After a long time, critics and the jury thought alike, when the one led by New Zealand auteur Jane Campion awarded the Cannes Film Festival’s most prestigious Palm d’Or last evening for the brilliantly made Turkish work, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep.
The FIPRESCI or international critics’ prize also went to this movie. (The Festival officially ends today, though the awards ceremony was held a day earlier because of the elections to the European Union.)
Three hours and fifteen minutes long, Winter Sleep, belied the fears of many watchers that its length would lull them into sleep. But it did not.
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Grippingly narrated, the film is a chamber piece, set in a remote Turkish village that talks about an aging actor-turned-writer and his stormy relationship with his beautiful young wife, divorcee sister and the small world around him. Imaginatively mounted and lit, Winter Sleep with its riveting performances shot in close-ups, mesmerised me – despite my initial apprehension about the length.
Ceylan’s win coincided with the 100 years of Turkish cinema, and he was visibly moved at the awards ceremony, despite his three previous honours at Cannes. “I dedicate this award to the young people of Turkey who lost their lives during the past year,” Ceylan said.
In an earlier interview, Ceylan had said that the starting points for Winter Sleep were some of the short stories of Anton Chekhov -- that he changed as he was writing the story and script. Renowned for movies like Distant, Once Upon A Time In Anatolia and Three Monkeys, the director added that he had always been captivated by Chekov.
The hero of his film, Aydin, was somewhat like Ceylan himself, though “he’s a typical Turkish intellectual, but I’m not a typical Turkish intellectual.” Set in scenic Cappadocia – where Paolo Pasolini made his Medea – Winter Sleep is also amazingly picturesque.
As for the other Cannes trophies, Bennett Miller clichéd the Best Director Palm for his tragic wrestling story, Foxcatcher, set in the backdrop of the Olympics. Starring a virtually unrecognisable Steve Carrell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo in what turns out to be a tale of horror (murder, seduction, betrayal), Foxcatcher was not really a favourite, but obviously wormed its way into the jury’s heart, and whose members voted in a secret ballot.
And, as expected Timothy Spall – who shares a 33-year-old relationship with the British legend, Mike Leigh, over seven films – took home the Best Actor Palm for Mr Turner, a biopic of the 19th century English painter, J.M.W Turner -- which I felt glowed as splendidly as some of the paintings we saw on the screen. Spall’s Turner is a difficult man, often given to impatient grunts, and who is more interested in the light around him than men. He is a man who straps himself to the mast of a ship to see first-hand the frightening storm the vessel sails into.
Spall gave the evening’s longest and most moving speech. “I was in North Holland on my boat with my arm up a pipe and covered in grease when I got the call to come back to Cannes.” He had written his acceptance speech on his mobile telephone.” I spent a lot of time being a bridesmaid, but this is the first time I’ve been a bride."
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He had tears in his eyes when he referred to his absence at the time he won the Best Actor Palm for Secrets and Lies. “Eighteen years ago I was having chemo for leukaemia… Most of all I thank God I’m here and still alive."
As the fading actress in David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars, Julianne Moore won over the jury, which gave her the Best Actress Palm. She essays a Hollywood actor desperate for a role which was made famous by her mother.
Canada’s French work, Xavier Dolan’s Mommy – about mother’s difficult relationship with her aggressively tempered teen son – took one of the two Jury Prizes. The Competition’s youngest director, Dolan (25), shared the recognition with the oldest and celebrated helmer, Jean-Luc Godard (83), whose Goodbye to Language (just 70 minutes shot in 3D) seemed like a cinematic puzzle to me.
The Competition’s only woman director, Alice Rohrwacher from Italy, got the Grand Prize for The Wonders, about a pastoral family and its coming of age adventure that involves bees and honey. Unconventional to the core, The Wonders was not one of the most popular. Nor was Russia’s Leviathan (by Andrey Zvyagintsev), which talks about political corruption and the murderous strong-arm tactics of those in power. This won the Best Script Award.
Indeed, there were some movies that were adored, but appear to have faded out of the jury’s vision. Ken Loach’s (the other great British master in Competition after Leigh) marvellous, marvellous Jimmy’s Hall about the 1930s Ireland (where the Church and the State play spoilsport to the people’s desire to have a good time through music and dance), Dardenne Brothers’ Two Days, One Night which details a young Belgian woman’s (portrayed by Marion Cotillard) desperation to hold on to her job, Timbuktu, from Mauritania’s Abderrahmane Sissako who details religious fundamentalism in a remote African corner and, finally, Argentina’s rip-roaring comedy, Wild Tales, by Damian Szifron, that brings us face to face with the country’s painful corruption -- were some of my favourites.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the Cannes Film Festival.)