He didn’t write it as a story about Ethiopians – a similar crisis could happen in any family, he reasoned – but adapted it when he found Scott. “I needed that pre-adolescent mix of innocence and maturity in someone who could hold the screen without looking as if they were acting, which was a lot to ask of a 12 or 13-year-old,” he said. “Race and gender weren’t important; we auditioned 400 kids, girls and boys, until we found Yared. We rewrote the family around him and brought on advisers from the Ethiopian Australian community.”
Williams’ win was followed by the awards given by the main competition jury, led by Cate Blanchett.
The festival’s top award is the Palme D’Or, which went to Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda.
There has never been a more popular Palme winner. Shoplifters, the winning film, is a sympathetic portrait of an informal family of petty grafters and thieves who, despite being forced together by poverty, develop bonds of real love.
Kore-eda’s warmth and extraordinary talent with actors, even coaxing a great performance out of a child of four, are irresistible – as would be expected by Australian arthouse film-goers, who have embraced his previous films such as Nobody Knows, Like Father, Like Son and Our Little Sister.
In a unique move, the jury asked the festival’s permission to give a second Grand Prix to Jean-luc
Godard, the 87-year-old master of the avant-garde whose film Image Book was a reverberating mosaic of images, sounds, quotations and titles.
Choosing all the winners was “bloody difficult”, said Cate Blanchett at the jury press conference, but Image Book sat so far apart from the other films – “in a different time and space” – that the jury felt it couldn’t be evaluated in the same way.
At the same time, she said, it affected the way they discussed everything else. “We tried to meet once a day and we could not stop talking about it. It lingered, confused, provoked, angered and excited us and began to affect our perspective on the rest of the festival.”
Spike Lee’s explosively polemical Blackkklansman, which drew historical threads between the true story of black policeman who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s and contemporary resurgence of white supremacist groups, won the festival’s Grand Prix. “I hope the film can get us all out of our mental slumber,” he said.
A jury prize went to Capharnaum by Nadine Labaki, whose film about a Syrian street
kid in Beirut was one of the three competition films directed by women.
Italian director Alice Rohrwacher shared the script prize for her film Happy as Lazzaro with another woman: Nader Saeivar, who wrote Three Faces with Iranian dissident film-maker Jafar Panahi.
“There were not perhaps as many female-driven narratives as I would have liked,” said Blanchett. However, there were many “powerhouse performances” by women, she pointed out; the acting prize went to Samal Yeslyamova for her harrowing performance as a homeless woman in Ayka, by Kazakh director Sergei Dvortsevoy.
Best actor went to Marcello Fonte in Italian director Matteo Garrone’s Dogman, a film based on a real story of a meek dog groomer who takes revenge on the town bully. Dogman was another critical favourite.
The award for best direction went to Pawel Pawlikowski for Cold War, about a 1950s Polish couple split traumatically when one defects to the West; the Camera D’Or for the best first film went to Lukas Dhont’s transgender drama Girl.
There was general critical agreement that, while the festival programme initially seemed
disappointingly light on big names, the more adventurous choices had actually made it one of the most stimulating Cannes of recent years. Events such as the women’s march on the Palais; an incendiary press conference for Blackkklansman; the European launch of Solo, the Star Wars spin-off and, of course, the inevitable scandal – Lars von Trier’s serial killer drama The House that Jack Built, which had around 250 walk-outs – also helped give the festival a greater sense of vitality than it has had in a long time.
Even the famously sour security guards seemed to have turned over a collective new leaf, greeting film-goers cheerily and smiling as they confiscated their contraband sandwiches.
Cate Blanchett was also a gracious and decisive presence, her authoritative discussions of issues such as the need to see more women’s films making her the face of the festival in a way that jury presidents rarely are.
There was enthusiastic applause in the final press conference when Blanchett’s fellow jury member Ava du Vernay, the African-American director of Selma, broke into proceedings to thank her for her leadership. “She has directed us impeccably, took us all seriously and listened to us all,” she said, then turned to Blanchett. “You are exquisite, so thank you so much.”
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