Cannes Film!!Festival 2021: ‘Titane’ wins Palme d’Or; Julia Ducournau becomes second female director to win top prize

In a shock moment, jury president Spike Lee announced the win in error early in the awards ceremony after a miscommunication. Gasps rang around the Grand Theatre Lumiere before the ceremony collected itself and reverted back to the normal running order. The awkward atmosphere did not dissipate, however, with the typically garrulous Lee noticeably bashful.
“Raw” director Ducournau returned to Cannes with her second film, her first in competition. “Titane” tells the story of a young woman who survives a car crash as a child and goes on to have a peculiar relationship with cars in adulthood. It divided critics with vocal supporters and detractors, but the jury of Lee, fellow directors Mati Diop, Kleber Mendonça Filho, Jessica Hausner, actors Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Tahar Rahim and Song Kang-ho and singer-songwriter Mylène Farmer saw fit to award it top honors.

"Benedetta" by Paul Verhoeven.

Spike Lee, Jury members Tahar Rahim, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jessica Hausner and Mélanie Laurent on stage during the closing ceremony.
Spike Lee, Jury members Tahar Rahim, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jessica Hausner and Mélanie Laurent on stage during the closing ceremony. Credit: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images
The Grand Prix — the festival’s second prize — was jointly awarded to Asghar Farhadi’s “A Hero” and Juho Kusomanen’s “Compartment No.6.”

A two-time Oscar winner from Iran, Farhadi’s intricate morality play “A Hero” centers on a prisoner whose good deed on day release sets off a chain of fortune and misfortune.
“Compartment No.6” has been compared to a “Finnish ‘Before Sunrise'” for its offbeat meet-cute set on a train.
“Memoria” by Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul and “Ahed’s Knee” by Israeli Nadav Lapid shared the Jury Prize.


