I’ve known Ken Loach for around 40 years, and supported him and his films for most of that time. Not because I agree with all his political views ( I’m just a champagne socialist compared to him) but because he is a film-maker capable of making us laugh and cry and get angry at the unfairness of the world at more or less the same time (Kes, for instance) — and, by the way, he’s a genuinely modest man to boot. But even a supporter like myself was more than a bit surprised that I, Daniel Blake, his film about a working class guy who has a severe heart attack at 50 and gets screwed by the British welfare system, won the Palme D’Or at Cannes. Make no mistake, I liked the film and thought it certainly worth something from Australian George Miller’s jury. But there were other even better films around, some of them not even mentioned by the judges.
This is the second time Ken has won the top award — the first was The Wind That Shakes The Barley — and, well, if I don’t quite agree with the verdict, I am genuinely happy for Ken. He made a good rousing speech at the podium too. They love him at Cannes despite the fact that not many of those in their expensive glad rags watching his films can possibly claim to share his political opinions.
The other awards were even more surprising. In fact, most of them were odd enough to secure hearty boos from the journos sitting in the theatre next door to the main auditorium and watching the prizes on the video screen. Most astonishing was the lack of anything at all for Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann, a hit with almost everyone bar the jury. This German comedy, written and directed by a talented woman film-maker, has an eccentric father trying to persuade his strikingly successful daughter not to take her computer dominated life so damned seriously. It might well have won the Palme D’Or from another jury. There was some compensation, though, when the International Critics Jury awarded the film their prize.
Another strange result gave the Canadian Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only The End of the World the Grand Prize of the Jury, which is considered the second best award of the festival. Boos rang out again when this was announced since the film had been generally slated after its press show. Accepting the prize, Dolan looked understandably triumphant. UK director Andrea Arnold’s first American venture American Honey, which some loved and others disliked, won the minor jury prize. Which meant that Arnold won that particular prize for the third time after her excellent Red Road and Fish Tank.
There was further controversy when Olivier Assayas’ eccentric ghost story Personal Shopping was paired with Cristian Mungiu’s infinitely superior Graduation from Rumania in the best director category. Graduation, a coruscating story about corruption in Rumania, reaching out from top to bottom of society, was another critical hit and certainly deserved its reward for the director of the splendid Palme D’Or winning Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days.
Finally, there were two more shocks in the acting categories when Shahab Hosseini was made best actor for Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman (Iran) and Jaclyn Jose was given the best actress award for Brilliante Mendoza’s Ma’ Rosa (the Philippines). Both were good performances but not generally considered for prizes.
So Cannes 2016 ended amidst considerable controversy after a competition which varied from the nearly sublime to the fairly ridiculous. Maybe Miller’s jury gave its prizes accordingly — only sometimes it seemed that they preferred the faintly ridiculous to the nearly sublime.