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Kore-eda, Japanese master whose films never lack heart
A tumultuous Cannes Film Festival concluded Saturday with the Palme d’Or awarded to Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Shoplifters,” a tender portrait of a poor, impoverished family, while Harvey Weinstein accuser Asia Argento vowed justice will come to all sexual predators. At the closing ceremony for the 71st edition of the French Riviera extravaganza, the Cate Blanchettled jury selected one of the festival’s most acclaimed entries, one hailed as a modest masterpiece from a veteran filmmaker renowned for his delicate touch.
“Shoplifters” is about a smalltime thief who takes a young girl home to his family; after seeing scars from abuse, they decide to keep her and raise her as their own. While many speculated that the Cate Blanchett-led jury might award only the second Palme d’Or to a film directed by a woman, the most likely contender — Lebanese director Nadine Labaki’s “Capernaum” — was instead given Cannes’ jury prize. The film drew a rousing standing ovation at its premiere Thursday but less enthusiastic critic reviews for its tale of a 12-year-old boy living in poverty who sues his parents for bringing him into such a cruel world. Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” the highest profile American film in competition at Cannes, was awarded the grand prize. The film ignited the festival with its true tale of a black police detective who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan.
Lee connected the film to modern day with real footage from last year’s violent white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia. “I take this on the behalf of the People’s Republic of Brooklyn, New York,” said Lee, accepting his award. The 12-day festival was the first since the downfall of Weinstein, who was for decades an annual fixture in Cannes. In the aftermath, this year’s festival was shaken by debate over gender equality in the film industry and at Cannes.
In a striking rally, 82 women — the same number of female filmmakers to ever be selected to Cannes competition lineup — stood on the Palais red-carpet steps in what Blanchett called “a symbol of our determination to change and progress.” Some changes were swift. Just days later, with Blanchett’s jury looking on, Cannes’ Artistic Director Thierry Fremaux signed a pledge to make the festival’s selection process more transparent and promised other measures to improve the festival’s record of including female filmmakers.
Following last year’s Cannes, jury member Jessica Chastain was critical about the female representation on view in that year’s films. Blanchett told reporters Saturday that her concerns were primarily behind the camera. Three of this year’s 21 films in competition were directed by women. Polish filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski took best director for his follow-up to the Oscar-winning “Ida,” “Cold War.” Like “Ida,” “Cold War” is a black-and-white period film that delves into Polish history.
The first Polish film in Cannes’ competition in 37 years, “Cold War” is about an upand- down romance in post-war Poland and Paris, behind and outside the Soviet Iron Curtain. Hirokazu Kore-eda — who won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival Saturday — is Japan’s answer to Ken Loach, a director whose stories about struggling ordinary people never fail to touch. His gentle slices of ordinary life have been praised for their humanism, with “Shoplifters”, about a group of Tokyo misfits and crooks who form a kind of alternative family, called a “modern day ‘Oliver Twist’”.
Variety said its “protagonists’ rough-and-ready lifestyle demonstrate that people can find comfort even in the worst economic conditions”. Critics said that the film also exposes how the “state fails its neediest individuals”. Kore-eda — who won the third prize at Cannes in 2013 — told reporters that the film was perhaps his most socially conscious to date. But he said he was hopeful that we can make the world a better and kinder place.
Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki, who won one of the top prizes at Cannes on Saturday with a story of dirt poor children and migrants, dedicated her award to her impoverished amateur cast and her homeland. Labaki is the first Arab woman to have won a major prize at the festival and only the second to have had a film competing for the Palme d’Or.
■ Palme d’Or: “Shoplifters” by Hirokazu Kore-Eda (Japan)
■ Grand Prix: “BlacKkKlansman” by Spike Lee (US)
■ Jury Prize: “Capernaum” by Nadine Labaki (Lebanon)
■ Special Palme d’Or: Jean-Luc Godard (France, Switzerland) for “The Image Book”
■ Best director: Pawel Pawlikowski (Poland) for “Cold War”
■ Best actress: Samal Yeslyamova (Kazakhstan) for “Ayka”
■ Best actor: Marcello Fonte (Italy) for “Dogman”
■ Best first film: “Girl” by Lukas Dhont (Belgium)
■ Best short film: “All these Creatures” by Charles Williams (Australia)
■ Special mention for short film: “On The Border” by Wei Shujun (China)
■ Best screenplay (tied): Director Alice Rohrwacher (Italy) for “Happy as Lazzaro” and director Jafar Panahi (Iran) and scriptwriter Nader Saeivar (Iran) for “Three Faces”. (Agencies)
By Jake Coyle and Thomas Adamson