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Here’s How the Cannes Film Festival Awards Could Impact the Oscar Race


Carole Bethuel

In the end, many Cannes winners don't register stateside, unless they break through at the box office, as "Parasite" did.

Out of Cannes, “Parasite” marks the most notable example of a Palme d’Or winner that went on to win big not only at the global box office but also subsequent awards, including four Oscars: Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, and International Film. (Only “Marty” in 1955 has also followed a Palme d’Or win with a Best Picture Oscar.) Cannes is a mighty marketing platform, but winning the top prize did little to turn such films as Jacques Audiard’s “Dheepan” (2015) or Ken Loach’s “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” (2006) and “I, Daniel Blake” (2016) into Oscar contenders. France didn’t submit “Dheepan” that year, sending Paul Verhoeven’s more popular Cannes entry “Elle” into contention instead; French star Isabelle Huppert went on to score a Best Actress Oscar nomination.

Truth is, outside of the Best International Film category, it takes some success at the box office to push a Cannes award winner into an Oscar contender. “The Pianist,” “Pulp Fiction,” “The Mission,” “M.A.S.H.,” and “Apocalypse Now” are among the Palme d’Or winners to also score Oscars. And Holly Hunter won Best Actress at both Cannes and the Academy Awards for Jane Campion’s Palme d’Or winner “The Piano.”

This year, at the most sublimely messy Cannes award ceremony ever, name auteurs Verhoeven (“Benedetta”) and Audiard (“Paris, 13th District”) went home empty-handed, along with American contenders Wes Anderson (Searchlight’s “The French Dispatch”), Sean Penn (MGM’s “Flag Day”), and Sean Baker (A24’s “Red Rocket”), while jury president Spike Lee blundered his way through the ceremony, giving away at the start the winner of the top prize (Julia Ducournau’s brilliant gender-bending family drama “Titane”).

“We call this a do-over,” Lee said, after calling Cannes his “second home” since 1986. After that, bilingual jury member Tahar Rahim sat close to Lee and translated for him. “In my 63 years of life, I’ve learned you get a second chance,” Lee said later in the ceremony before almost jumping the gun again. “Here’s my second chance. I apologize for messing up, it took a lot of suspense out of the night.”

“Titane” marked only the second time that a woman director (after Campion) has won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, which has been trying to be more inclusive after criticism in recent years. There was debate about whether this audacious movie about an exotic dancer and serial killer (discovery Agathe Rousselle) who adopts the identity of the missing son of a steroid-addled fire chief (Vincent Lindon, Cannes Best Actor winner in 2015 for “Measure of a Man”) would have to settle for a lesser prize. Ducournau thanked Lee for giving her a “perfect evening,” she said, “because it’s so not perfect,” and the jury for “being inclusive and fluid.”

“I’ve seen a lot of films, but this is the first film ever where a Cadillac impregnated a woman,”  said Lee at the jury press conference, which is one of the many provocative moments in “Titane.”

“I don’t think what I do defines me as a woman,” said Ducournau at the press conference. “I thought about Jane Campion, as she was the first woman to receive this award. As the second woman, I have the impression that I belong to a movement that is under way. There will be a third, fourth, and a fifth woman.” She became emotional answering the last question about feeling free as a filmmaker. “It’s never easy to be free. You have to fight all the time. You have to fight for liberty. Freedom can only come from within; it’s a fight every day.”

“The Worst Person in the World”

Whether France will submit outrageous “Titane” for the Oscars will provoke some debate. (Erotic Palme-winner “Blue Is the Warmest Color” was not the country’s official choice in 2013.) Other candidates include relationship drama “Paris, 13th District” (IFC Films), Audiard’s black-and-white adaptation of the graphic novel “Killing and Dying” by Adrian Tomine, and François Ozon’s well-reviewed “Everything Went Fine” (Cohen Media). Japan could submit Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s three-hour “Drive My Car,” a story about a theater actor/director (Hidetoshi Nishijima) rehearsing a production of “Uncle Vanya,” which won the Best Screenplay award for its adaptation of the Haruki Murakami short story, and still lacks a U.S. distributor.

“Annette” photocall

Cannes Film Festival

It’s likely that the fiery discussions over “Titane” and the festival’s opening film, Best Director winner Leos Carax’s Sparks Brothers musical “Annette,” will drive more moviegoers to sample the films, along with their Cannes prizes. (Adam Driver’s brave singing performance will be a must-see for actors.) And American Caleb Landry Jones’ Cannes Best Actor win could drive more distributor interest toward Australian director Justin Kurzel’s period massacre drama “Nitram,” which seeks to land a North American release following its Friday debut at Cannes.

