A stark, emotional drama about an old man and his dying wife, Amour (Love), took the Palme d'Or at the 65th Cannes film festival. For Austrian director, Michael Haneke this was his second Palme, following his 2009 movie about the roots of Nazism, The White Ribbon.
Accompanying Haneke onto the stage were his two stars — 85-year-old Emmanuelle Riva and 81-year-old Jean-Louis Trintignant — who received a standing ovation. The 70-year-old Haneke, who said that his uncharacteristically gentle film was inspired by personal experience, thanked his wife of 30 years, and said the film was "an illustration of the promise we made to each other, if either one of us finds ourselves in the situation that is described in the film."
Amour was the obvious stand-out film of the competition, as the jury, with Italy's Nanni Moretti as chairman, focused on humanistic dramas and comedies over more bizarre work this year. The surprise runner-up Grand Prize winner was given to Moretti's countryman, Matteo Garrone, for his wan satiric comedy, Reality, about an Italian fish vendor who becomes irrationally consumed with the idea of being part of the Italian version of the reality show, Big Brother. Another relatively slight comedy, Ken Loach's Glasgow-set The Angels' Share, about petty criminals stealing some valuable Scotch, was given a special jury prize.
Another big winner was the highly regarded Beyond the Hills, from Romanian director Cristian Mungiu (whose debut film, 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days, won the Palme in 2007). The film won for best screenplay and best actress, a tie between the film's two leads, Cristina Flutur and Cosmina Stratan.
In accepting his screenwriting prize, Mungiu reminded the audience that the story was based on the real story of a botched exorcism in a remote Romanian monastery.
"We can't fix the past but perhaps through film we can try to make the future better," he said.
Best actor went to Danish star Mads Mikkelsen for his role in The Hunt, as a teacher wrongfully accused of molesting a child. Juror Ewan McGregor called the performance "very subtle and beautiful." Mikkelsen, best known as the Bond villain in Casino Royale, said the prize belonged "80, maybe 82 per cent" to director Thomas Vinterberg, whose drama was widely considered a career comeback after he won the Grand Prize 14 years ago for his debut film, The Celebration.
The directing award went to Mexican director Carlos Reygadas for his abstract drama, Post Tenebras Lux, which included an image of an animated devil with a tool-kit, entering a Mexican family's house at night.
Though there were six American films of the 22 in competition, all were shut out of the awards. The Caméra d'Or, for first-time filmmakers, picked by an independent jury from films at the festival, was given to Benh Zeitlin, director of the poetic post-Katrina Sundance winner, Beasts of the Southern Wild.
In separate awards given out on Saturday for the Un Certain Regard sidebar, Canadian actress Suzanne Clement won the best actress award for her role in Xavier Dolan's Laurence Anyways, a prize she shared with Émilie Dequenne.
In the jury press conference after the awards, Moretti said none of the jury choices had been unanimous, with arguments about French director Leos Carax's strange Holy Motors, Ulrich Seidel's sex tourism drama, Paradise: Love and Reygadas's Post Tenebras Lux.
American juror Alexander Payne was asked what it was going to be like going home in a year where American entries were shut out of the awards. "Do I have to answer that question?" he asked, before saying that the Cannes selection was too narrow a window to generalize about the state of American film.
Fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier pointed out that it was also going to be difficult for him and French actress, Emmanuelle Devos, since no French film was awarded this year either.