The 66th Cannes film festival will forever be remembered as the year two female actors shared the Palme d'Or with their director. In a Competition where there were more prizeworthy films than there were prizes to give, Blue Is The Warmest Color won the top award.
A three-hour French film that chronicles the love affair between a sensual 18-year-old high school girl and an intellectual 24-year-old female artist/graduate student, director Abdellatif Kechiche's film, shot in emotionally revealing close-up, is intimate, passionate and real.
As jury president Steven Spielberg put it at the post-ceremony press conference: "The film is a great love story that made all of us feel privileged to be a fly on the wall, to see this story of deep love and deep heartbreak evolve from the beginning. We were absolutely spellbound with the way the director observed the characters."
In an unusual move, the Palme was bestowed on the two actors, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux, along with their director. "It was such an obvious decision, the synergy was so positive," Spielberg explained.
It was no surprise that five of the other six films honoured by the jury won something. The Coen brothers' comic take on the struggles of a folksinger in 1961's Greenwich Village, Inside Llewyn Davis, was widely admired and won the Grand Prize. Like Father, Like Son, Hirokazu Koreeda's moving story about baby boys switched at birth, deserved its Jury Prize, while Jia Zhangke's originality in how he depicted violence in A Touch Of Sin won him best screenplay.
Most observers expected an award for Asghar Farhadi's The Past, but no one predicted it would go to Bérénice Bejo for best actress. It was obvious the jury was honouring the film. Bruce Dern's dogged dominance of Alexander Payne's Nebraska, a film about the essence of Midwestern family relationships, made it hard to argue with his best actor prize.
Amat Escalante's unexpected best director win for Heli was greeted tepidly by the audience. The film is a realistic, often brutal depiction of the effects of the drug war on ordinary Mexicans. An award for Paolo Sorrentino for The Great Beauty, among other worthy contenders, would have pleased me more.
But as Spielberg said before he announced the prizes, "We listened to our hearts and for which films found an echo."
What matters is that a film speaks to you, as so many did at this year's festival. At least 12 in the Competition and that many again in the sidebars were memorable. Some will open at Toronto cinemas over the coming year, others at festivals - principally TIFF.
Passion fuelled several films this year, in addition to the Palme d'Or winner. Jim Jarmusch's vampire riff, Only Lovers Left Alive, is a comic bonbon that will no doubt prove addictive to global lovers of cinema. It never wavers from its love story even as it's stuck in a 1970s rock star groove that spins vinyl.
In Roman Polanski's directorial triumph, Venus In Fur, an actor and a director (Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Almaric, both superb) move in and out of the characters they play in a theatrical audition.
Just as notable were Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix in James Gray's solid historical potboiler, The Immigrant, and Michael Douglas and Matt Damon in Steven Soderbergh's Liberace exposé, Behind The Candelabra.
Standouts in the sidebars were led by Lav Diaz's 250-minute masterpiece of Hobbesian good and evil, Norte, The End of History, a story of redemption and the ineluctable whimsy of fate. Hany Abu-Assad's Omar, about informants and duplicity in the Palestinian territory will undoubtedly be at TIFF and bears watching by anyone who values the cinema of commitment.
Passion's lustful cousin drove Alain Guiraudie's Stranger By The Lake, a masterpiece of genre-mashing that combines homosexual desire with homicide (not to mention some hardcore male-on-male sex).
Out of nowhere (because you never know at Cannes) came an Indian film set in Mumbai, Lunchbox Story, that had as much love and passion as any in the festival - it was just conveyed in a chaste way. A wife wants to spice up her marriage, so she takes special care in preparing lunch for her husband and having it delivered by the dabba-wallahs who service a million workers a day. But it goes by mistake to an insurance claims supervisor, a widower on the verge of retirement. Notes are exchanged, food is enjoyed, lives change and real passion is expressed.
Eighty-three-year-old Chilean-born Alejandro Jodorowsky experienced a rebirth at this year's festival. A documentary on his failed attempt to make a film of Frank Herbert's novel Dune was widely acclaimed, as was his first film in 23 years, The Dance Of Reality. It's a surreal but sincere look at his 10- year-old self, his big-bosomed, smothering, loving mother (who sings all of her dialogue in a beautiful operatic soprano) and a father who led many lives, from circus performer to Stalinist shopkeeper.
The night before the winners were announced, I was sitting at an outside table at a favourite restaurant. A few women were standing nearby talking and smoking, their backs to me. I could see only their shoes, which reminded me of Buñuel and triggered a memory of a distant time when the festival was less hectic, more intimate. I was having a drink in the elegant bar of the Carlton Hotel when I noticed that my nearest drinking companion was Fernando Rey.
The festival is richer now. And in a history-making moment, two actors shared the Palme d'Or with their director.
Palme d'Or: Blue Is The Warmest Color, directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, with Adèle Exarchopoulos & Léa Seydoux
Grand Prize: Inside Llewyn Davis, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Best director: Amat Escalante for Heli
Jury Prize: Like Father, Like Son, directed by Hirokazu Koreeda
Best screenplay: Jia Zhangke for A Touch Of Sin
Best performance by an actress: Bérénice Bejo in The Past, directed by Asghar Farhadi
Best performance by an actor: Bruce Dern in Nebraska, directed by Alexander Payne