Neon had a good night, as the “Parasite” distributor has taken the Palme d’Or two years in a row, invested in “Titane” and “Memoria” before the festival, and scooped up Joachim Trier’s “The Worst Person in the World” before star Renate Reinsve won Best Actress. “There’s a lot of me in Julia,” said Reinsve, who almost gave up acting before Trier offered her the role of a young woman struggling with her career choices and romantic relationships. This could be a hit on the arthouse circuit, and is likely to be Norway’s Oscar submission.

“A Hero”

The jury debate was “intense,” said filmmaker and actress Mati Diop (“Atlantics”) on the red carpet, which may have accounted for the two tie votes, for the Grand Prix — Oscar winner Asghar Farhadi’s “A Hero” and Sony Pictures Classics’ pickup “Compartment No. 6” — and Jury Prize — Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid’s “Ahed’s Knee” and Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s first English-language film, “Memoria” (Neon). The latest film from the director of Palme d’Or-winning “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” back in 2010 stars Tilda Swinton, whom the filmmaker thanked profusely. Farhadi, it turns out, was right to decline joining the Cannes 2021 jury (after having been invited to the 2020 non-festival), because he wanted to bring his film to the Competition.

Winning at Cannes heightens the profile of a film in its home country, often leading to an Oscar submission. Thus we can expect Iran to submit “A Hero” (Amazon Studios) for Best International Film, as Farhardi has won Oscars twice before, for “A Separation” and “The Salesman.” And Finland should submit train movie “Compartment No. 6,” which Sony Pictures Classics will push, per usual. Israel will wait for the winner of the Ophir before submitting.

Mamoru Hosoda

Anne Thompson

Another Israeli filmmaker, Ari Folman, will likely be back in the Oscar race, following foreign-language Oscar nominee “Waltz with Bashir” with holocaust fable “Where Is Anne Frank?” an animated feature that Folman hoped would reach children all over the world. The film is still looking for a North American distributor. Another animated contender could be Mamoru Hosoda’s inventive “Belle” (GKids), inspired by the French “Beauty and the Beast” fairy tale, about rural school kids who take on alter egos in a digital universe, based on their strengths and weaknesses. This could mark his second animated feature nomination after “Mirai.”

Among the other snubs was “Bergman Island,” Mia Hansen-Løve’s summer married writers’ idyll, starring Tim Roth and the magnetic Vicky Krieps in one story and Mia Wasikowska and Anders Danielsen Lie (“The Worst Person in the World”) in another, which could be an arthouse hit for IFC Films. Other Cannes selection titles that did not factor in festival awards could play well in cinemas, including Oscar winner Tom McCarthy’s hybrid Franco-American story “Stillwater” (July 30, Focus), starring Oscar-worthy Matt Damon as a roughneck fish-out-of-water in Marseille; Anderson’s lusciously mounted “The French Dispatch” (Searchlight), with its all-star ensemble, which could score craft awards; Baker’s porn star in Texas fable “Red Rocket” (A24); IFC’s rambunctiously unholy lesbian nun story “Benedetta”; and Eva Husson’s period British love story “Mothering Sunday” (Sony Pictures Classics), starring hot rising stars Odessa Young and Josh O’Connor.

Matt Damon, Abigail Breslin, director Tom McCarthy and Camille Cottin on the “Stillwater” red carpet during the The 74th Annual Cannes Film Festival on July 8, 2021.

Michael Buckner for PMC

Less likely to prove a commercial box-office entry is Sean Penn’s MGM pickup “Flag Day,” a ’70s-inflected true con-man drama in which he stars opposite his daughter Dylan Penn, one of several Cannes films about sad-sack men who can’t help shooting themselves in the foot (“Red Rocket,” “Stillwater,” “A Hero”).

Cannes showed more documentaries than usual. Generating upbeat reaction on the Croisette were “Val,” a laudatory portrait of actor Val Kilmer, who is fighting throat cancer and was too ill to attend Cannes, from Ting Poo and Leo Scott (A24/Amazon), and innovative “The Velvet Underground,” from Todd Haynes (Apple), which should reappear on the fall festival circuit, along with two films looking for buyers: Mark Cousins’ well-received “The Story of Film: A New Generation,” and Oliver Stone’s “JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass,” which assembles all the released files on the JFK assassination into a coherent conspiracy theory.

Truth is, post-pandemic, the specialty market has never been harder to parse, as filmmakers, exhibitors, distributors, and media attempt to make sense of an evolving cinema landscape. The first step was Cannes mounting a robust virtual market followed by an actual live festival — which was far from preordained. The industry is getting back on its feet. And petty annoyances like spit Covid tests aside, some 19,000 attendees reveled in the wonder of returning to the big screen experience. “I was happy to be back in packed auditoriums,” said Farhadi.

Amen to that.


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