The ceremony of the 74th Cannes Film Festival was blown up by jury chairman Spike Lee. It was well known that he is not so fond of beaten paths, but this seemed more like a blunder.
The jury chairman gave away the Golden Palm when the ceremony had just begun. Just about all the prizes had yet to be awarded, when he thought it was already up to the final winner. His colleagues on the jury tried to silence him quickly, but you could just hear him say: “The Golden Palm goes to Titanium.’
The show must go on, so everyone acted like no one heard. But half an hour later, the Golden Palm did indeed go to this wild, daring film by the young French director Julia Ducournau.
Titane director Julia Ducournau (left) alongside actress Sharon Stone
Anyway, it was a surprising choice. It’s only her second film and since her cannibalistic debut Grave, she’s clearly only been radicalized in the same direction. Titane is cross-border queer punk cinema that breaks taboos and stretches bodies. The French newspaper Le Figaro reported with some sense of exaggeration that at the premiere the fire brigade had to intervene: people fainted, had to vomit or had a nervous breakdown.
Either way, the film is an intense viewing experience. The film begins when a girl has a titanium plate placed in her braincase after a horrific car accident. Then we go fast-forward and she is a mature woman who has a sexual relationship with cars. Ducournau channels horror classic like this Christine by John Carpenter, while later there are also moments along the lines of David Cronenberg’s body horror. When the woman, Alexia, is on the run from the police, she plans to pretend to be a boy who was reported missing years ago. She then hoists herself and reports to his grieving father, head of a fire brigade. A remarkable bond develops between the two, suggesting that family is a bond that you can mold yourself, just as you can transform your own body. It is queer punk cinema that captures something of the current zeitgeist.
‘Perfection is a chimera’
Director Julia Ducournau thanked Spike Lee for the clumsy approach. “This night was far from perfect and I love that,” she said before giving a strong speech. ‘As a child I traditionally watched the Cannes award ceremony with my parents. And I thought then that all those winning films had to be perfect, otherwise they wouldn’t be allowed on stage. Tonight I’m on that stage and I know very well that my own film is not perfect. Anyway, I believe that a movie is never perfect in the eyes of the person who made it. They even call him monstrous.’
With the latter she may have referred to the division in French film criticism, but also to the booing in Cannes at some screenings. Titanium may not be a film for the general public, but the Golden Palm may be able to help direct people to it who are open to cross-border cinema. The film will hit Belgian cinemas on July 28.
‘Now that I’m an adult and a director, I realize that perfection is a chimera, a dead-end street. Monstrousness, which terrifies some and which permeates my work, is a weapon and a strength. It pushes us to challenge the normativity that traps us and drives us apart. Because there is so much beauty, emotion and freedom to be found in what cannot be placed in a box.’
She thanked the jury for recognizing the need for a more inclusive and fluid world with this award. Thank you to the jury for calling for more diversity in our experiences in both cinema and our lives. Thanks to the jury for admitting the samples.’
Ceremony in total chaos
Spike Lee’s blunder turned out to be the prelude to a ceremony in total chaos. Spike Lee even had to be stopped a second time just in time to prematurely call off the Palme d’Or. Celebrities on stage regularly looked at the judges in hopes of finding out exactly what the intention was. The jury itself seemed hopelessly divided and even went for an ex aequo several times. For a director of Asghar Farhadi’s stature, that’s almost embarrassing – even if he may not see it that way himself. Finnish director Juho Kuosmanen was clearly pleasantly surprised and said Farhadi on stage that he had long been happy to hold on to his award.
The prize for best direction went to the Frenchman Leos Carax for his musical Annette with Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard. The man did not collect the prize himself, but left it to the two brothers of the pop band Sparks, who came up with the entire concept of the film and wrote the lyrics and music for it.
Belgian director Joachim Lafosse therefore returned home empty-handed – even though he had The unquiet made a very strong film. The director of the best debut, Croatian Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic, was unable to pick up her Caméra d’Or herself, but had a good excuse: she had given birth to her first child the day before.
In the side competition ‘Un Certain Regard’ the prizes were already awarded on Friday. The main prize went to Unclenching the fists, a Russian film by Kira Kovalenko about a girl in North Ossetia who tries to escape from her village. Teodora Ana Mihai received the ‘prize for courage’ for Civil, about a Mexican mother who fighting the drug mafia. The Fipresci Prize, an award presented by a jury of journalists, went in this category to the French-speaking Belgian film A world by Laura Wander.
Honors of the 72nd Cannes Film Festival
- Golden Palm: Titanium, Julia Ducournau
- Grand Prix, shared between: Un héros, Asghar Farhadi en Cabin No. 6, Juho Kuosmanen
- Jury prize shared between: Memory, Apichatpong Weerasethakul in Ha’berech, Nadav Lapid
- Golden Palm short film: All the crows in the world, De Tang Yi
- Best actress: Renate Reinsve, The worst person in the world
- Best actor: Caleb Landry Jones, Nitram
- Best director: Leos Carax, Annette
- Scenario: Drive my car, Ryusuke Hamaguchi
- Un Certain Regard Prize: Unclenching the fists, Kira Kovalenko
- Golden Camera: Murina, Antoneta Address Kusijanovic
- Palme d’or of honor: Marco Bellocchio