Last night’s Cannes Film Festival awards weren’t just curious in some respects, but almost bizarre. The jury will never cop to their deep-down motives or to the complete political picture, but I know that Cannes topper Thierry Fremaux chose a fair amount of French films to show competitively, some regarded as disappointing or mezzo-mezzo, and the decision to give three of the top awards — the Palme d’Or, Best Actor and Best Actress (or half of it) — to French recipients was, whether the jury admits it or not (or was conscious of it or not), some kind of political gesture of support. A friend wrote last night that this “had the effect of making what was a very bad showing for the French all around, as almost all of their many entries were average at best and sometimes far worse, look pretty good.”
Giving the Palme d’Or to Jacques Audiard‘s respectable but far-from-stellar Dheepan was a huge forehead-slapper. Laszlo Nemes‘ Son of Saul, which won the second-place Grand Prix award, would have been a far more deserving recipient; ditto Todd Haynes‘ Carol, which many fell to their knees over. (A producer pal: “Every year the Cannes critics rave about a film like Carol, so then the Jury goes out of its way to not to give it a prize. It’s as if they have to defy the pure merit of it all just so as to not appear ‘populist.'”)
I’m telling you that nobody and I mean nobody expected Dheepan to win anything, much less the Palme d’Or. In this sense it’s fair to say that the Cannes Jury (chaired by Joel and Ethan Coen) was completely divorced from a perceptual reality shared by nearly every journalist I talked to during the festival. Nobody even fantasized about Dheepan emerging as the Big Winner…nobody.
Journalists: “Dheepan is easily the least distinguished of Audiard’s last three films — a good or even a pretty good film but far from exceptional. At best a modest achievement.” Ethan Coen: “[The jury’s reaction to Dheepan] was swift…everybody had an enthusiasm for it. To some degree or another we all thought it was a very beautiful movie. We’re different people, some people had greater enthusiasms for other things or lesser, but in terms of this movie, everybody had some level of excitement, some high level of excitement and enthusiasm for it.” There was no overlap here. Cannes journalists were on one planet, the jury was on another.