The closing ceremony brought about a sigh of ‘I knew it’ disappointment as this year’s quasi-unanimous favourite “Toni Erdmann” failed to pick up a single award, while “I, Daniel Blake”, a mawkish feel-bad movie, so utterly predictable and artistically vapid, so tedious that it is hard to hate but is instead best watched as a bland medicine, took home the top prize. The 2016 jury seems to have inherited their forerunner’s perverse pleasure in rewarding a film nobody cared for much. Well done on managing to outrage the minuscule segment of humanity that gives a rat’s tail about Cannes palmarès.
The subaltern at Cannes (i.e. the press) do get the need to the Jury to leave their stamp of originality, and though they supposed to not read any reactions on the films in competition, they nonetheless seem to take a childishly perverse pride in stumping ‘predictions’. By now, of course, the press has got in on the game and dares not utter the name of such and such for fear of jinxing it. I only so far came across one journalism piece bravely asking “Is it time to scrap the Jury?” and it seems an ever more relevant question when eight thousand ‘critics’ agree on a single film while the 8 jurors in their Champagne-doused, chauffeur-driven Cannes bubble misconstrue diegetic poverty and sanctimoniousness in “I, Daniel Blake” for artistic achievement and mind-numbing narcissism for ambition in “Juste la fin du monde”. So what if everyone who saw a film at Cannes thought “Toni Erdmann” was the most deserving and daring – daring in an everyday, going to a 9-to-5 management job sort of way – contestant.
Here is my alternative awards list:
Palme D’Or: “Poesía sin fin” by Alejandro Jodorowsky
Last year I wrote about the mixture of magic and indispensability that only a few films (and works of art) have- the fact that they become part of cultural heritage and transcend the sum of their parts to acquire a larger historical significance. “Poesía sin fin”, the second instalment of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s surrealist autobiographical magnum opus, comes closest to historical significance packaged in larger-than-life poetical riot.
“Poesía sin fin” is perfect in its boldly flaunted imperfections, and even someone deeply sceptical of experimental and surrealist film and conservatively attached to narrative like me, could not resist succumbing to its charm. We see stuff mainstream cinema does not know about – sex with a menstruating midget with uneven breasts, a fortune teller reading destiny off an erection, a mother who is incapable of speech and only expresses herself by singing opera, and a whole array of poetic, theatrically staged craziness. Which is not to say the surrealist, stylised form is devoid of substance – alongside the crazy Chilean poets’ club there is always the looming presence of history and politics: the main character Alejandro Jodorowsky (exuberantly played by his charisma-overdosing son Adan) dabbling with post-war anarchism, the advent of military dictatorship and the subsequent exile of thousands of South American intellectuals and artists are recounted in a mind-boggling, stylised fable, a ‘poetic act’ as the film calls it, that amounted to the most impacting experience of Cannes 2016.
Jury Prize: “Toni Erdmann” by Maren Ade
The Jury – or rather, László Nemes, my most favourite person of Cannes 2015 – praised “Juste la fin du monde” for its ambition, provocation and strong authorial voice, omitting to note the theatricality that smacks of artificial flavouring and the triteness of the family-meal-cum-crisis drama in French cinema. On the other hand, they turned a blind eye to most viewers’ favourite, in keeping with the tradition of the “shock value” award. In some ways “Toni Erdmann” would have indeed been the easy way out – it is so admirable, likeable, feel-good and hard to find gripes with, that there would have been no jury debate possible.
Let Salma Hayek Pinault throw lavish parties sponsored by her husband’s diamonds (The Kering “Women in Motion” President’s Dinner). Who cares if the universally loved and applauded film of 2016 was written, directed, and starred by women. Why not reward a glittery French-establishment vehicle (Nathalie Baye, Marillon Cotillard, Léa Seydoux and Vincent Cassel are to contemporary French cinéma de papa what Maréchal Pétain was to Vichy France)… It’s only too sad and ironic that Xavier Dolan felt the need to cast these A-listers in a calculatedly manneristic celebrity fest to reach for the highest consecration at Cannes (he said he wouldn’t stop making films till he got the Palme).
At the end of the day, when everyone has flown home, one competiotion film will be talked about and remembered, and it is going to be the out-of-nowhere German-Romanian comedy drama brimming with zest, spirit, humour and originality that is “Toni Erdmann” and not Dolan’s stifling little histrionic experiment at Frenchness.
Best Director: Pablo Larraín for “Neruda”
One of the two best director prizes of 2016 was an inanity so traumatisingly, insultingly bad that even French grannies got the gist of “Personal Shopper”: ‘Assayas likes his actress way too much!’. So much so that “Personal Shopper” can be successfully summed up as twice-married Asayas needing an excuse to be around Kristen Stewart in her knickers. He will even throw in some ghosts if necessary. No matter that the result is a woefully pathetic excuse for a film.
Meanwhile Pablo Larraín, an supremely talented – but not French- director got overlooked in the official selection even though his new film “Neruda” is a vastly superior work to most of the competition entries. No point hurling stones at the Cannes bias for prioritising something as embarrassing to look at as Nicole Garcia’s “Mal de pierres” (filmed as it is in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, home of the festival).
“Neruda” screened in the Quinzaine des réalisateurs section and confirmed Larraín as one of the most intelligent, incisive and talented contemporary film-makers. It is a fictionalised, stylised account of poet and communist senator Pablo Neruda going into hiding, on the run from Chilean authorities who have just deposed him from the Senate and outlawed the Communist Party of Chile.
Liberally based on historical events, the film incorporates a first-person narrator, dogged police inspector Óscar Peluchonneau (played by Gael García Bernal), in charge of capturing the orgy-loving pot-bellied senator (Luis Gnecco). The odium-spewing yet overawed Peluchonneau is a biting, sophisticated synecdoche for the obsessional relationship of South American military dictatorships with their artistic left-wing intelligentsia, forced in droves to abandon the continent over the decades of military rules. Both fascinated and abhorring, the police inspector is painfully aware of his own historical insignificance in the face of the looming figure of the literary giant. To Larraín’s credit, these high-brow themes are rendered in a ludic, self-deprecating manner (the orgy and brothel sequences are bursting with hilarity) and gorgeously shot, whether in the menacing pastel obscurity of the Santiago segments, the oceanic freshness of the Valparaiso stint, or the breathtaking Andes finale.
Best Screenplay: “Bacalaureat” and “Forushande”
No complaint here as “Forushande” (“The Salesman”) was a deserving winner for its twisty plot and seamless quotation from a classic play, though “Bacalaureat” was of probably equal standing with its less convoluted, subdued drama about the daily preoccupations of post-communist, midlife-crisis middle class, subtly blending the legacy of oppression with a faint glimmer of generational change. The portrayal of everything from quotidian corruption to regular folk’s extramarital affairs is razor-sharp in its precision and veracity, entirely devoid of cinematic exaggeration.
Best Actress: Sandra Hüller in “Toni Erdmann”
Little-known Sandra Hüller has probably just earned her place in cinema history with her nude brunch turn and Whitney Houston-esque karaoke performance in “Toni Erdmann”. She is a character actress in the literal sense – an actress of disarming character, wit and self-deprecation blended with riotous comedic delivery.
Best Actor: Mimi Branescu in “Sieranevada” and Shahab Hosseini in “Forushande”
Shahab Hosseini’s performance in “Forushande” as a nice, devoted husband that a chain of incidents pushes into sordid vengefulness amply deserved his best actor award. I would also add Mimi Brabescu in “Sieranevada” for his wonderfully understated, layered portrayal of a mild-mannered family man patiently navigating a labyrinth of family sensitivities and subterranean post-communist traumas.