British director Ken Loach wins second Palme d'Or at Cannes Film Festival
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British director Ken Loach has joined the exclusive club of two-time Palme d’Or winners, picking up the biggest prize in cinema for “I, Daniel Blake”, a fierce indictment of dysfunctional welfare in an age of austerity.
When Ken Loach brought “Jimmy’s Hall” to Cannes in 2014, it was widely believed it would be his last film – and his last showing on the French Riviera. But the veteran Briton was back only two years later, and by Sunday he had joined the elite club of two-time Palme d’Or winners, a decade after his first triumph at Cannes with "The Wind That Shakes the Barley". “I, Daniel Blake” is a deeply moving – and angry – work about a disabled man strangled by the red tape of a dehumanizing and dysfunctional benefits system. It is an unadorned and unapologetic political statement – a reminder that it is possible to go hungry in a rich country like Britain, and that something should really be done about this.
The 79-year-old Briton attacked the "dangerous project of austerity" as he accepted the festival's top prize from actor Mel Gibson and Mad Max creator George Miller, who headed this year's jury. "The world we live in is at a dangerous point right now. We are in the grip of a dangerous project of austerity driven by ideas that we call neo-liberalism that have brought us to near catastrophe," Loach said, adding: "We must give a message of hope, we must say another world is possible."
His movie topped a crowded, uneven field of 21 competition entries that had left pundits clueless as to who would win the world’s most prestigious film award. There were several surprises in the other categories, particularly the second-place Grand Prix that went to Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan. His latest work, “It’s Only the End of the World”, is centered on a French playwright who returns home after a 12-year absence to confront his estranged relatives about his terminal illness. It is a shouting match so fiercely oppressive it makes his 2014 hit “Mommy” sound like soft-spoken chitchat. But while "It Only..." features a dream cast of French stars in Gaspard Ulliel, Nathalie Baye, Léa Seydoux, Vincent Cassel and Marion Cotillard, it was widely panned by critics.
The third-place Jury Prize produced another upset, continuing its love affair with British director Andrea Arnold (she already had two). Her scuzzy road movie “American Honey” follows a group of moneyless youths as they zigzag across the Midwest, partying hard on cheap booze and eking out a living by somehow selling magazine subscriptions that nobody wants. It confirmed Arnold’s flair for casting novices alongside known quantities, and getting strong performances from both, but was blasted by many as tedious, overly long, and desperately short on narrative.
A field day for Iran
French helmer Olivier Assayas (“Personal Shopper”) and Romania’s Cristian Mungiu (“Graduation”) shared the Best Director award for two very different offerings. A past Palme d’Or winner, Mungiu has made a morally complex and challenging film about an overbearing and self-righteous father who is ready to partake in the corruption he publically deprecates in order to get his daughter out of Romania. A more divisive product, Assayas’s movies stars Kristen Stewart as a personal shopper to the stars, with psychic powers she once shared with her late twin brother, with whom she is trying to reconnect. It received both rave reviews and the festival’s first lusty boos.
Iranian cinema had a field day with two prizes for Asghar Farhadi’s “The Salesman”, a deeply psychological movie in which sympathy for the protagonists is steadily eroded by their intransigent conduct. It fetched the Best Screenplay award for Farhadi and the Best Actor prize for Shahab Hosseini, who plays a stage actor driven to cruel extremes after his wife is sexually molested. There was more surprise in the female acting category, where Jaclyn Jose was rewarded for her part in Brillante Mendoza’s little-noticed “Ma’ Rosa”, a political hostage drama in which small-time drug-sellers are detained by corrupt police extorting a payout. The Filipino actress topped one of the most formidable fields in years, featuring sumptuous performances by Isabelle Huppert (“Elle”), Sandra Hüller (“Toni Erdmann”) and Sonia Braga (“Aquarius”).
Newcomer Houda Benyamina won the Caméra d’Or, which rewards the best first feature, for her highly regarded “Divines”, about a teenager who battles to get ahead in life in the run-down suburbs of Paris. And there was a deeply emotional moment when French New Wave icon Jean-Pierre Léaud appeared on stage to receive an Honourary Palme d’Or, which is sporadically awarded to actors and directors who have made a significant contribution to film but have never won a competitive Palme.
There was disappointment for the many fans of Maren Ade’s “Toni Erdmann”, about an inveterate prankster’s attempts to reach out to his careerwoman daughter, which was the bookies’ favourite. Critics were also dismayed to see Paul Verhoeven's extraordinary rape-revenge thriller "Elle" leave empty-handed, as did Kleber Mendonca Filho's sumptuous "Aquarius" and Cristi Puiu's gripping "Sieranevada". Many relished this year's copious serving of black comedy, touching on weighty themes including domestic discord, class warfare and sexual violence. But Miller's jury was not amused. In fact if recent Cannes awards have tought us anything, it is that film critics and juries simply don't think alike.
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