As the French say, "Ooh, la la!"
A week after France legalized gay marriage, a drama focusing on a same-sex relationship took the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival on Sunday, and did so in spectacular fashion.
In what jury president Steven Spielberg correctly described as "an unprecedented step," the film, Blue is the Warmest Colour, was given three Palme d'Ors, one for each of its three collaborators: Tunisian-French director Abdellatif Kechiche and its two young stars. What made it unusual was that the women – 19-year-old Adèle Exarchopoulos and 27-year-old Léa Seydoux – were given the prizes as co-creators of the film, not as best actresses.
That prize went to French actress Bérénice Bejo for The Past, by Iranian director Asghar Farhadi (A Separation). Bejo last appeared in Cannes with The Artist in 2011, for which she received an Academy Award nomination. Veteran American star Bruce Dern, 76, took home the male acting prize for his role as an alcoholic who takes a cross-country trip to collect a lottery win in Nebraska, directed by Alexander Payne (The Descendants).
The other major prizes included the runner-up Grand Jury Prize to Inside Llewyn Davis, Joel and Ethan Coen's portrait of a not-quite-successful folk singer in 1960, just before Bob Dylan arrived in Greenwich Village. The third-place jury prize went to Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda for his switched-at-birth family drama, Like Father, Like Son.
Best screenplay went to Chinese director Jia Zhangke for A Touch of Sin, a quartet of stories focusing on violence in contemporary China in a film that seemed overtly critical of the China's shift in values with its economic expansion. "For me, cinema is the best way to freedom," the director said.
The directing prize, an upset, went to Mexican director Amat Escalante for Heli, an unflinchingly brutal portrait of the effects of the drug trade on one young man and his family. Escalante expressed his surprise at winning but dedicated his Palme to Mexico. "I hope we never get used to suffering," he said.
Though there was no consensus this year by journalists on the Palme d'Or pick, since its screening on Wednesday night, Blue is the Warmest Colour, adapted from Julie Maroh's graphic novel, was easily the most talked about film of the festival. The three-hour film begins as a coming-of-age story, as school girl Adèle (Exarchopoulos) becomes enamoured with Emma ( Seydoux), a cool young art school student with blue hair. The film's early same-sex love scenes are possibly the longest and most fervent in mainstream cinema history, though the actresses and director said shooting them was like playing a game.
Along with a number of films that emphasized the gap between the rich and poor, and several major roles for senior actors – including 68-year-old Michael Douglas in Behind the Candelabra, Dern in Nebraska and 76-year-old Robert Redford in the out-of-competition All Is Lost – films about same-sex relations had a high profile this year. Among them were the splashy HBO feature Behind the Candelabra, on the private life of pianist Liberace, and the Canadian feature in the official selection, Chloé Robichaud's Sarah Prefers to Run.
Other awards included the Camera d'Or (best first film) to Ilo Ilo, by Anthony Chen from Singapore, the Un Certain Regard Prize to Franco-Cambodian director Rithy Panh's The Missing Picture and the short film Palme d'Or to Safe, from South Korea's Moon Byung-gon.
Editor's note: This story on the Cannes Film Festival incorrectly stated the name of the woman who won the best actress award. She is Bérénice Bejo, not Beho. This version has be corrected.