The harrowing Holocaust drama “Son of Saul,” offering unflinching depictions of the gas chambers of Auschwitz, claimed the runner-up Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival on Sunday.
Some expected Laszlo Nemes’ horrifying plunge into the life of an Auschwitz worker to take the top award, but it’s been 26 years since a debut film (Steven Soderbergh’s “Sex, Lies, and Videotape”) was given the Palme.
“This continent is still haunted by this subject,” said Hungarian director Nemes, accepting the award.
The Times of Israel’s critic, Jordan Hoffman, last week hailed “Son of Saul” as “the best film of the festival, and … perhaps one of the most striking works of art about the Holocaust yet made.” He added: “By bringing us back inside the extermination camps in a new (and dare I say artful?) way, Nemes shakes up the conventions of Holocaust films that have undeniably grown predictable. This movie shocks the system… Nemes, who worked as legendary filmmaker Béla Tarr’s assistant, has come out of the gate with a masterpiece.”
Jacques Audiard’s Sri Lankan refugee drama “Dheepan” won the Palme d’Or, the top honor of the Cannes festival.
The choice, as selected by a jury led by Joel and Ethan Coen, was unexpected. “Dheepan” is about a trio of Sri Lankans who pretend to be a family in order to flee their war-torn country for a housing project in France. While the dapper Audiard has drawn widespread acclaim for films such as “A Prophet” and “Rust and Bone,” many criticized “Dheepan” for the thriller-like conclusion of its otherwise patient depiction of immigrant adjustment.
“To receive a prize from the Coen brothers is exceptional,” said Audiard. “There’s only the Dardenne brothers (that could match it).”
Hou Hsiao-Hsien, the masterful 68-year-old Taiwanese filmmaker, won best director for his first feature in eight years: “The Assassin,” a lushly painterly martial arts drama.
The best actress prize was split but not the way some expected. It was given to both Rooney Mara, half of the romantic pair of Todd Haynes’ ’50s lesbian drama “Carol,” and Emmanuelle Bercot, the French star of the roller-coaster marriage drama “My King.” (Bercot also directed the festival opener, “Standing Tall,” about a delinquent teenager.) Many expected Mara might share the prize with her “Carol” co-star, Cate Blanchett.
Best actor was awarded to Vincent Lindon, the veteran French actor of Stéphane Brizé’s “The Measure of a Man.” In it, he plays a man struggling to make a living after a long period of unemployment.
Yorgos Lanthimos, a Greek filmmaker working in English for the first time, took the jury prize for “The Lobster,” a deadpan dystopian comedy, starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz, about a near-future where unmarried singles are turned into the animals of their choice.
“Chronic,” an understated drama about a home-care nurse (Tim Roth) for the terminally ill, took best screenplay for Mexican writer-director Michel Franco. Franco and Roth met three years ago when Roth, on the Un Certain Regard jury, helped award Franco the Un Certain prize. “It’s a Cannes story,” said Franco.
The Camera d’Or, Cannes award for best first feature film, went to “La Tierra Y la Sombra.” César Augusto Acevedo’s debut, which played in the Critics Week section, is about an old farmer returning home to tend to his gravely ill son.
The Palme was decided by a jury headed by the Coen brothers, who themselves took the coveted award in 1991 for “Barton Fink.” The others on the Cannes jury were: Guillermo del Toro, Jake Gyllenhaal, Sienna Miller, Sophie Marceau, Xavier Dolan, Rokia Traore and Rossy de Palma.
The last two Cannes winners have been three-hour art-house epics: the glacial Turkish drama “Winter Sleep,” chosen last year by Jane Campion’s jury, and “Blue is the Warmest Color,” as picked by Steven Spielberg’s jury. But no film in competition this year was much longer than two hours.
This year’s competition slate of 19 films left some critics calling it a somewhat down year for Cannes. Some of the films that drew the biggest raves — “Mad Max: Fury Road,” Pixar’s “Inside Out” — played out of competition.
The festival was dominated by discussion about gender equality with many — from Cate Blanchett to Jane Fonda — speaking about female opportunity in the movie business. “You hope it’s not just the year, it’s not some sort of fashionable moment,” said Blanchett.
On Sunday, an honorary Palme d’Or was given to French filmmaker Agnes Varda, the first woman to receive one and only the fourth director after Woody Allen, Clint Eastwood and Bernardo Bertolucci.
But the festival was overrun by an unlikely scandal when several women were turned away from the formal premiere of Todd Haynes’ “Carol” for wearing flat shoes, rather than high heels. The festival insisted it was the mistake of overzealous security guards and not part of Cannes’ notoriously strict dress code. Emily Blunt, star of the drug war thriller “Sicario” called the situation “very disappointing.”
On Saturday, “Rams,” a drama set among farmers and their sheep in a remote Icelandic valley, won the Un Certain Regard, a sidebar competition at Cannes.