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‘Dheepan’ wins shock Palme d’Or as French triumph in Cannes

Valery Hache, AFP | France's Emmanuelle Bercot (left), Jacques Audiard (centre) and Vincent Lindon respectively won awards for Best Actress, Palme d'Or and Best Actor at the 68th Cannes Film Festival

Jacques Audiard’s “Dheepan” staged the biggest upset in years as French cinema racked up a host of honours at the 68th Cannes Film Festival. A searing Holocaust-based debut clinched the second-place “Grand Prix” award.

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The 68th edition of the world’s leading film festival came to a startling end on Sunday with victory for Audiard’s “Dheepan”, the tale of a Tamil family fleeing one war in Sri Lanka to find another in France. This year’s uneven competition had left critics clueless as to who might clinch the biggest prize in cinema, but hardly anyone had anticipated the verdict delivered by jury chairs Joel and Ethan Coen. “Dheepan” is deeply moving in its portrayal of Tamil refugees’ tentative attempts to create the intimacy of a family in a volatile environment. It is powered by stirring performances from the Sri Lankan duo of Antonythasan Jesuthasan and Kalieaswari Srinivasanbutis. But it also features one of the laziest final sequences I have ever seen.

From left to right: Antonythasan Jesuthasan, Claudine Vinasithamby, Jacques Audiard, and Kalieaswari Srinivasan attend the "Dheepan" premiere in Cannes.
From left to right: Antonythasan Jesuthasan, Claudine Vinasithamby, Jacques Audiard, and Kalieaswari Srinivasan attend the "Dheepan" premiere in Cannes.

France had fielded a whopping five films in the competition and the host nation reaped the rewards with Audiard’s Palme d’Or and both the male and female acting awards. Vincent Lindon picked up a richly deserved prize for his role in Stéphane Brizé’s low-key but devastatingly powerful social drama “The Measure of a Man”, about a man’s struggle with unemployment and then an alienating workplace. The jury reportedly loved the movie and was torn between rewarding its lead actor or the director. Both were indeed deserving, and a very emotional Lindon had warm words for the film’s crew as he picked up the award. Astonishingly, it was the very first prize in his outstanding career.

There was more surprise at the choice of Emmanuelle Bercot for Best Actress, for her part in Maïwenn’s widely panned “My King”. It capped a remarkable festival for Bercot, whose directorial effort “Standing Tall” was chosen as the festival’s curtain raiser. She shared the award with Rooney Mara, who excelled in Todd Haynes’s lesbian drama “Carol”. The unusual duo of Bercot and Mara will be seen as a slap in the face for Australia’s Cate Blanchett, who partnered Mara in “Carol” and was a hot favourite for the award.

‘Son of Saul’ gets silver

The second-place “Grand Prix” award went to “Son of Saul”, the harrowing debut feature by Hungarian director Laszlo Nemes. A Holocaust movie unlike any other, “Son of Saul” was the talk of the festival and my choice for the Palme d’Or. It succeeded in depicting the Nazi death machine with searing immediacy, and crucially refrained from perilous moral verdicts and implausible tales of salvation. Greece’s Yorgos Lanthimos picked up the third-place Jury Prize for his dark satire “The Lobster”, a brilliant reflection on society’s fixation with couples with a sterling performance from Colin Farrell.

From left to right: Shu Qi, Hou Hsiao-Hsien and Chang Chen attend Thursday's photocall for "The Assassin".
From left to right: Shu Qi, Hou Hsiao-Hsien and Chang Chen attend Thursday's photocall for "The Assassin".

Taiwan’s revered Hou Hsiao-Hsien won Best Director for “The Assassin”, a ravishingly beautiful but cryptic reinvention of the martial arts genre. There were cheers from the crowd of film critics, though Hou’s diehard fans were surely expecting more for their hero. “Chronic”, by Mexico’s Michel Franco, was a more surprising choice for Best Screenplay. It delivered a quietly haunting performance from British actor Tim Roth as a nurse for terminally ill patients, but also featured a fudged ending. Italy left empty-handed despite fielding three directors in the main competition – more than any other country barring the hosts. There was also disappointment for Jia Zhangke and his muse and wife Tao Zhao, who was sublime in the Chinese director’s “Mountains May Depart”.

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