Cannes Palme d’Or goes to female director for only the second time | Cannes film festival

The Palme d’Or, the most prestigious of cinema festival prizes, has gone to Titane, an unconventional and violent film directed by the 37-year-old French director Julia Ducournau.

In a chaotic ceremony, the prize was announced early by mistake by the chairman of the jury, Spike Lee, who misunderstood a confusing French instruction to describe the winner of the top prize. “English!” he exclaimed afterwards in frustration, as fellow jury member Tahar Rahim, star of the recent TV series The Serpent, tried to explain what had gone wrong to Lee, the celebrated American director of films Do The Right Thing and Da Five Bloods.

When the right moment finally came, it was Sharon Stone who presented the top award to Titane together with Lee. “She’s not going to mess this up!” he said. Accepting the award, Ducournau said she suspected that Lee may have had much to do with the decision to give her the prize.

Spike Lee
Jury president Spike Lee arrives on stage during the closing ceremony of the Cannes film festival. Photograph: Valéry Hache/AFP/Getty

The choice of Titane, a French film that features a scene involving sex with a car, marked the close of a historic Cannes film festival, postponed from last year and then held two months later than its usual date.

Titane, picked by a prize jury that included actors Maggie Gyllenhaal, Melanie Laurent, Mylène Farmer and Kang Ho Song, as well as directors Mati Diop, Jessica Hausner and Kleber Mendonca Filho, came in above other highly rated frontrunners that had led the pack of 24 films in competition this year, such as a popular Moroccan film about young people and hip-hop called Casablanca Beats and A Hero, a film beloved by many critics from the Oscar-winning Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, which at least shared the glory of the Grand Prix award with a Finnish film.

The choice of winner will be unpopular with some, including the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw, who regarded Titane as “silly and pointless”. Others have argued that it was the only truly adventurous choice for a jury chaired by a provocateur like Lee.

While the Cannes winner may not often go on to pack multiplexes across Britain, it is worth remembering that sometimes there is a close connection between an art-house victor at the festival and later commercial success. Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake became a modest hit in British cinemas after winning in 2016, and after Bong Joon-ho won in 2019 with the dark satire Parasite, the South Korean director went on to make history by scooping the first Oscar for best film for a non-English-language entry.

The French film also beat high-profile contenders such as Wes Anderson, who premiered his star-studded The French Dispatch at Cannes, Nanni Moretti, who gave us his Three Floors, and Sean Penn, who directed himself and his daughter in Flag Day, written by British playwright Jez Butterworth and starring Eddie Marsan.

Among the established French directors vying for the coveted Palme at the 74th festival were Jacques Audiard, for Paris, 13th District, François Ozon for Everything Went Fine, and Mia Hanson Love’s film Bergman Island, starring Tim Roth. Leos Carax also won many fans with his odd opening musical Annette, starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard. The opening film of the festival, it was also one of the most talked about, containing as it did a musical sex scene. More controversial was the lesbian-nun costume romp Benedetta, from Total Recall director Paul Verhoeven. But neither film made much running in the betting during the closing phase of the 12-day cinematic feast on the Cote D’Azur, although Carax did have some hefty consolation as he received the award for best director.

Lee told the audience in the Palais du Festival on the Croisette that he regards Cannes as his “second home”, having first visited in the late 1980s. The film festival, the largest in the world, was inevitably on a smaller scale this year. Nevertheless, several towering names from world of cinema turned up to walk the red carpet, including Bill Murray, Jodie Foster, Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Adjani, Tilda Swinton, Matt Damon and Sharon Stone.

Shared prizes were the order of the day. The Grand Prix went to both Farhadi’s A Hero and the Finnish film Compartment No 6 by Juho Kuosmanen.

The special jury prize was shared by Ahed’s Knee, an Israeli film, and Memoria, from Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and was presented by a fluent-French-speaking Rosamund Pike. The Guardian critic will be happier with the choice of Memoria, which he gave five stars.

Best actor was Caleb Landry Jones, who starred in Nitram, directed by Martin Bryant. Best actress was won by Renate Reinsve for The Worst Person in the World, directed by Joachim Trier.

Cannes jury members
Cannes jury members Song Kang-ho, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jessica Hausner, Mati Diop, jury president Spike Lee, Mélanie Laurent, Tahar Rahim and Mylène Farmer. Photograph: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

Best screenplay went to Drive My Car, co-written by Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe and adapted from a Haruki Murakami short story.

Short film special winner was All the Crows in the World, described as the “most audacious” entry and made by Yi Tang, a young director from Hong Kong.

The Camera d’Or award for best first feature went to Murina by Antonetta Alamat Kusjanovic, and a Palme d’Or d’honneur was presented to the Italian director Marco Bellocchio.

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