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Iran, Philippines stars triumph at Cannes – Britain’s Loach joins elite club with second Palme

British director Ken Loach poses with his trophy on May 22, during a photocall after winning the Palme d’Or for the film ‘I, Daniel Blake’ at the 69th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France. (AFP)
British director Ken Loach poses with his trophy on May 22, during a photocall after winning the Palme d’Or for the film ‘I, Daniel Blake’ at the 69th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France. (AFP)

LOS ANGELES, May 23, (Agencies): The final awards ceremony of the 69th Cannes Film Festival has concluded, with veteran British filmmaker Ken Loach winning the second Palme d’Or of his career for the impassioned protest drama “I, Daniel Blake.”

The film, chronicling the social-welfare battle fought by a struggling Newcastle carpenter, scored a strong emotional reaction from Cannes audiences when it unspooled early in the festival — though many critics were more reserved in their praise. This year’s jury, led by “Mad Max” director George Miller, evidently voted with their hearts, handing the 79-year-old Loach the festival’s top honor exactly 10 years after his Irish historical drama “The Wind That That Shakes the Barley” landed the prize.

Accepting the award onstage, Loach said, “Film can bring us the world of the imagination. But it can also bring us the world that we live in…We must give a message of hope. We must say that another world is possible, and necessary.”

Loach now joins an elite group of two-time Palme champs, including Michael Haneke, Francis Ford Coppola, Emir Kusturica, Bille August, Shohei Imamura, Alf Sjoberg and Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne — the latter duo among the filmmakers who left this year’s Competition empty-handed.

Miller’s jury diverged from critical consensus in many of their decisions, beginning with the complete shut-out of German filmmaker Maren Ade’s moving father-daughter comedy “Toni Erdmann” — a film that topped most of this year’s festival critics’ polls by a significant margin, and was named the best in Competition yesterday by the FIPRESCI critics’ jury.

Asked about the omission of “Toni Erdmann” during the post-awards ceremony press conference, Miller steadfastly refused to discuss the jury’s reasoning in any detail. He and his fellow jurors, who included Kirsten Dunst, Donald Sutherland, and Vanessa Paradis, presented themselves as a united front that bordered, at times, on a cinephile love-in. Asked to sum up the jury experience in three words, Miller responded, “Intelligent, fierce, beautiful.”

As part of that united front, members of the jury were notably tight-lipped about the process behind their decisions. No comment was offered, for instance, on the choice of “I, Daniel Blake” for the Palme d’Or — apart, that is, from Sutherland sounding a bit irked at a question about whether the poshness of the Cannes setting influenced the jury’s viewing of Loach’s film, with its theme of working-class economic desperation. Sutherland totally dismissed the idea, saying, “We weren’t at Cannes, we were at the cinema.”

Prestigious

Among the other films honored was 27-year-old Canadian auteur Xavier Dolan’s “It’s Only the End of the World,” which took the night’s second most prestigious honor, the Grand Prix. The high-pitched dysfunctional family drama premiered earlier this week to a chorus of boos at its press screening, followed by largely scathing reviews. Dolan, who has pointedly hit back at his critics in subsequent interviews, was evidently overwhelmed, accepting with a lengthy, teary speech that — impolitely if unsurprisingly — prompted a fresh round of jeers in the festival’s press room.

At the jury press conference, “Son of Saul” director Laszlo Nemes said of Dolan’s latest work, “I was thrilled to see the film. We all felt that it was a moving journey. When it started, you could feel the very specific choices of the director.”

Youthful

On a good night for British cinema, iconoclastic writer-director Andrea Arnold won the Jury Prize for her youthful, unruly, music-filled Midwestern road movie “American Honey” — her first US-set production. It’s the third time Arnold has been presented with this particular award by the Cannes jury, following her debut “Red Road” in 2006 (coincidentally, the year of Loach’s last Palme triumph) and “Fish Tank” in 2009.

While her admirers may have been hoping for more, Arnold at least carried the flag for women in cinema at the end of a festival dominated by talk of prominent female narratives and perspectives in the program. It’s a theme not heavily reflected in the jury’s final selections — which, in addition to the female-directed “Erdmann,” overlooked such largely acclaimed femme-powered stories as Paul Verhoeven’s “Elle,” Kleber Mendonca Filho’s “Aquarius” and Pedro Almodovar’s “Julieta.”

Asked about the ongoing discussion of women filmmakers at Cannes this year, Miller dismissed any talk of controversy, saying that the issue simply had no bearing on the jury’s decisions. “Each film was judged on its merits,” he said. “Filmmaking is filmmaking. It didn’t really come up as a specific thing.”

