The final full day of screenings at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival ended with a statistic, which was delivered by Cannes General Delegate Thierry Fremaux on the stage of the Salle Debussy just before midnight on Friday:
Over the first 11 days of the festival and the thousands of COVID-19 tests administered on the premises each day, 70 people tested positive for the virus. For Fremaux and the festival, the stat – slightly more than the three-positive-tests-per-day estimate made earlier – was still one to celebrate, suggesting that the scaled-down Cannes managed to navigate a difficult time without turning into a superspreader event.
Of course, Fremaux’s announcement preceded the screening of Gaspar Noe’s “Vortex,” a movie about aging, illness and death, which perhaps made it a tricky moment to be celebrating all the negative tests.
The prize parade
According to the awards that have been handed out in Cannes, the festival’s top films this year have been “A Chiara,” “Magnetic Beats,” “Feathers,” “Unclenching the Fists” and the short films “The Salamander Child” and “Cicada.”
That, at least, is according to the honors that have been announced in the last few days in the Un Certain Regard, Directors Fortnight, Critics Week and Cinefondation sections. Of course, these do not include the awards in the Main Competition section, most notably the Palme d’Or that will name a film to take its place alongside “Parasite” (2019), “The Tree of Life” (2011), “Fahrenheit 9/11” (2004), “Pulp Fiction” (1994), “Sex, Lies and Videotape” (1989), “Paris, Texas” (1984), “Taxi Driver” (1976), “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” (1964), “Black Orpheus” (1959) and many more.
That decision, among many others, will be made by Spike Lee’s jury on Saturday, and announced at the closing ceremony in the evening in Cannes (late morning to early afternoon in the U.S.). In the meantime, here are the other winners:
UN CERTAIN REGARD
Un Certain Regard Award: “Unclenching the Fists,” Kira Kovalenko
Jury Prize: “Great Freedom,” Sebastian Meise
Prize for Ensemble Performance: “Bonne Mere,” Hafsia Herzi
Prize for Courage: “La Civil,” Teodora Ana Mihai
Prize for Originality: “Lamb,” Valdimar Johansson
Special Mention: “Prayers for the Stolen,” Tatiana Huezo
Europa Cinemas Cannes Label Award for Best European Film: “A Chiara,” Jonas Carpignano
SACD Prize: “Magnetic Beats,” Mael Cardona
Nespresso Grand Prize: “Feathers,” Omar El Zohairy
Louis Roederer Foundation Rising Star Award: Sandra Melissa Torres, “Amparo”
SACD Award: “Olga,” Elie Grappe and Raphaelle Desplechin
Gan Foundation Award for distribution: “Zero F—s Given,” Emmanuell Marre and Julie Lecoustre
First place: “The Salamander Child,” Theo Degen
Second place: “Cicada,” Yoon Daewoon
Third place: “Love Stories on the Move,” Carina-Gabriela Dasovenau, and “Cantareira,” Rodrigo Ribeyro
The auctioneer gets testy
The annual amfAR gala and charity auction, a longtime Cannes tradition that has raised more than $200 million over the years to fight AIDS, took place on Friday night in a scaled-down version at the Villa Eilenroc rather than the usual Hotel du Cap. Alicia Keys performed four songs to a crowd that was smaller and more socially distanced than is typical for this gala – and also not quite as generous during the auction, judging by comments by Sharon Stone, who returned after a hiatus of several years to host the event and serve as auctioneer.
An autographed first-edition copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” went for $200,000, although the autographs were not by the writer but by Robert Redford and Leonardo DiCaprio, two actors who played the character of Gatsby in the movies. But when bids were slow on a collection of designer gowns, according to Variety, Stone called the crowd “a bunch of cheap mother—ers.”
Borat’s daughter’s subsequent moviefilm
One of the honorary hosts of the amfAR event was also one of the most delightful surprises of the past Oscar season, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” actress Maria Bakalova (who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress but lost to another delightful surprise, Youn Yuh-jung of “Minari”). The Bulgarian actress headed to Cannes this week with “Women Do Cry,” a film directed by Vesela Kazakova and Mina Mileva that competed in the Un Certain Regard section of the festival, and she was a fixture on red carpets for the last few days of Cannes.
“Women Do Cry,” which Screen International called “a blistering indictment of Bulgaria’s attitude towards women,” was actually the movie that Bakalova was making when she was first cast in “Borat.” (She had to drive out of the woods where they were shooting the film so she could get wifi to jump on a video call about “Borat.”) “It’s a completely female-driven movie, a beautiful movie,” she told TheWrap of “Women Do Cry.” “I cannot wait for it to be out.”
Cannes ends with a strong trio
With most Cannes visitors headed home by the end of the week, the final day or two of screenings on the Croisette typically finds films playing to smaller audiences; the heat of the festival, it seems, has dissipated by Friday.
But this year’s festival a trio of notable films premiere on the penultimate day. There was Australian director Justin Kurzel’s “Nitram,” a look at the young man who shot and killed 35 people in the Port Arthur massacre in 1996. Though some questioned the idea of bringing any kind of understanding or even sympathy to the killer, Texas-born actor Caleb Landry Jones – who has turned in a number of strong performances in recent years, including in “Get Out,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and “The Outpost” – has won near-universal acclaim for his performance as the killer.
Belgian director Joachim Lafosse’s urgent and intimate drama “The Restless,” about a family in which the husband suffers from bipolar disorder, also received its share of raves, particularly for actors Damien Bonnard and Leila Bekhti: The headline on Variety’s review flatly proclaimed that the duo “deliver Cannes two top performances.”
(But will the jury feel comfortable rewarding Bekhti when her husband, Tahar Rahim, is one of the nine jurors?)
Dave Calhoun of Time Out also noted the fact that “The Restless” is one of the only movies in Cannes that includes scenes of characters wearing masks because of the pandemic. “It’s subtly done and only gradually apparent,” he wrote, “but it gives pause for thought when you consider the many stories of families stuck with each other in difficult situations of confinement. The rest of the world feels far away here, and the one that Lafosse has created rings painfully true.
And finally, Friday night brought a late premiere for the new film by Gaspar Noe — the premiere that was preceded by Thierry Fremaux’s announcement of the COVID totals. The Argentinian filmmaker based in Paris has long been known as a director who uses cinema to shock, so it makes sense that his newest film, “Vortex,” would be placed at the end of a festival that has already seen provocations from Leos Carax (“Annette’), Paul Verhoeven (“Benedetta”), Julia Ducournau (“Titane”) and others. But the most shocking thing about “Vortex” might be how subdued it is, how restrained in its depiction of an elderly couple facing death. “‘Vortex’ is deliberate, pitiless and perfectly acted in a loose, improvisational style,” wrote Xan Brooks for the Guardian. It’s a film that goes out not with a bang but a whisper: with the shuffle of slippers, the creak of floorboards and the rasp of oblivious snores from the bed.”
According to reports, Noe cried in the theater at the end of his premiere, which was greeted with a lengthy standing ovation (as, indeed, almost all Cannes premieres are).
Jason Solomons contributed to this report.