certainly, Iran’s “The Salesman” should be among the best foreign language Oscar contenders, if Iran chooses to submit it. Variety and other American outlets have been predicting that Nichols’ “Loving” will also be an Oscar contender.