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Justine Triet’s Palme d’Or wraps up vintage year for women in Cannes

Justine Triet won a richly deserved Palme d’Or on Saturday for her French Alps courtroom drama “Anatomy of a Fall”, becoming only the third female director to win cinema’s most prestigious prize. But it was a bittersweet win for the home country’s government, whose “repression” of pension protests she blasted in her acceptance speech.

Triet’s award capped a thrilling contest that saw a record seven female directors vie for the Palme d’Or, which only two women had previously won – Jane Campion in 1993 and Julia Ducournau in 2021. The latter was on this year’s jury, led by the 2022 Palme d’Or laureate Ruben Östlund.

Triet was presented the Palme by Jane Fonda, who recalled coming to Cannes in 1963 when, she said, there were no female filmmakers competing “and it never even occurred to us that there was something wrong with that.” 

A gripping psychothriller, “Anatomy of a Fall” stars Sandra Hüller as a successful writer trying to prove her innocence in her husband’s death. It was co-written by Triet’s partner Arthur Harari, who caused a stir in Cannes two years ago with his epic war movie “Onoda: 10,000 Nights in the Jungle”.

Accepting the award, Triet took aim at the government of French President Emmanuel Macron in a fiery message to the audience of films stars and industry professionals gathered inside Cannes’ Grand Théâtre Lumière – and the millions watching live on television. 

“The country suffered from historic protests over the reform of the pension system,” she said of the protest movement that has roiled France through much of this year. “These protests were denied, repressed in a shocking way.”

She added: “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.”

That did not go down well with the country’s culture minister, Rima Abdul Malak, who promptly tweeted her “dismay” at Triet’s words. 

Demonstrations were banned from the area around the Palais des Festivals this year, though that did not stop French unions from staging several protests nearby – including a rare rally outside the iconic Carlton, the Riviera town’s most famous palace hotel.

Chilling Auschwitz drama takes ‘Grand Prix’ award

The Palme d’Or competition saw Jonathan Glazer’s “The Zone of Interest”, also starring Hüller, take the second-place Grand Prix award. A chilling look at the idyllic family life of a German officer stationed at the Nazi death camp, it is based on the eponymous novel by Martin Amis, whose death was announced just days after the Cannes premiere.

Finland’s Aki Kaurismaki completed the podium by taking the third-place Jury Prize for his Helsinki-set deadpan comedy “Fallen Leaves”, a favourite of festivalgoers.

Among the other awards, French director Tran Anh Hung won the prestigious Best Director honour for his lush “The Pot-au-Feu” (La Passion de Dodin-Bouffant), a tale of middle-age love and culinary delight, reuniting former real-life partners Juliette Binoche and Benoît Magimel. The surprise award comes exactly half a century after the ultimate arthouse food-porn movie, Marco Ferreri’s “La Grande Bouffe”, nearly caused a riot on the Croisette.

Japan’s Sakamoto Yuji took Best Screenplay for “Monster”, the latest exploration of dysfunctional families by the 2018 Palme d’Or laureate Hirokazu Kore-eda. That film also bagged the unofficial Queer Palm, an honour bestowed by journalists for the festival’s strongest LGBTQ-themed film. 

Fellow Japanese Koji Yakusho won the Best Actor award for his turn as a Tokyo toilet cleaner in Wim Wenders’ gentle gem “Perfect Days”, while Best Actress went to Merve Dizdar for her part in Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s slow-burner “About Dry Grasses”, a school drama about a teacher whose career is imperilled by a sexual abuse charge, set in western Anatolia. 

“I understand what it’s like to be a woman in this area of the country,” said Dizdar as she accepted the award. “I would like to dedicate this prize to all the women who are fighting to exist and overcome difficulties in this world and to retrain hope.”

Hers was one of several powerful female characters that made this a vintage year for women – on either side of the camera.

Stars, controversies and a Tarantino masterclass

The 76th Cannes Film Festival witnessed a number of modest breakthroughs for the world’s premier movie gathering, most notably in the number of women directors and the abundance of African films on display, many of them by newcomers to the festival circuit.

The stifling burden of patriarchal oppression underpinned two ground-breaking competition entries from Senegal and Tunisia. One was Ramata-Toulaye Sy’s “Banel & Adama”, a tale of frustrated love with echoes of Romeo and Juliet. The other was Kaouther Ben Hania’s “Four Daughters” (“Les Filles d’Olfa”), an experimental docu-drama based on the real story of a family ripped apart by the the onset of jihadist militancy.

For all the talk of a welcome shift towards greater diversity, this year’s edition also featured an impressive array of old-guard veterans, from 80-year-old Martin Scorsese to 86-year-old Ken Loach, who enjoyed a record 15th shot at the Palme d’Or with what was in all likelihood his final film.

Scorsese provided one of the festival’s red-carpet highlights with his “Killers of the Flower Moon”, starring fellow travellers Robert De Niro and Leonardo Di Caprio in a grim Western that exhumed a dark chapter in America’s past. It was one of several period dramas to screen in Cannes, bringing to the fore the characters (mainly women) who were left out of the history books.

The festival’s journey into the past began with Maïwenn’s curtain-raiser “Jeanne du Barry”, about French king Louis XV’s scandalous relationship with a lowly courtesan, starring Johnny Depp as the monarch in a high-profile comeback that generated plenty of controversy.

Brazil’s Karim Aïnouz paid tribute to the resilience of Catherine Parr in his thrilling “Firebrand”, starring Alicia Vikander as the last of Henry VIII’s six wives, though it was unfortunate to see his heroine upstaged by an uproarious Jude Law as the paranoid and bloodthirsty English king.

Another period drama that was widely acclaimed – but left without a prize – was Marco Bellocchio’s “Kidnapped”, the harrowing tale of a young Jew who was abducted by papal authorities on the eve of Italy’s independence.

Bellocchio was one of three Italian directors in the main competition, all of whom left empty-handed. Another was Alice Rohrwacher, whose absorbing “La Chimera” starred Josh O’Connor as an archaeologist-turned-tomb-raider.

Speaking of archaeologists, Harrison Ford revived his “Indiana Jones” character for one last crack of the whip. The 80-year-old Hollywood was visibly emotional as he picked up an honorary Palme d’Or for his long and distinguished career.

There was also time for a Quentin Tarantino masterclass, which saw the 1994 Palme d’Or laureate delight his many Riviera fans with a lengthy chat about his first steps as a movie buff and his taste for violence in films – provided no animals get hurt.

Source: france24