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Cannes Xpress 2023: And the Palme goes to...- Cinema express

Cannes Xpress 2023: And the Palme goes to...

Straight from Cannes to electronic devices near you, our writer brings you the lowdown on one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world

Published: 28th May 2023

In a year that found works of a record seven women filmmakers vying in the competition section, it felt entirely appropriate for one of them to win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall became the third film by a woman to bag the top award at Cannes after Jane Campion’s The Piano in 1993 and Julia Ducournau’s Titane in 2021. Incidentally, Ducournau herself was a member of the jury this year, headed by the Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund.

The choice of Anatomy of a Fall, however, was not driven by gender sensitivity so much as the collective experience of watching cinema that it indulges so effectively. At the post-awards jury press conference Östlund spoke about the “intense screening” of the film that the jury attended along with the audience and wished it a great life ahead, that it reaches all over the world and connects with the viewers in a similar manner.

A crime thriller, procedural and courtroom drama rolled into one, Anatomy of a Fall is centred on writer Sandra (Sandra Hüller) who is arrested for the murder of her husband Samuel (Samuel Theis) on his body being found under mysterious circumstances in the snow by their Alpine chalet. Was it an accident or a suicide? Or did someone push him down the third floor of the house?

As conflicting accounts come to the fore to keep the audience guessing, the film turns into something bigger and more ambitious—a weighty examination of the ambiguities underlining the various characters, especially Sandra herself, the relationships, and the situations she and the others find themselves in. Triet raises many questions in the audience’s mind but doesn’t aim to provide any answers. Anatomy of a Fall is not about arriving at the truth but an uncomfortable tryst with the heart of darkness that could inform seemingly normal marriage, parenting, and families.

The engagement with truth in Hirokazu Koreeda’s Monster which won the best screenplay award for Yuji Sakamoto, is remarkably different from that in Triet’s film. Monster is built on the same situation looked at from the varied perspectives of three different characters. The audience arrives at the reality in the end in a manner it might not have imagined it to be at the start of the film.  

The second prize of the festival, Grand Prix, went to one of the critics’ favourites, Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of InterestWhen informed about it, Östlund said that the jury kept the critics out, and didn’t go by their opinions. He also pointed out that the competition was hard in what could well be the strongest line-up at Cannes in recent times.

Set in the Nazi era, Glazer’s film, about the dream home and garden of an Auschwitz head, located just next to the camp, is a blistering takedown of not just the insularity and selfishness, indifference and impassivity of the common people to the injustices and brutalities around them but their active co-option in them as well. It’s about the evil entrenched in the everyday.

Both the toppers at Cannes had one thing in common—Sandra Hüller in the lead. She was scintillating in the varied worlds she got to inhabit in the two films. But awards to her films in the top categories meant denial of one of her own which made the team of The Zone of Interest point out that this year Cannes should have had a standalone award for Hüller.

No wonder Merve Dizdar, otherwise excellent as a woman with a mind, voice, and opinion of her own in Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s About Dry Grasses, was totally surprised to have bagged the best performance by an actress award. She didn't see it coming and it showed on her face.

In the year of the likes of Wim Wenders, Aki Kaurismaki, and Ken Loach, the choice of Trần Anh Hùng for best director came as yet another surprise. A flavourful take on food, love, and passion for life, The Passion of Dodin Bouffant is a quintessential Hùng film, one that goes beyond the story itself. “I look at films as a cinematographic movement. They must be experienced like a piece of music,” he said in the post-awards press conference.

Two of the most tender, heart-warming, and deeply humane films of Cannes came from the veterans. Aki Kaurismaki’s Fallen Leaves which won the jury prize is a typically deadpan yet humourous and joyous take on loneliness, longing, the fear of falling in love, resisting love but eventually finding and succumbing to it.

Wim Wenders’ Perfect Daysmy pick of Cannes, is about the daily rhythms of the life of a toilet cleaner in Tokyo, and his love for music, books, and cassettes. Wenders paints a wondrous picture of the comfort and pleasures that lie in the daily routine and personal solitariness through the play of light on the lead actor Koji Yakusha’s face. Yakusha deservedly won the best performance by an Actor award for becoming a personification of contentment on screen. He, the film, and Wenders together underline the fact that happiness is not something out there, beyond our reach but in what we already have. All we need to do is just look within.

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