By Patrick Z. McGavin
The 67th edition of the festival ended today on a superlative note. On Saturday night, the professional jury awarded the festival’s top prize, the Palme d’Or, to Winter Sleep, the extraordinary new work by Turkish master Nuri Bilge Ceylan.
The director’s sixth feature marks the ideal crystallization of his style, sharply yoking physical wonder and emotional acuity. The director Jane Campion, a Palme laureate in 1993 for The Piano, admitted going in, she felt a bit daunted by the prospect of the movie’s three-hour and 16-minute running time. “But I sat down, and the film had such a beautiful rhythm and it took me in,” she said. “I could have stayed there for another couple of hours.”
Ceylan had its admirers, though indicative of the breadth of the programming, Cannes denied any shot at consensus this year. We all have our prejudices and feel protective about specific directors and films. Film culture has mutated pretty radically in the last three decades, but one prevalent track has focused on foreign auteurs such as Krzysztof Kieslowski and Abbas Kiarostami, followed by Bela Tarr, who assumed, whether deliberately or not, the mantle of the serious film artist, the heir of Bergman, Antonioni, Godard and Fassbinder.
Ceylan is now that man. His recent films are long though voluptuous and beautifully made. With Ceylan, the rhythms are sensuous and achieve a serpentine hold in violating narrative expectation to achieve something far more mysterious, knotty and plangent. Part of what makes the new work so exciting and involving is how it scuttles expectation, invoking the previous films as he expands his ideas and storytelling into different directions.
The Grand Prix, effectively the runner-up award, went to Italian filmmaker Alice Rohrwacher for her second narrative feature, The Wonders, about a family of beekeepers. It’s a lyrical and nicely observed work that draws extensively on her own life. (She even cast her own sister in the part of the family matriarch.) Rohrwacher’s movie was one of just two films in the 18-film competition directed by a woman; the other was Japanese director Naomi Kawase’s Still the Water. The movie is tough and keen-eyed, alert to the confusion and stirrings of the family’s older daughter. It is never sentimental, and the camerawork is clean, patient and often hypnotically precise.
The festival had a lot of echoing movements and concerns. So it happened that films by the oldest and youngest directors in the competition shared the Jury Prize. The great Jean-Luc Godard, at 83 and offering his first film in four years, detonated the placid calm with his remarkable cine-collage, Adieu au language. It’s another of his sorrowful and contemplative looks at the end—of cinema, of the 20th century—only this time shot in 3D, with some startling and poetic imagery, layered through a nimbus of quotations, aphorisms and classical music (most prominently Beethoven’s 7th Symphony). It utilizes the depth of field in radical ways, opening up all manner of looking, hearing and watching.
Godard’s opposite, the rakish and impossibly ambitious young Québécois filmmaker Xavier Dolan (this is his third film in two years) split critical reaction with Mommy, the alternately feverish and grueling story of the hyper-compacted family dynamics involving a middle-aged widow (Anne Dorval, excellent) and her ADHD 15-year-old son (Antoine Olivier-Pilon). Suzanne Clement is the next door neighbor caught between the two.
Dolan invented his own aspect ratio, a highly vertical band, a negative ratio of approximately .67-1, that simultaneously centers the action and destabilizes the frame. I found himself strangely in between, finding much to recommend (especially the two actresses) though also finding it unmoored and somewhat exhausting to experience.
“It’s a great brilliant modern film from such a young director, like a genius I think,” Campion said about Dolan. “When I saw the Godard film, I wasn’t expecting this. I was blown away by it. I loved the experience of the film, I found it so modern, like the fact that he throws a narrative away. It’s like a power, I found myself awakened, this is a free man, a very moving man. We coupled them, we were aware that they were the oldest and youngest director. The directors here know we owe our life’s blood to Godard.”
As expected, Timothy Spall captured the best actor prize for his role as the great British painter JMW Turner in Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner. Julianne Moore surprised with her ferocious, unhinged turn as an actress unhinged by her fading power in David Cronenberg’s deft, chilling Maps to the Stars. Working with his the skilled satirist Bruce Wagner, Cronenberg violently upends social behavior with his bracing, exceptionally disturbing, using the framework of the anti-Hollywood screed. Moore’s turn is unsettling, perverse and technically brilliant.
This is the full list of the award winners:
Palme d’Or: Winter Sleep (Nuri Bilge Ceylan)
Grand prix: The Wonders (Alice Rohrwacher)
Director: Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
Jury prize: Mommy (Xavier Dolan) and Adieu au language (Jean-Luc Godard)
Screenplay: Levithan (Andrey Zvagintsev and Oleg Negin)
Actor: Timothy Spall, Mr. Turner
Actress: Julianne Moore, Maps to the Stars