Best director went to Frenchman Leos Carax for his musical “Annette,” starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard as A-list lovers in a doomed romance, set to music by cult pop duo Sparks. Best screenplay was awarded to Ryusuke Hamaguchi for “Drive My Car,” the Japanese director’s adaptation of a Haruki Murakami short story.
Best actor went to Caleb Landry Jones for “Nitram,” Justin Kurzel’s retelling of the 1996 Port Arthur massacre in Australia, while best actress went to Renate Reinsve for Joachim Trier’s “The Worst Person in the World.”
Camera d’Or for first film (and award spanning the Official Selection and the wider program’s The Director’s Fortnight and Critics’ Week) went to Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic for “Murina,” her tense family drama set on the Adriatic Coast.
The reports of cinema’s death have been greatly exaggerated.
“Memoria” by Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
“Memoria” by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Credit: Kick the Machine Films/Burning/Anna Sanders Films/Match Factory Productions/ZDF-Arte/Piano
After Cannes was canceled in 2020, the festival set out to be the savior of cinema by returning big movies to the big screen. Many festivals have, in the past 12 months, gone hybrid or virtual (Venice being the notable exception), but this would not do for the Côte d’Azur. There is no glamor to be found at online screenings, and what is Cannes without glamor? Diamonds and couture do not photograph well on Zoom.
No one would ever accuse the festival of thinking too little of itself, but when a program stacked with huge names was unveiled in June, Cannes’ savior complex started looking justified.
A rumbling pandemic had other ideas. Covid-19 restrictions have made life difficult for traveling industry figures and press, many of whom were required to take tests every 48 hours in order to access the Palais des Festivals. (Twitter has been awash with nearly as many reviews of saliva samples as of films in recent weeks.) Some, alas, did not make it — including this writer. But perhaps more importantly for festival organizers, Lea Seydoux, who would have been everywhere with no fewer than four films in the Official Selection, was kept at home by a positive coronavirus test (she is reportedly asymptomatic).
Tilda Swinton filled the void, her ethereal presence gracing films by Joanna Hogg, Wes Anderson, Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Mark Cousins — as varied a group a directors as one could hope to assemble.
01 cannes red carpet 0710_Hazel Moder
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03 Cannes red carpet 0706_Maggie Gyllenhaal
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07 Cannes red carpet 0706_Marion Cotillard
08 Cannes red carpet 0706_Helen Mirren
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Julia Roberts’ daughter, Hazel Moder, made her first-ever red carpet debut alongside father Daniel Moder. Credit: Daniele Venturelli/WireImage/Getty Images
Many festival luminaries returned to the Croisette, providing talking points but leaving empty handed. Among them were Jacques Audiard, Bruno Dumont, François Ozon and Nanni Moretti.
Another old hand was Paul Verhoeven, an agent provocateur who’s been walking the tight rope of high trash/high art (depending on how you read his films) for years now. “Benedetta,” his historical nunsploitation movie starring Virginie Efira, wasn’t lacking in controversy.
Indeed, both “Annette” and “Benedetta” contributed to what was a horny old festival on many accounts. Other trends this year included seemingly every other film being compared to the Safdie brothers’ “Uncut Gems,” and the meme-ification of “The French Dispatch’s” photo call (who knew Timothée Chalamet, Wes Anderson, Tilda Swinton and Bill Murray were so relatable?).
“Benedetta” by Paul Verhoeven.
“Benedetta” by Paul Verhoeven. Credit: Guy Ferrandis/SBS Productions
Once the froth of the festival settles, what’s left is another crop of films from around the world, from places expected and not, rated, reviewed and ready to find their way to the public. So Cannes’ mission can be said to be a success.
Cannes has always been a case of “in with the new,” making a pause to reflect on what’s come before all the more necessary. Mark Cousins provided that with his documentary “The Story of Film: A New Generation,” which preceded the opening ceremony and cast an eye over the past decade of cinema. In it, he posed the question: Which films have pushed the boundaries of the medium? Moreover, how?
It’s a useful frame through which to view cinema, beset as it is with doomsayers bemoaning the streaming wars and the recycling of intellectual property. New things are happening all around us — as long as you’re looking in the right places. It’s also a useful frame through which to view Cannes, where there is always more to discuss than time allows.
Here’s a selection of films, from both the 2021 festival’s Official Selection and wider program, that pushed boundaries and injected new life into cinema.
“Petrov’s Flu” (dir. Kirill Serebrennikov)
“Petrov’s Flu” by Kirill Serebrennikov.
“Petrov’s Flu” by Kirill Serebrennikov. Credit: Hype Film
Kirill Serebrennikov takes us on a 24-hour tour of Yekaterinburg on New Year’s Eve that’s less “Ulysses”-of-the-Urals and more like jumping into a Hieronymus Bosch painting of post-Soviet Russia.
Our unwitting guide is Petrov (Semyon Serzin), a comic book artist whose bout of flu sends viewers into a tailspin. He’s feverish, the city’s febrile, and events — real and imagined — collide. From a crowded bus to a public execution and then into the back of a stolen hearse, we ride with the protagonist along the underbelly of society, meeting an ensemble of characters painted in shades absurd, grotesque and pathetic.
Petrov’s librarian wife Petrova (Chulpan Khamatova) isn’t faring much better, with a murderous streak that could be fact or fiction. Frankly, it’s hard to tell. Meanwhile, their son’s temperature is creeping up.
Based on Alexey Salnikov’s novel “The Petrovs In and Around the Flu,” Serebrennikov’s adaptation is Dostoevsky read through a kaleidoscope. Characters, scenes and sets collapse in on one another — sometimes literally — and occasionally in outrageous long takes that baffle as much as they beguile. It’s cinema as surreal, relentless spectacle, recalling Leos Carax’s “Holy Motors” and Aleksei German’s “Hard to be a God,” but wholly Serebrennikov’s own groove: furiously inventive, brutish at times, unexpectedly tender at others.
The Russian director, barred from leaving the country to attend the festival, installs a nostalgic backstory that dovetails with the rest of the narrative only in the closing stages. Characters retreat into fantasy, but also the past. It suggests a yearning — if not for the past, then maybe for simpler times or ones when the rot was less pervasive. The film’s manifesto may be unclear, but its diagnosis is more so: a city and its people are sick.

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