CANNES, FRANCE - Canada made it into the winner’s circle twice at the close of the 67th Cannes Film Festival Saturday evening, but directors Xavier Dolan and David Cronenberg fell tantalizingly short of securing the country’s first Palme d’Or feature prize.
Mommy, an explosive mother-son drama by Montreal’s Xavier Dolan, 25, shared the third-place Jury Prize with Goodbye to Language, a provocative life abstraction by French film legend Jean-Luc Godard, 83, a first win in the main Cannes competition for both.
Toronto’s David Cronenberg saw his Hollywood satire Maps to the Stars lauded in the Best Actress win by the film’s lead player Julianne Moore. She praised him as “a visionary” in her thanks to the Cannes jury, which was led by New Zealand filmmaker Jane Campion.
It’s the first time in memory that two Canadian films have won prizes in the same year in the Palme competition, which also had the distinction of a record three Canadian films amongst the 18 going for the golden palm. (The third was The Captive, a kidnap thriller by Toronto’s Atom Egoyan that went unrecognized by Campion’s nine-person jury.) Campion and other jurors singled out Dolan’s film for special praise—“I loved Mommy so much!” Campion said -- yet they ultimately chose two other films for the top prizes at Cannes.
The Palme went to Winter Sleep by Turkey’s Nuri Bilge Ceylan, a 3½-hour morality tale that slowly reveals the true nature of a hotel owner in remote Anatolia who believes himself to be just “a simple man.” Campion said it reminded her of the works of Chekhov for its character complexity, impressive enough to secure the first Palme for Ceylan, a Cannes veteran and previous winner of runner-up prizes.
The second-place Grand Prix went to The Wonders, a lyrical coming-of-age story by Italy’s Alice Rohrwacher, a first-time Palme competitor and one of only two female directors represented in the 18 films competing for the golden palm trophy, one of the most prestigious awards in cinema. (The other woman was Japan’s Naomi Kawase, whose nature study Still the Water went home empty-handed.) True to Cannes tradition, Campion’s jury shared the wealth for their remaining prizes, allowing just one per film: Best Director for Bennett Miller of the U.S. for the psychodrama Foxcatcher; Best Actor to Britain’s Timothy Spall for the artist’s biopic Mr. Turner, directed by Mike Leigh; and Best Screenplay to Andrey Zvyagintsev and Oleg Negin for the Russian drama Leviathan, which depicts deeps corruption in a small fishing village.
If Dolan was disappointed with sharing what in Olympic terms would be a bronze medal with filmmaking great Godard, he certainly didn’t show it.
Fighting back tears as he accepted his prize, he claimed the award for “my generation” rather than specifically for Canada or Quebec, as he’d earlier said he’d do if Cannes chose to honour him.
Speaking in both French and English, writer-director Dolan also credited Campion and her 1993 Palme-winning film The Piano for “changing my life” and also “making me want to write roles for women, beautiful women with soul and will and strength.”
That’s certainly what he achieves with Mommy, a highly emotional drama starring Anne Dorval as the determined single mother of a violent and agitated 15-year-old son (Antoine-Olivier Pilon). The volatile relationship gets even more so once a mysterious neighbour (Suzanne Clément) offers help, and Dolan further turns up the temperature by packing it all into an unconventional square 1:1 image on the screen.
Many critics had predicted Mommy would go all the way to the Palme after its world premiere last week. There were also many who believed that Leviathan would get the gold.
It was clear at the post-awards press conference that Campion and her team came close to crowning Mommy, Dolan’s fifth film and fourth to premiere at Cannes, although this was his first time in the Palme hunt.
It was ultimately decided that a creative statement could be made by having this year’s youngest Palme competitor, Dolan, share an award with the oldest one, Godard, who received his first Cannes win of any kind in seven times in the Palme race.
The two directors share a common spirit of risking-taking cinema in both content and form, and Campion and other jurors said it just seemed natural to honor them together.
Godard was a no-show at the festival, as per his eccentric custom of the past decade, but Campion semi-seriously said that if he’d shown up with his pet dog Miéville, who goes by the name Roxy in a starring role in Goodbye to Language, she would have wanted to slip a golden collar around the pooch’s neck.
(Like his master, Roxy also scored a runner-up prize here, coming in second in the unofficial Palm Dog award. He was aced to golden collar by a mutt named Hagen in the Hungarian dog-uprising fable White God.) Campion added that despite the fact that she began the fest on May 14 bemoaning the lack of women in the competition, saying that “men eat all the cake” in the movie business, gender wasn’t a factor in any of the awards.
The funniest and strangest acceptance speech of the night came from Timothy Spall, who plays curmudgeonly British master artist J.W.S. Turner in Mr. Turner.
Spall rambled on at length and also reminded the audience in the Palais des Festivals that he was forced for health reasons to miss the 1996 awards that saw Leigh’s family drama Secrets & Lies, in which he had a major role, take the Palme d’Or.
He was undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia at the time and couldn’t travel “and l also had the audacity not to die,” Spall said.
He joked about finally becoming a “bride” after being the “bridesmaid” at so many other awards, but he conclude on a serious note: “Most of all, I just thank God that I’m still here and alive.”
Most of the prize winners at Cannes will hit Toronto screens later this year or early next, including possible North American premiers at TIFF in September.