The best actress contest had been viewed as a particularly competitive one this year. Indeed, the field was so deep this year that the jury managed to blindside virtually every punter with their choice of winner — a stunned Jaclyn Jose, the Filipino star of Brillante Mendoza’s “Ma ‘Rosa.” Some thought that Rose’s role was, in fact, too small to merit the award. Speaking for the jury, the Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen answered that by saying, “We found her to be a wonderful leading actress, a master of her skills. It was not a supporting character.”

A huge star in her homeland, she said she had to forget everything she learned in her 30 years in the business for the role as a sweetshop owner and small-time drug dealer in “Ma’ Rosa”.

“The biggest challenge for me was not to act. Especially since I am coming from television shows where I play loud and campy characters,” she told reporters.

The 52-year-old said she had to “tone everything down to zero” — for the stark, realistic portrait of a woman fighting to do the best for her family in director Brillante Mendoza’s gritty film.

It is a dramatic change from her regular job, playing a spoilt, rich woman in the popular Philippine TV soap opera, “The Millionaire’s Wife”.

Variety magazine praised Jose for the “naturalistic grace” of her film performance, playing the matriarch of a family struggling to survive amid squalor.

The daughter of a Filipina mother and a largely absent American serviceman father, Jose first became famous in Philippine showbiz circles for her ethereal beauty.

But she has proved to be a versatile and hard-working actress, starring in dramas, comedies, horror stories, romances as well as television soap operas.

She has won numerous acting awards in her native country and worked with its most prestigious filmmakers.

But it is her relationship with “Ma ‘Rosa” director Mendoza — a friend for over three decades — which has brought her into the international limelight.

She appeared in Mendoza’s first movie “The Masseur” 11 years ago and also his drama “Serbis”, which competed in Cannes in 2008.

Best actor, meanwhile, went to Iranian actor Shahab Hosseini for Oscar-winning director Asghar Farhadi’s “The Salesman.” The film, an Arthur Miller-referencing combination of neorealism and suspense, also landed Farhadi the best screenplay award — making it the only multiple winner of the night.

In what was widely deemed the richest Cannes competition in years, it was to be expected that the jury would prove indecisive with certain awards. The night’s one tie came with the best director prize, which was jointly presented to Romanian auteur Cristian Mungiu for his well-received society study “Graduation,” and Frenchman Olivier Assayas for the more divisive “Personal Shopper,” an unorthodox ghost story starring Kristen Stewart.

Mungiu was a Palme d’Or winner in 2007 for “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” but this marked the first Cannes win for Assayas, an unpredictable festival mainstay who has been in Competition on four previous occasions. In a year where several of the jury’s decisions may have given seasoned Cannes-watchers a sense of deja vu, such breakthroughs were cause for applause.

Here are the winners from the 2016 Cannes Film Festival:

* Palme d’Or: “I, Daniel Blake”

British Director Ken Loach won over the jury with his moving tale of a carpenter (Dave Johns) who suffers repeated humiliations as he seeks welfare benefits after having a heart attack.

* Grand Prix: “It’s Only The End of The World”

Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan’s film was booed by some critics but the jury felt it deserved second place in Cannes for his fraught family drama.

It is the latest in a string of Cannes honours for the 27-year-old director who won the third-placed Jury Prize in 2014 for “Mommy”.

* Jury Prize: “American Honey”

Britain’s Andrea Arnold came in third with “American Honey”, starring Shia LaBeouf as the leader of a group of disaffected US teens selling magazines door-to-door.

A throbbing soundtrack accompanies the youths on their slow-paced road trip, with plenty of marijuana smoking, drinking and falling in love.

* Best Actor: Shahab Hosseini in ‘The Salesman”

The Iranian actor won for his role as a man struggling to come to terms with an attack on his wife in their home.

He sets out on a revenge mission while she tries to regain the upper hand and deal with the assault in her own manner.

* Best Actress: Jaclyn Jose in “Ma’ Rosa”

Philippine soap star Jaclyn Jose won best actress for her mesmerising performance as a mother forced to sell drugs to survive before falling prey to corrupt police.

* Best Director: Cristian Mungiu and Olivier Assayas

The best director award was shared between Romania’s Cristian Mungiu and France’s Olivier Assayas.

Mungiu shines a light on the post-communist social rot in his homeland in “Graduation”, about a father trying to ensure his daughter can escape Romania’s corruption with a scholarship to a British university.

Assayas won for “Personal Shopper” starring Kristen Stewart, a movie that is an audacious mix of ghost story, murder mystery and existential drama. Critics, however, booed it.

* Best Screenplay: Asghar Farhadi

The Iranian director, who won an Oscar in 2012 for “A Separation”, won best screenplay for “The Salesman”.

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