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Cannes 2023: Tilt’s Critic’s Awards
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Cannes 2023: Tilt’s  Critic’s Awards

One of the most fun parts of the ten or so days of the Cannes Film Festival is betting on the awards. This year, the official competition featured a mix of familiar Cannes names (Ken Loach, Nanni Moretti, Aki Kaurismaki, Wim Wenders, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Todd Haynes) and some newcomers (Wes Anderson, Jonathan Glazer, Kaouther Ben Hania). 

Nostalgic, old-school films by established Cannes favourites (Fallen Leaves by Kaurismaki, A Brighter Tomorrow by Moretti, Perfect Days by Wenders) mingled with teenage growing pains (Le Retour by Corsini, Monster by Kore-eda, Last Summer by Breillat, Club Zero by Hausner, Four Daughters by Ben Hania). We saw Johny Depp and Jude Law play two iconic, womanising monarchs in Jeanne du Barry and Firebrand. Massacres of indigenous Americans were the main themes of Los Colonos by Felipe Galvez (in Un Certain Regard) and Killers of the Flower Moon by Martin Scorsese (out of competition). Middle-aged women having affairs with teenage boys were the crux of Todd Haynes’s May December and Catherine Breillat’s Last Summer. La Passion de Dodin Bouffant featured a surfeit of buttery sauces, while Club Zero was about existing on zero calories.  

While the Cannes Jury works is mysterious ways, here are the prizes I would have awarded:

Palme d’Or: The Zone of Interest

The most visually and intellectually impactful of this year’s competition, The Zone of Interest revisits a fairly frequent theme at Cannes, Nazi extermination camps, in an unexpected and original manner. While highly stylised, it also packs an emotional punch towards the end. But its major strength for me was in the ‘normality’ with which it treats an inconceivable mindset and it is this contradiction the lingers on after the open-ended final moments of the film.  

Grand Prize: Four Daughters

Kaouther Ben Hania’s genre-mixing documentary manages to almost make the viewer part of Olfa’s dysfunctional family. The difficult subject matter is handled with empathy and sense of humour, while the ambiguities in Olfa’s character are forgiven when it becomes clear all she wants is her daughters back. 

Jury Prize: Fallen Leaves

The endearing Helsinki alcoholic Holappa played by Jussi Vatanen captures the audience’s hearts as perhaps a younger alter ego for veteran Finnish writer-director Aki Kaurismäki. The self-deprecating humour and retro setting are trade-mark Kaurismäki. This is the feel-good movie par excellence in this year’s competition, but its sweetness is balanced by a bitter realism and a very tenuous happy ending. 

Best Director: Jean-Stephane Sauvaire for Black Flies 

It appears I am one of the few reviewers who liked Black Flies. I am quite proud to go against my type here; I think the overall urgency and despair marvellously convey the cohabitation of life and death in the ambulance. Sauvaire manages to imprint an ominous ambience in virtually every scene, all the more depressing because of its reality.   

Best Actress: Sandra Huller in Anatomie d’une chute

Sandra Huller is one of the most accomplished actresses in Europe and she has been deserving of a best actress prize ever since her tour de force performance here in Toni Erdmann back in 2016. This year she features in both The Zone of Interest and Anatomie d’une chute but her prominence and her essentialness to the story is greater in the latter. She is so authentically German there, the perfect dose of annoying, overwhelming and empathy-provoking. It is a sophisticated character one almost grows to like; disconcertingly real, we all know people like her. 

Best Actor: Yakusho Koji in Perfect Days

Yakusho Koji is in most of the scenes in Wim Wenders’s Tokyo set toilet drama Perfect Days. This is probably the most endearing toiler cleaner in cinema history, a guy you want as your boss, your uncle, your drinking buddy. Yakusho Koji carries almost single-handedly a repetitive, minimalist screenplay with hardly any character evolution, and still one leaves the theatre smiling. Smiling like a Tokyo toilet cleaner high on music and goodness. 

Best Screenplay: Yûji Sakamoto for Monster 

Monster is probably the most watchable, cute film in competition, family complications and warmth a trademark of Kore-eda’s films. Monster takes the viewer on a rollercoaster of viewpoints and half-witnessed vignettes to gradually piece together an unexpected whole. A kind-hearted masterpiece of puzzle arrangement. 

Zornitsa Staneva

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