CANNES, France — A tense courtroom drama about a writer accused of her husband’s murder took the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival on Saturday, capping a strong year for women filmmakers, as a film telling a horrifyingly ordinary tale about the Auschwitz concentration camp won the runner-up prize.
French director Justine Triet became only the third woman ever to win the festival’s top prize with the icy tale “Anatomy of a Fall,” led by a riveting performance from German actress Sandra Hueller.
Triet used her acceptance speech to slam the government of President Emmanuel Macron for the “shocking” way it imposed a law increasing the retirement age in France.
But she said she was “deeply touched.”
“I am very pleased to be the third woman who has gotten this prize — things are truly changing and for the best,” she told reporters.
There were a record seven women among the 21 entries competing at Cannes this year, and many featured complex female characters.
“Anatomy of a Fall” included a standout performance by “Messi” — the border collie who plays a pivotal role in the film, and won the Palm Dog award a day earlier.
Though Hueller did not win an award — Cannes traditionally only gives one prize per film — she was arguably the big winner on the night since she also starred in “The Zone of Interest” by Britain’s Jonathan Glazer, which took the runner-up Grand Prix.
The harrowing and unique look at the private life of a Nazi family at the Auschwitz concentration camp never shows the horrors of the camp directly, leaving them implied by disturbing background noises and small visual details.
Hueller chillingly portrays the wife of the Nazi commandant, happily tending her garden and boasting she is “the queen of Auschwitz.”
The jury of nine film professionals was led by last year’s winner Ruben Ostlund (“Triangle of Sadness”) and included Hollywood stars Paul Dano and Brie Larson.
“We had a lot of intense, fun discussions,” Ostlund told reporters, adding that it was “a very strong line-up.”
Best director went to Vietnamese-born French filmmaker Tran Anh Hung for “The Pot-au-Feu,” a lustrous homage to French cuisine that was loved by many international critics but seemed to leave most local pundits cold.
He thanked his star Juliette Binoche, saying she was “quite extraordinary in the film.”
Best actor went to Japan’s Koji Yakusho for “Perfect Days.” He thanked German director Wim Wenders for creating “a magnificent character” in the touching tale about a Tokyo toilet cleaner with a complex backstory.
There was a surprise choice for best actress in Turkey’s Merve Dizdar for “About Dry Grasses,” the latest from previous Palme-winner Nuri Bilge Ceylan.
Presenting the Palme d’Or, Hollywood legend Jane Fonda recalled the first time she came to Cannes in 1963.
“There were no women directors competing at that time and it never even occurred to us that there was something wrong with that,” she said. “We have come a long way.”
The third-place Jury Prize went to Aki Kaurismaki for his sweet, deadpan and very Finnish film “Fallen Leaves,” which garnered huge cheers from festival-goers.
The 76th edition of the world’s leading film get-together was a particularly glitzy affair, with world premieres for the new Indiana Jones and Martin Scorsese films playing out of competition.
Glazer received his award from Quentin Tarantino and 97-year-old cult director Roger Corman.
The festival often felt like a dream retirement home populated by aging male icons from Hollywood.
Harrison Ford, 80, got weepy when he received an honorary Palme d’Or ahead of the premiere of “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.”
Scorsese, also 80, said he was happy to stay out of the competition with his Native American epic “Killers of the Flower Moon,” joking to AFP: “It’s time for others. I got to go. There are kids around.”
European auteurs Ken Loach, 86, Marco Bellocchio, 83, and Victor Erice, 82, all brought new films to the festival.