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by Eric Kohn
May 27, 2013 9:00 AM
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Why This Year's Cannes Film Festival Prizes Went to the Right Films

Lea Seydoux in "Blue is the Warmest Color."
"I know that it would be nice to have some drama," Steven Spielberg said at the press conference with his fellow jurors at the Cannes Film Festival on Sunday. However, according to the jury's esteemed president, nobody "bumped heads about the films were privileged to see here."

Indeed, the group's decision to award the lesbian coming-of-age drama "Blue is the Warmest Color" with the Palme d'Or was one that pundits had been anticipating for days. Tunisian-French director Abdellatif Kechiche's three-hour story, which takes place in two parts, made waves at the festival with its graphic depiction of the way sexual compatibility impacts the other elements of a relationship shared by two women (played by newcomer Adéle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux, who were invited to share the prize with their director).

Steven Spielberg on Sunday night at Cannes.
More than that, however, Kechiche's movie succeeds by displaying that same degree of intimacy with his actresses in the scenes when they have their clothes on. For the younger, fragile teen at the center of the plot -- also named Adéle -- blue-haired art student Emma (Seydoux) provides a gateway to experiences far beyond the limitations of her conservative social circle. The tender moments make the explicit scenes especially noteworthy: Kechiche's film is a testament to the possibilities of uncensored storytelling that ignores traditional boundaries without playing for shock value. It's a touching romance first, a savvy assault on buttoned-up standards second, and undoubtedly one of the best movies about nascent adulthood in recent years. 

READ MORE: Indiewire's Review of "Blue is the Warmest Color"

Spielberg himself makes no apologies about directing movies aimed at the largest audiences possible, but as a unit, the Cannes jurors did a fine job highlighting the merits of not playing it safe. This was evident not only in the selection of the winners but the snubs: Steven Soderbergh's Liberace biopic "Behind the Candelabra" garnered plenty of accolades for Michael Douglas' performance, but ultimately amounted to a giddy by-the-numbers treatment of the show biz icon -- albeit a skillfully made one. James Gray's "The Immigrant," meanwhile, found plenty of adoration from highbrow critics struck by the director's ability to resurrect a classic story of the American dream gone sour. For that same reason, however, it suffered from the restrictions imposed by Gray's allegiance to existing narrative traditions. "The Immigrant" is impressive in parts but uniformly familiar.

The Cannes jurors did a fine job highlighting the merits of not playing it safe.
By comparison, another period piece works magnificently against expectations. The Coen brothers' offbeat musical-comedy "Inside Llewyn Davis," which was awarded the Grand Prix, explored the personal dimensions of folk music by maintaining a subdued tone in spite of the catchy melodies populating its world. Hirokazu Kore-eda's "Like Father, Like Son," which took home the Prix du Jury award, similarly treated a potentially melodramatic premise (two parental units discover their kids were switched at the hospital) with the gentle, observational style that distinguishes all of Kore-eda's movies.

Elsewhere, the jury surprised many critics by awarding Amat Escalante's "Heli," the first competition film that screened at this year's festival, with the directing prize. A disturbing look at a young Mexican man whose sister associated with another local troublemaker, "Heli" ultimately involves that trio's experiences with a group of local criminals who kidnap them and -- in the first scene to garner chatter of scandal at the festival but certainly not the last -- set one of their victims' private parts on fire. Shot with a spare, unflinching style, "Heli" captures an atmosphere of despair that's compellingly tense, even though its appealing aspects eventually grow tiresome. Though it feels half-finished, "Heli" is certainly one of the more notable competition entries to assault audiences with decidedly non-commercial devices and dare them to look away. In that regard, with its early placement in the schedule, it set the stage for "Blue is the Warmest Color." Perhaps the jury meant to acknowledge Escalante for putting them in the right mindset.

Like the movies they singled out, the jury took a seriously methodical approach to their selections, spreading the love among the competition. "The Past," Asghar Farhadi's follow-up to "A Separation," marked the first flat-out great movie to screen in competition. But the similarities in its approach to layered family drama that it shared with the director's previous movie further solidified talent that much of the industry had already acknowledged last year. By giving star Berenice Bejo the prize for best actress -- championing a fiery performance as a single mother trapped between her collapsing relationships with two men -- "The Past" was still celebrated at the end of a very long two weeks in which many festival-goers had a tough time remembering everything they saw. Alexander Payne's "Nebraska," on the other hand, received a fairly lukewarm reception. The jury's decision to award Bruce Dern with best actor put it back in the spotlight for a very specific reason: the rediscovery of a legendary actor overdue for it. Scan the list of finalists and it's hard to disagree: At the end of the day, if the legacy of this year's festival is exclusively defined by the winners, Cannes' potential to shed light on an alternative to mainstream cinema remains assuredly intact.




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20 Comments

  • jimbo | May 28, 2013 4:36 AMReply

    you should read the french press's assessment of the prizes. not nearly as cut and dry as you make it eric, and there's a fair amount of dram beneath the surface.

  • The M | May 27, 2013 7:59 PMReply

    I have nothing against homosexuality or "Bleu is the warmest colour", but I'm starting to hear the "American beauty" siren in my head. Most of the critics comments about the film talk more of the good intentions of the film rather than the actual film itself, the only thing pointed out is the actresses work, which I have no doubt it should be mesmerizing. Apart from the good intentions it's the sex scenes, the Occident has still to learn that taking the risk of being graphic does not necessarily traduce to great art.

