Top 5 things I liked about Cannes 2016

From Ken Loach's Palme d'Or win and Xavier Dolan's Grand Prix victory to the great performances by women, there was a lot to love this year


1 The resurgence of Ken Loach

The 79-year-old British director who pioneered kitchen-sink cinema in the 1960s, then moved on to wider social and political concerns, won the Palme d’Or (for the second time in 10 years) for I, Daniel Blake, his return to the drama of everyday life. It’s an incisive, tremendously moving portrait of a carpenter ground down by the system after a heart attack prevents him from working, who helps an isolated single mother with two young children fight the impenetrable welfare bureaucracy.

“We tell one little story and just hope it connects,” Loach said, admitting that he and his team were quietly stunned by the award. And connect it did with the “nine-headed monster” (as president George Miller called his jury) that included five actors, one of whom, Donald Sutherland, said, “It resonates in your heart and soul.”

And it connected with tearful audiences as well.

2 The continuing ascent of Xavier Dolan

Over the last six years, the Montreal native won every prize in the Directors’ Fortnight for I Killed My Mother and the Jury Prize in the main competition for Mommy. Now he’s won this year’s Grand Prix (second place) for It’s Only The End Of The World.

Working in France for the first time with an all-star French cast, Dolan adapted a play about a writer who returns to his family after an absence of 12 years to announce that he has a terminal illness. In a series of confrontations with his mother, older brother, wife and younger sister, tensions driven by resentment and lack of understanding are revealed. Dolan’s camera lingers on his characters in close-up, accentuating pauses, building to the emotional climax.

Dolan clearly struck a chord with the actors on the jury, but it was László Nemes (whose Son Of Saul won the Grand Prix last year) who spoke for everyone, saying how moved and thrilled he was by Dolan’s film.

“You could feel the very specific voice of the director,” he said.

3 Films the jury ignored

I wrote about Maren Ade’s vibrant and audacious father-daughter dramedy, Toni Erdmann, last week and was one of many critics disappointed that the jury overlooked it.

Miller said, “It’s part of the game – the fun of this festival – that our subjective opinions will not be agreed with by others.”

The snub of Paul Verhoeven’s provocative French film, Elle, was easier to understand. At 77, the Dutch-born director still can’t resist crossing boundaries. Basic Instinct, Starship Troopers and Showgirls all began as one form of transgression or another. Now, in Elle, Verhoeven has made his most entertaining movie, on a highly taboo subject. A multi-dimensional, observational thriller, it focuses on a video game executive and her unconventional reaction to the violent rape that begins the film. Isabelle Huppert’s performance is brilliant and subtle, strong and in control, much like the complex character she plays. The film jumps off the screen, never letting up, with one revelation after another sparking humour or astonishment. Elle is no rape/revenge movie, and how Huppert deals with being attacked is sure to draw the ire of some.

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In a year of great performances by women, Jaclyn Jose’s heartbreaking work in Ma’Rosa earned her the best actress prize.

4 The wealth of female performances

This year’s festival was unusual in that half of the films in competition were driven by prize-worthy female performances.

The jury chose Jaclyn Jose as best actress for her heartbreaking performance as the matriarch of a Filipino family in Brillante Mendoza’s Ma’Rosa. Navigating the organized chaos of her household and managing their small business in Manila, where so many scramble to survive, she’s the linchpin of this gripping melodrama.

Sandra Hüller in Toni Erdmann Kim Min-hee and Kim Tae-ri in The Handmaiden Huppert in Elle the extraordinary Sonia Braga in Kleber Mendonça Filho’s brilliant Aquarius, about one woman’s fight with developers: these were crucial components of top-notch movies.

Andrea Arnold’s naturalistic road movie American Honey, which won the Jury Prize (the third time for Arnold), featured two key women characters. Newcomer Sasha Lane plays a teenager who joins a group of magazine subscription salespeople who crisis-cross the American Midwest in vans, and Riley Keough is her hard-nosed boss.

The energy of the young cast makes it reminiscent of Larry Clark’s movies, but Arnold stumbles into clichéd plot points that eventually weaken the trip.

Mesmerizing and self-assured, Kristen Stewart appears in virtually every frame of Personal Shopper, Olivier Assayas’ s masterful, beautifully put-together tale that busts the ghost genre barrier even as it comments on the vacuity of wealth and fashion. Assayas shared the best-director prize with Cristian Mungiu, whose Graduation (a simmering morality tale) features a key performance by Maria Dragus (best known for Haneke’s The White Ribbon).

5 Midnight with Iggy Pop

I was one of 3,000 greeting the ultra-cool duo of Iggy Pop and Jim Jarmusch at the midnight screening of Jarmusch’s Gimme Danger, his affectionate love letter to “the greatest rock ’n’ roll band ever.”

Iggy, shirtless in a blue suit, and Jarmusch, stylish in black with aviator shades, walked into the Festival Palais, the music of Gimme Danger playing in the background. They were greeted by a five-minute standing ovation and cellphone photographers (Russell Crowe was one). After the screening, another five-minute standing O, the length of which clearly caught them by surprise. A smiling Jarmusch reached inside his jacket for those shades. Iggy, after a number of balletic bows to the crowd, put on his own glasses. Finally, Jarmusch guided his star through the well-wishers and out into the moonlit night.

The movie is a scrupulous two-pronged look at the Iggy and the Stooges phenomenon. Iggy (aka Jim Osterberg) provides a detailed historical chronology, paying particular attention to the band’s musical origins and influences. From the 1950s TV show Lunch With Soupy Sales to the iconoclastic American composer Harry Partch, from Iggy’s brief, meaningful relationship with Nico (on the rebound from Lou Reed) to Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew, James Brown and Maceo Parker, the film drops one memorable nugget after another.

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