She shed tears throughout much of her three-hour movie. And when she arrived on stage with her co-star Léa Seydoux, the two actresses cried some more. Adèle Exarchopoulos, the 19-year-old heroine of Abdellatif Kechiche’s sexually graphic, potently naturalistic lesbian drama La Vie d’Adèle (known in English as Blue Is the Warmest Color), was named one of the three winners of the Palme d’Or, the highest prize at the 66th Cannes Film Festival. Steven Spielberg, president of this year’s jury, announced that he and his colleagues had taken the unusual decision to honor “three artists: Adèle, Léa and Abdellatif.”
Not that unusual. When Michael Haneke’s Amour took the Palme last year, the jury president, Nanni Moretti, also cited the film’s two leading actors, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, as co-winners. This marked the first time in Cannes awards history that French-language films had received the top prize in two consecutive years. It also proved that, even in the rarified Elysium of minimalist films, all the art world loves a love story, whether of the octogenarians comforting each other in Amour or the schoolgirls contorted in scenes of smoldering passion in Adèle.
(READ: Mary and Richard Corliss’s review of Blue Is the Warmest Color)
Spielberg made just that point at a press conference after the ceremony. He called Adèle “a great love story that made all of us feel privileged to be a fly on the wall, to see this story of deep love and deep heartbreak evolve from the beginning.” The director didn’t put any constraints on the narrative. He let the scenes play in real life, and we were absolutely spellbound.” Sundance Selects has acquired the U.S. rights to Adèle. As the jury president said of the film’s chances with American audiences and censors: “I’m not sure it will be allowed to play in every state.”
Prix du Jury: Like Father, Like Son, Hirokazu Koreeda, Japan
Prix de la Mise en Scène (Best Director): Amat Escalante, Heli, Mexico
Prix du Scénario (Best Screenplay): Jia Zhangke, A Touch of Sin, China
Prix d’interprétation masculine (Best Actor): Bruce Dern, Nebraska, U.S.
Prix d’interprétation feminine (Best Actress): Bérénice Bejo, The Past, France
In a Riviera fortnight whose wet skies and chilly temperatures cast a cloud over the usually festive proceedings, the jury spread its sunshine by blessing films from three continents and five countries. The top awards contained few surprises: the Coens’ Inside Llewyn Davis (Spielberg pronounced it “Llewelyn”), Jia’s A Touch of Sin and Koreeda’s Like Father, Like Son had all been short-listed by knowledgeable Cannes touts, including us. A few critics had predicted (or rooted for) The Great Beauty, Paolo Sorrentino’s satirical elegy to Rome nightlife, which got nothing. The Great Beauty’s consolation prize might have gone to Sorrentino’s star, Toni Servillo, who also had the leading role in his director’s Il Divo. Instead, the jury chose Bruce Dern, the addled father in Alexander Payne’s Nebraska.
(READ: Richard Corliss’s review of Nebraska)
Bejo, who charmed world audiences as the heroine of last year’s Oscar winner The Artist, was named Best Actress for her role as the harried mother in Asghar Farhadi’s The Past — though the award seemed undercut by the Palme d’Or recognition of Exarchopoulos and Seydoux. In another eyebrow-raiser, the Prix de la Mise en Scène went to Escalante for Heli, a remorselessly violent Mexican drug drama that stuck in most viewers’ minds only because it contained a vivid scene of cartel punks setting a man’s penis on fire. Spielberg appeared to offer his personal valediction to Heli when he proclaimed, “The best director is … Amat Escalante.” On stage, the “best director” said, “Thank you to this brave jury. To Mexico: I hope we never get used to suffering.” To audiences: We hope you never have to suffer through Heli.
(READ: Richard Corliss’s review of The Past)
So Escalante went home happy, and Exarchopoulos happy crying. Other big-name contenders had to nurse their disappointment: Jim Jarmusch for Only Lovers Left Alive (another convention-defying love story), James Gray for The Immigrant (with an award-worthy turn by Marion Cotillard) and Steven Soderbergh for Behind the Candelabra (Michael Douglas is a sugary triumph as Liberace).
And the Corlisses? We’re always pleased just to be here, and never more so than in this, our 40th year. We hope that Cannes 2014, if we’re spared, will have sunny skies, warm weather and some films worth writing home about. See you then. Or as we say each year, “À l’année prochaine!”