Roger Ebert Home

Cannes 2017: Ruben Ostlund's "The Square" wins Palme d'Or

He appeared to break down after failing to secure an Oscar nomination for "Force Majeure," but Ruben Ostlund led the Grand Théâtre Lumière in what he called a "primal scream of happiness," alluding to a scene in his movie, after he won the Palme d'Or tonight at the 70th Cannes Film Festival for his new film, "The Square."

"The Square" is a wry and decidedly dark Swedish comedy about an art museum curator (Claes Bang) who is variously forced to contend with a stolen wallet and phone; with trust issues, particularly as they pertain to a one-night stand with a reporter (Elisabeth Moss); with a viral-advertising disaster; and with a formal dinner disrupted by a performance artist (motion-capture coach Terry Notary) who seems to have reverted to a primal state. "The Square" is the first Palme d'Or winner from Sweden since "The Best Intentions" in 1992. 

At the post-awards press conference, where journalists grill the jurors on their choices, the jury's president, Pedro Almódovar, said he saw the movie as being "about the dictatorship of being politically correct," something he called as horrifying as any other dictatorship. Jurors also cited the film's imagination and wit.

At least one other record was set. Sofia Coppola, who won Best Director for "The Beguiled," became only the second female filmmaker in Cannes history to take that honor, after Yuliya Solntseva in 1961. She wasn't present at the awards, but in a statement, she thanked her family along with Jane Campion, the only woman to win a Palme d'Or, "for being a role model and supporting woman filmmakers."

The Grand Jury Prize, or second place, went to Robin Campillo's "BPM (Beats Per Minute)," a story of AIDS activists in Paris in the early 1990s. At the press conference, one reporter wanted to know why "BPM" hadn't taken the Palme as so many predicted it would have.

"How many, more or less?" Almodóvar asked, adding, "I loved the movie. Tomorrow perhaps we'll read in the papers what the rest of the audience thinks of these Palmarès." He choked up when he began talking about AIDS activists, whom he called heroes who saved many lives. 

Best Actress went to Diane Kruger for her performance in Fatih Akin's "In the Fade." She plays a German woman whose son and Turkish husband are killed in a terrorist attack. "I cannot accept this award without thinking of anyone who's ever been affected by an act of terrorism," Kruger said, in a festival where the headlines were dominated by news of the Manchester bombing. "Please know that you're not forgotten."

Best Actor went to Joaquin Phoenix for "You Were Never Really Here." He seemed to dwell for a moment before even rising from his seat. "This is totally unexpected," he said. "You can see from my shoes." He was wearing black sneakers that were almost certainly a violation of the Lumière's dress code, which requires black tie for events like the awards ceremony.

Addressing journalists later, he reiterated that he expected his performance, as a laconic war veteran who rescues young women from sex traffickers, to earn him bad reviews. He said he told his girlfriend that coming to the festival would be good, because it would be "really humbling to go through an experience in which you would be unanimously disliked."

His writer/director, Lynne Ramsay, shared the screenplay prize. In her speech, she noted that she only finished the movie about five days ago. The rush paid off: At least judging from the Screen International scores, "You Were Never Really Here" was one of the two best-reviewed films of the 19 in competition. Ramsay and Phoenix both thanked each other for their respective awards, indicating how crucial each one's influence was on the other.

Ramsay shared the screenplay prize with Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou ("The Lobster"), who won for the divisive "The Killing of a Sacred Deer."

Andrey Zvyagintsev—like Campillo, widely touted as a potential Palme winner—had to settle for the jury prize, effectively third place, for the Russian drama "Loveless."

Nicole Kidman, who seemed to be everywhere at Cannes with four titles ("The Beguiled," "The Killing of a Sacred Deer," "How to Talk to Girls at Parties," and season two of "Top of the Lake"), won the special 70th-anniversary prize, a decennial award with few restrictions on who can get it or for what.

Kidman, who was in Nashville today, sent a video of thanks. "The whole experience of last week feels like a dream, actually, and so this is a lovely way to still come back to the dream," she said.

Cannes is criticized annually for the lack of women among its directors, a criticism that the jurors, when asked about it, suggested was on their minds.

"I do believe that if you have female storytelling you have better female characters," Jessica Chastain said, noting that she found the representation of women in some of the competition films "quite disturbing."

Her fellow juror Agnès Jaoui gave a shoutout to the Bechdel test as well as to the "very feminist" men on the jury, including Almodóvar, known for making movies with strong roles for women.

Ben Kenigsberg

Ben Kenigsberg is a frequent contributor to The New York Times. He edited the film section of Time Out Chicago from 2011 to 2013 and served as a staff critic for the magazine beginning in 2006. 

Latest blog posts

Latest reviews

Family Switch
American Symphony
La Syndicaliste
Good Burger 2


comments powered by Disqus