    As for the good intentions, I know they are there, but a work of art cannot be called a masterpiece just because of that. Picasso's Guernica is a masterpiece not because of it's good intentions, but rather because it's well executed. The fact that critics speak so little about the film's execution makes me wonder if this could have the "American Beauty" effect, that film which critics rave and with a few years they look back and say "maybe it isn't the masterpiece we thought it was".

    I surely hope this is not the case.

  • JakeBarnes | May 28, 2013 9:34 AM

    See the film first, M, rather than basing your "good intentions" argument on what you've gathered from your interpretation of the critics' interpretations of the film.

  • MDL | May 27, 2013 7:04 PMReply

    IndieWire, I love the site but I think it's time you changed your policies on comments. It's edging into YouTube territory. Make everyone sign in with a screen name and a password. It will help [a bit] keep out the spammers and the haters. Either that or get someone to clean up the inane comments that are only here to inflame rather than discuss like adults. Thanks.

  • JakeBarnes | May 28, 2013 9:36 AM

    I completely agree, MDL. This is a place to discuss the merits of films, not for religious fundamentalists who have no doubt not seen the film to try to impose their narrow view of the world.

  • tommy | May 27, 2013 3:45 PMReply

    Perverts win again in sodomizing us all.

  • Karen Bump | May 27, 2013 1:45 PMReply

    What about LOVE THY NEIGHBOR AS THYSELF. WHAT PEOPLE DO & who they are`` IS BETWEEN THEM AND GOD. Be careful not to judge, lest ye be judged.

  • ANONTDH | May 27, 2013 1:28 PMReply

    WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT HOMOSEXUALITY


    Timothy 1:10
The law is for people who are sexually immoral, or who practice homosexuality, or are slave traders, liars, promise breakers, or who do anything else that contradicts the wholesome teaching
1 Timothy 1:9-11 (in Context) 1 Timothy 1 (Whole Chapter)


    1 Corinthians 6:9 Don’t you know that unrighteous people will have no share in the Kingdom of God? Don’t delude yourselves — people who engage in sex before marriage, who worship idols, who engage in sex after marriage with someone other than their spouse, who engage in active or passive homosexuality,
1 Corinthians 6:8-10 (in Context) 1 Corinthians 6 (Whole Chapter) Other Translations

    Leviticus 18:22 “Do not practice homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman. It is a detestable sin.
Leviticus 18:21-23 (in Context) Leviticus 18 (Whole Chapter) Other Translations

    Leviticus 20:13 “If a man practices homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman, both men have committed a detestable act. They must both be put to death, for they are guilty of a capital offense.
Leviticus 20:12-14 (in Context) Leviticus 20 (Whole Chapter) Other Translations

    Revelation 22:15 Outside are the homosexuals, those involved with the occult and with drugs, the sexually immoral, murderers, idol-worshippers, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
Revelation 22:14-16 (in Context) Revelation 22 (Whole Chapter) Other Translations

    Deuteronomy 23:18 “No woman of Isra’el is to engage in ritual prostitution, and no man of Isra’el is to engage in ritual homosexual prostitution.
Deuteronomy 23:17-19 (in Context) Deuteronomy 23 (Whole Chapter) Other Translations

    Deuteronomy 23:19 Nothing earned through heterosexual or homosexual prostitution is to be brought into the house of Adonai your God in fulfillment of any vow, for both of these are abhorrent to Adonai your God.
Deuteronomy 23:18-20 (in Context) Deuteronomy 23 (Whole Chapter) Other Translations

  • Z | May 28, 2013 2:27 AM

    Those are the rules YOU live by. That's your right.

    You have NO right to force those rules on anyone else.

    Live how you like, and let others, who aren't hurting you, do the same.

    And if you can't manage that, then oh my gosh shut the heck up.

  • Juanito | May 27, 2013 6:28 PM

    So what ???

  • beth | May 27, 2013 10:59 AMReply

    So Spielberg made the only appropriate artistic decision in his entire career yesterday. Thank god.

  • Andrew | May 27, 2013 9:09 AMReply

    Indeed, Spielberg made the right decision not to give the Palme d'Or to an American film, like deNiro or Tarantino did. And he spread his love to art movies !
    A great jury president.

  • MDL | May 27, 2013 7:19 PM

    Andrew. I tend to agree with your argument in general. However, when De Niro was president his jury only awarded three out of 8 films that were in English. One was Melancholia, which is not really an American film. The other two were 'Tree of Life' and 'Drive' - both hardly standard American films. The other films his jury awarded were from France [3 films] Turkey, and Israel. When Tarantino was president only 4 films out of 9 were in English but one was Canadian / French, another was South American and one was Fahrenheit 911 which was a lock to win. The other was a Coen brothers film. Other films that won that year were from France, Korea, Japan and Thailand. Just because a film wins the Palme does not mean that is all the jury focused on.

  • joe | May 27, 2013 2:34 PM

    yes, all american cinema is bad.
    goatbrain

  • joe | May 27, 2013 2:34 PM

    yes, all american cinema is bad.
    goatbrain

  • joe | May 27, 2013 2:34 PM

    yes, all american cinema is bad.
    goatbrain

  • joe | May 27, 2013 2:20 PM

    yes, all american cinema is bad.
    goatbrain

  • joe | May 27, 2013 2:20 PM

    yes, all american cinema is bad.
    goatbrain

  • joe | May 27, 2013 2:20 PM

    yes, all american cinema is bad.
    goatbrain

  • Akira | May 27, 2013 10:22 AM

    What are you implying? That all American cinema is commercialized and mainstream? you are sadly mistaken.