Jacques Audiard, 63, took the Grand Prix (or runner-up award) five years ago for A Prophet, and competed at the festival three years ago with Rust & Bone. His new film is a less-starry affair than those two; the tale of a former fighter in the Sri Lankan civil war trying to make a new life in France with a fake family.
In his speech, Audiard thanked his father, the prolific screenwriter Michel Audiard, who died in 1985.
It was a night of surprises at the 68th Cannes film festival, with many critics’ favourites thwarted and the jury – who are only allowed to award one prize per film – exhibiting eclectic taste and a pronounced accent on the celebration of French acting talent.
This year’s Grand Prix went to 38-year-old debut director László Nemes for Son of Saul, the Auschwitz-set story of a prisoner working as a Sonderkommando, guiding Jews into the gas chambers and then disposing of their bodies.
Bookies’ favourite The Lobster, a British co-production directed by Greek film-maker Yorgos Lanthimos, took the Prix du Jury (or third prize). The director thanked his producers and actors, including Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz, who play single people who must find a mate within 45 days or be turned into a wild animal.
Carol, Todd Haynes’s adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith lesbian romance The Price of Salt, which many had tipped for the Palme d’Or, had to console itself with one-half of a shared best actress award. Rooney Mara took the gong for her role as an inexperienced shopgirl in 1950s New York who begins a relationship with Cate Blanchett’s unhappily married mother-of-one.
Haynes, accepting the award in Mara’s absence, said both he and she were “completely blown away and surprised” by the honour. “I love you, I wish you were here,” he said.
Mara’s joint winner, Emmanuelle Bercot, was rewarded for her role as a woman recovering from a broken leg in little-loved French domestic drama Mon Roi .
Veteran French star Vincent Lindon earned prolonged applause as he took the stage to pick up the best actor award for Stéphane Brizé’s The Measure of a Man, in which he plays a man crushed by his job as a supermarket security guard. Lindon beat the likes of Michael Caine ( Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth), and Tim Roth, who plays a traumatised palliative care nurse in bleak drama Chronic.
That film did take the best screenplay prize went to its writer/director Michel Franco, who paid tribute to jury chairs the Coen brothers, “my heroes” and to Roth, who chaired the Un Certain Regard jury who presented his previous film, After Lucia, with their top prize three years ago.
Serving under the Coens on this year’s jury were Franco’s countryman Guillermo del Toro, as well as the actors Jake Gyllenhaal and Sienna Miller. Early in the ceremony, the London singer and pianist Benjamin Clementine performed the song ‘Fare Thee Well’ from Inside Llewyn Davis, the Coens’ folk drama which took the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2013. The brothers looked on, toes not visibly tapping.
In a less explicable musical interlude, Lobster and Tale of Tales actor John C Reilly took to the stage to sing a be-bop version of Just a Gigolo with four-man dixieland outfit The Flyboys, before presenting the Camera d’Or for best first film to César Augusto for Land and Shade. After his speech, Augusto continued the musical theme of this year’s ceremony by leading the audience in a rendition of Happy Birthday to Reilly, who turned 50.
Best director went to Taiwanese film-maker Hou Hsiao-hsien, whose martial arts epic The Assassin marks his return to cinema after an eight year absence.
Jane Birkin presented the honorary Palme to veteran director Agnes Varda, who won a standing ovation. In an emotional speech, Varda, now 86, paid tribute to her late husband, new wave film-maker Jacques Demy, who died 25 years ago.
Critics are mixed on the overall quality of this year’s festival. Artistic director Thierry Frémaux’s programme was at pains to promote homegrown talent, with nine of the 19 competition films either French productions or co-productions and US and UK directors thin on the ground.
But although there has been an absence of high-profile turkeys such as last year’s opener, Grace of Monaco, the number of flat-out classics was also been felt to be down. Last year’s festival saw the premieres of Leviathan, Winter Sleep, Mr Turner, Jimmy’s Hall, Foxcatcher, Wild Tales, Clouds of Sils Maria, Mommy and Two Days, One Night. The sense on the Croisette is that fewer of this year’s crop are likely to progress either to Oscar contention, or into the cinematic canon.
Instead, the headlines were dominated by the midnight screening of Gaspar Noé’s 3D sex movie, Love, and by “flatgate”, which saw the festival under attack after security guards banned a number of women – including an amputee – from premieres for not wearing high heels.
Full list of awards
Director Jacques Audiard (centre) and actrors Kalieaswari Srinivasan and Jesuthasan Antonythasan. (Reuters)
Dheepan dir: Jacques Audiard
Son of Saul dir: Laszlo Nemes
Prix du Jury
The Lobster dir: Yorgos Lanthimos
Hou Hsiao-Hsien, The Assassin
Chronic dir: Michel Franco
Camera d’Or (Best First Feature)
La Tierra y la Sombra (Land and Shade) dir: Cesar Augusto Acevedo
Vincent Lindon, The Measure of a Man
(Tie) Rooney Mara, Carol, and Emmanuelle Bercot, Mon Roi
Palme d’Or, Short Film
Waves 98, Ely Dagher – (c) Guardian News & Media Ltd, 2015