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.”
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.
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.
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.