CANNES, France, May 29, (AFP): Swedish satire “The Square”, a send-up of political correctness and the confused identity of the modern male, won the Palme d’Or top prize at the Cannes Film Festival Sunday.
In a stunning upset, the nine-member jury led by Spanish director Pedro Almodovar and including Hollywood stars Jessica Chastain and Will Smith awarded the trophy to director Ruben Ostlund.
“Oh my God, oh my God!” Ostlund shouted from the stage after besting a raft of favourites for one of global cinema’s most coveted honours with a rare comedy. It was the first-ever Swedish winner.
In a 70th edition marked by raging debate over sexism in the movie industry, Sofia Coppola became only the second woman in history to win best director for her battle-of-the-sexes drama “The Beguiled” with Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell.
Three-time Oscar nominee Joaquin Phoenix nabbed best actor for his turn as a hammer-wielding hitman in “You Were Never Really Here”.
“Any work that I did was linked to the work of Lynne Ramsay,” the film’s British director, Phoenix said, before apologising for his tuxedo-and-trainers look at the gala ceremony.
“I don’t wear leather,” the committed vegetarian explained.
Diane Kruger clinched best actress for her first film role in her native German as a devastated mother who has lost her husband and son in a neo-Nazi terror attack, in Fatih Akin’s “In the Fade”.
“I cannot accept this award without thinking of everyone who has been touched by an act of terrorism… you have not been forgotten,” said a visibly moved Kruger.
Chastain called it “disturbing” that there had not been more meaty female roles among the 19 contenders for the Palme d’Or. Only three of the films were made by women.
Greece’s Yorgos Lantimos shared best screenplay prize with Ramsay for “The Killing of a Deer”, an icy thriller set in a wealthy American suburb and also starring Kidman and Farrell.
The runner-up Grand Prix went to the hotly tipped French drama “120 Beats Per Minute” about the radical activists who helped shame the world into action on AIDS.
“This film is a homage to those who died but also those who survived and are still alive, who had so much courage,” said the movie’s director, former ACT UP member Robin Campillo.
“I loved the movie. I couldn’t love it more. I was touched since the very beginning until absolutely the end, and after the end,” Almodovar said, fighting back tears.
“Loveless” by Andrey Zvyagintsev, a wrenching drama about moral rot gnawing at Russian society under Vladimir Putin, took the third place jury prize.
French daily Liberation called the picks “disappointing”, having plumped for “120 Beats Per Minute”, although Britain’s Guardian hailed the selection as “a launching pad for a clutch of excellent films”.
“The Square” is an often savagely funny takedown of the limits of free speech and the blurred lines between the sexes.
Danish actor Claes Bang plays a museum director and divorced father of two young daughters who gets robbed in broad daylight in the city centre.
In the aftermath, he’s forced to check his privilege and liberal political beliefs against a reality that seldom mirrors the rarified world of high culture.
The title refers to a conceptual art project in which museum visitors are invited to enter a “sanctuary of trust and caring”, a tiny utopia in the middle of a flawed society.
The movie features Elisabeth Moss (“Mad Men”) and Dominic West (“The Wire”) in small roles viciously lampooning the self-important art world.
One set-piece, featuring a wild, bare-chested man performing as an ape wreaking havoc at a posh gala dinner, immediately entered Cannes legend.
Almodovar hailed the movie’s themes as “completely contemporary”.
“Such a serious subject is treated with such incredible imagination — it’s very funny,” he said.
Ostlund defended the film’s length at two hours and 20 minutes, saying that it was shorter than some “Harry Potter” sequels.
“If we want to make cinema walk tall again we have to put more complex questions into cinema,” he said.
Kruger cast her glamorous image and returned to her roots to win best actress at the Cannes Film Festival Sunday.
Kruger, best known from blockbusters such as “Troy” and “Inglourious”, plays a woman who loses her husband and son in a neo-Nazi bomb attack in “In the Fade” (Aus dem Nichts) by acclaimed German-Turkish director Fatih Akin.
Variety praised her “powerhouse performance” as the distraught tattooed and drug-taking Katja who fights for justice and ultimately vengeance for her family.
Kruger said the emotional demands of the role were “terrible… The film almost killed me. It was terrible to live with, really upsetting.”
“I haven’t worked since… I haven’t read a script since. The film really changed me, it changed my life,” she told reporters at Cannes.
Akin wrote the screenplay based on one of Germany’s biggest post-war scandals: the discovery in 2011 of a group calling itself the National Socialist Underground (NSU) which carried out a series of undetected racist murders over the course of a decade.
Akin told German media that he long wanted to work with Kruger, who had called the man behind hits such “Head-On” and “The Edge of Heaven” her favourite German director.
The former model, now 40, is a regular front-row guest at the Paris fashion week shows, and went without makeup on set in Hamburg.
Born Diane Heidkrueger in what was then West Germany, the statuesque beauty left home as a teenager for Paris, quickly landing catwalk jobs for Marc Jacobs and Dolce and Gabbana and print ad campaigns for Yves Saint Laurent and Chanel while polishing her English and French skills.
Hollywood soon beckoned, however, and she got her break as Helen in Wolfgang Petersen’s 2004 swords-and-sandals epic “Troy” co-starring with Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom.
Kruger went on to star as German actress turned Allied spy Bridget von Hammersmark in Quentin Tarantino’s Nazi-bashing “Inglourious”, which competed for the Palme d’Or in Cannes in 2009.
She won plaudits for the role, in which she channelled Marlene Dietrich with a blend of Teutonic glamour and moral fortitude in wartime.
Her CV includes diverse roles in films such as the time-travel adventure “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” with Nicolas Cage and as the wife of a South African prison guard who befriends Nelson Mandela in “Goodbye Bafana”.