The Palme d’Amour: Director Michael Haneke Takes Cannes’ Top Prize—Again

Michael Haneke's quietly magnificent story of love on the brink of death takes the top prize, while seven American films oozing with star quality get no love at all

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Les Films du Losange

From left to right: Michael Haneke, Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant

It’s official: Cannes loves Amour. The French-language drama from Austrian writer-director Michael Haneke, about an elderly couple facing illness and mortality, received the top-prize Palme d’Or at this evening’s closing ceremony of the 65th Cannes Film Festival. The award, which follows Haneke’s Palme for The White Ribbon in 2009 and makes him only the second director to win the Cannes’ highest accolade for consecutive features, confirms the critics’ consensus rapture for the film. The Palme prize, announced by Nanni Moretti, the Italian actor-director who presided over the nine-member Jury, cued a warm ovation — the longest on recent memory — with some grizzled festival veterans moved to tears.

Amour details the concern and care a retired music teacher (Jean-Louis Trintignant) lavishes on his cherished wife (Emmanuelle Riva) as a series of strokes robs her of speech, motor skills and her personality, leaving her able to express only her pain. Moretti, when he announced the award, added that it was to be shared with Amour’s ageless, incandescent stars. Both were triumphantly on stage with their winning director.

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The short, full list of Jury prizes:

Palme d’Or: Amour, directed by Michael Haneke
Grand Prix: Reality, Matteo Garrone
Prix du Jury: The Angels’ Share, Ken Loach
Prix de la Mise en Scène (Best Director): Carlos Reygadas, Post Tenebras Lux
Prix du Scenario (Best Screenplay): Cristian Mungiu, Beyond the Hills
Prix d’interpretation masculine (Best Actor): Mads Mikkelsen, The Hunt
Prix d’interpretation feminine (Best Actress): Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur, Beyond the Hills

The Amour accolade came as a relief to many observers, because of the quirkiness of the secondary prizes announced earlier. Reygadas, whose 2007 entry Silent Light luminously portrayed a Mennonite community in Mexico, took the Director prize — fourth place, essentially, in the Cannes scheme of things — with Post Tenebras Lux. The movie, whose most significant images are a luminous red devil and the severe beating of a pet dog, baffled most of those who sat through it, obviously excepting the Jury members. If they had wanted to cite a weird experiment, they should have gone for Leos Carax’s Holy Motors, a surreal synopsis of movie history that provoked cheers and sneers in roughly equal measure. The Jury ignored Carax, as it did the other two esteemed French directors in the Competition: Jacques Audiard, with Rust and Bone, and Alain Resnais, 90 next month, with You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet.

Reality, which follows an Neapolitan fishmonger’s longshot dream of becoming famous by appearing on the Italian edition of Big Brother, was widely seen as an unworthy successor to Garrone’s Mafia exposé Gomorrah, which won the same Grand Jury Prize (second place) four years ago. The third-place Jury Prize went to The Angels’ Share, a lesser, jauntier work from the 75-year-old Ken Loach. The tale of a young ex-con who assembles an impromptu gang to filch a few bottles of an invaluable whiskey, The Angels’ Share seemed too minor to get annoyed by, let alone give a Cannes prize to.

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With its exotic medley of thick Scottish brogues, The Angels’ Share was shown here with English subtitles. But it was the only English-language film, of eight in the Competition, to win a prize. (Anglophones were completely ignored in 2008 and 2010.) The seven films made in North America — David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly, John Hillcoat’s Lawless, Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, Jeff Nichols’ Mud, Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy and Walter Salles’s On the Road — came to Cannes with urgent drumbeats, but all were shut out.

The Festival was pleased to host such marquee-value names as Robert Pattinson, Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Bill Murray, Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron and Kristen Stewart. But their function was to walk the red carpet and get worldwide press coverage, not to win awards. These stars and their movies, however serious their artistic intentions, were just showy comeons, like the gorgeous dames on a street luring curious customers into a building that turns out to be a library.

In that cinematic bibliothêque, the prize illuminated manuscript was Beyond the Hills, Cristian Mungiu’s true-life story of a young Romanian woman who visits her onetime girlfriend in an Orthodox monastery and is forced into a kind of exorcism. Not nearly in the league of Mungiu’s 2007 Palme d’Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, the new movie is an austere, acute study of cultism. The first film since Babel in 2006 to win more than one Jury award, it took both the Screenplay prize and Best Actress citations for its leading ladies, Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur. The Best Actor award went to Mads Mikkelsen for his powerful performance, in Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt, as a kindergarten teacher turned into the town pariah by a child’s unjust accusations of sexual abuse.

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Bérenice Bejo, costar of last year’s Cannes hit The Artist and this ceremony’s hostess, said that, for all the stars on view, the Festival’s grand diva was the rain. Cold and wet for long stretches — including this evening, when the formal-dress glitterati shuddered under umbrellas — the 65th Festival de Cannes offered films that were often chilly and inert.

But the mood instantly thawed at the announcement that the Caméra d’Or prize for best first feature (given by a separate Jury headed by actor Tim Roth) was going to Beasts of the Southern Wild, the magical debut of director Benh Zeitlin. Telling the audience that Beasts was a first film for nearly everyone involved in it, before and behind the camera, Zeitlin called Cannes a temple of cinema, adding, “You never know if you’re going to be able to dance in the temple.”

With the evening’s first and last awards — for Beasts of the Southern Wild and Amour, the two most deserving films— the rain abated, the disappointments of a so-so Festival were shrugged off, and Cannes danced.

Now the Corlisses are dancing out of Cannes. We are grateful for our editors’ attentiveness and our readers’ interest. And we hope to dance back for Cannes 2013, our 40th year at the Festival. Until then, à l’année prochaine! Same time next year.

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