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Cannes Film Festival 2021: a radical 74th prize-winners which advocates difference and shows youth


Julia Ducournau is the second director to receive the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival after Jane Campion, winner for The Piano Lesson in 1993, and still was tied with the Chinese Chen Kaige for Goodbye my concubine. Genre film, fantastic, violent and gore, Titanium was unexpected in this place, the other films awarded also reflecting a different cinema. To use the word of Julia Ducournau’s speech when she received her Palme d’Or, this 74th list is “monstrous“.

French director Julia Ducournau breaks with her Palme d'Or for "Titanium", surrounded by his actor Vincent Lindon and his actress Agathe Rousselle, at the 74th Cannes film festival (2021).  (MUSTAFA YALCIN / ANADOLU AGENCY)

“Beauty is always weird”, wrote Baudelaire. An axiom that Julia Ducournau can take on her own account with regard to her first two feature films, Serious and Titanium. Extreme works, they contradict the commonly held feeling that certain films made in the past would no longer be possible today, as the era is consensual. By rewarding Titanium, the jury led by Spike Lee, demonstrates the opposite and shows extreme youth.

Totally unrealistic in his script, Titanium is not meant to be understood, but to be felt. His madness is reminiscent of the screenplays of films from the 1920-30s, such as The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari (1919) by Robert Wienne or The unknown (1927) and Freaks (1932) by Tod Browning. Films that put at the heart of their subject the monstrosity of marginal characters touched by grace. Given the current trend of a dominant mainstream cinema, Julia Ducournau appears to be an outcast. She stands out in art, making radical, violent, gory films, with powerful subjects that disturb.

The devil in the cinema could be found in the nonconformity to the canons of the dominant narrative grammar. This is reflected in the jury prize awarded ex-aequo to the Ahed’s knee of the Israeli Nadav Lapid and to Memoria of the Thai Apichatpong Weerasethakul, already Palme d’Or in 2010 for Uncle boonmee. The first is a rant against Israel’s policy, the exploding narrative of which is experimental. The second is faithful to the contemplative rhythm of the films of the Thai director. Memoria, deals not with human memory, but with that of the Earth, stones, water, trees and wind. Outsmarting all narrative cinema, Apichatpong Weerasethakul ignores all rationality, in form and meaning. This does not prevent him from telling a story. The Thai director films the invisible, the magic of the world.

One could also assimilate to this trend the Jury Prize awarded to the Finnish Juho Kuosmanen, who filmed in Compartment n ° 6 the meeting between a Finn and a Russian during a train trip, north of the Arctic Circle. A twilight film which, even if it opts for a more classic chronological story, chooses slowness like the train journey which is at the center of the film.

This search for a demanding form, off the beaten track, is offset by more conventional jury choices. This is the case of the ex-aequo Grand Prix, awarded to A hero by Iranian Asghar Farhadi: the jurors recognized his immense talent as a storyteller: on a classic theme (the suitcase / treasure found), a gentle denunciation of the manipulation practices underway in his country. An admirable and courageous balancing act.

This is also the case with the prize for best actress awarded to the Norwegian Renate Reinsve for her performance in Julie (in 12 chapters) by Joachim Trier, a romantic comedy. If she was noticed by all the festival-goers before the announcement of the prize-winners, her playing is classic, embodying in a very fair way a role that is not. That of a woman seeking to give meaning to her life, independent and whole.

Conversely, the prize for male interpretation awarded to the American Caleb Landry Jones, for his title role in Nitram by Justin Kurzel, on the mass crime of Port-Arthur in 1996, rewards an atypical performance. Noticed by all, the physical transformation of the actor, the diversified palette of his expressiveness, make him pass from mild madness to tension, before going adrift in a mixture of empathic suffering and cynical coldness. Remarkable. If the performance corresponds to the role of a mental imbalance, it is not classic in its interpretation, which caught the attention of a discerning jury.

The director’s prize awarded to Leos Carax for Annette – first musical comedy awarded at Cannes – rewards the visual dazzlingness of the film shot in the studio (a rarity today). The exploded construction of the story is also its charm. Very abundant in its themes, Annette mixes artistic creativity, competition between artists, motherhood / fatherhood in front of the child, and its commercial exploitation. If that’s a lot, Carax manages to interweave them in harmony, no doubt thanks to Ron and Russell Mael, founders of the group Sparks, who wrote the screenplay and the music. But it is the art of the director which gives its coherence.

At the antipodes of the visual prowess ofAnnette, the screenplay prize awarded to the Japanese Ryusuke Hamaguchi (also director) and Takamasa Oe, who adapted a short story by Haruki Murakami in Drive my Car, is also part of a sophisticated, plastic creation. Lasting three hours and quite Asianly slow, the story demonstrates how the act of creating can have an impact on the artist’s personal life. The subject of creation is, moreover, one of the recurring themes in a number of films selected this year at Cannes. But from a strictly literary point of view, the script Drive my Car is distinguished by its temporality and the elliptical subtext given by Ryusuke Hamaguchi. This apparent gentleness in no way diminishes the power of a story that starts from the intimate to deal with the universal question of the transformation of man through creation. You have to hang on all the same …

The winners of the 74th Cannes Film Festival reflect a generational renewal in cinema today. The Palme d’Or by Julia Ducournau for Titanium rewards a 37-year-old director whose claimed cinematographic references are those of her generation: Brian De Palma, Dario Argento and David Cronenberg in the lead. But more than tributes, these sources feed films that are unlike any other, while claiming to be of a very codified genre whose conventions it shatters.

The Norwegian actress & nbsp; Renate Reinsve and her palm for her performance in "Julie (in 12 lessons) by Joachim Trier, at the 74th Cannes film festival (2021).  (MUSTAFA YALCIN / ANADOLU AGENCY)

The acting awards presented to Renate Reinsve and Caleb Landry Jones also celebrate a new generation of actresses and actors, being 33 and 31 years old respectively. In the same vein, Leos Carax, director’s prize, is more than twice 30 than 60, so refreshing is his creative inventiveness. If his subjects are mature and dark, they are also of a black romanticism cultivated by those who knew how to keep an eternal youth.

Find the full list of winners of this 74th Cannes Film Festival



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