Bawdy Comedy ‘Anora’ Wins Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival

Published: May 26, 2024

The Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival was awarded on Saturday to “Anora,” a giddily ribald picaresque from the American director Sean Baker about a sex worker who marries the son of a Russian oligarch — and things get very messy.

A critical favorite, “Anora” takes a nonjudgmental attitude toward its protagonist, played by Mikey Madison in a go-for-broke breakthrough performance that critics have praised. George Lucas, who received an honorary award at the ceremony, presented the Palme d’Or. Baker hugged Lucas and thanked the jury before blurting out, “I really don’t know what’s happening now.” He dedicated his award to “sex workers past, present and future — this is for you.”

The ceremony, which took place in the Grand Lumière Theater in the festival’s headquarters, opened with a spoof of the opening crawl of the original “Star Wars.” When Lucas eventually took the stage, he received a thunderous standing ovation. The applause grew even louder when Lucas’s longtime close friend Francis Ford Coppola appeared to present Lucas with an honorary Palme d’Or. Coppola, who referred to Lucas as his “kid brother,” was at the festival with his epic “Megalopolis,” which screened in the main competition and did not win anything.

The competition jury, led by Greta Gerwig, gave a special award to the gripping Iranian tragedy “The Seed of the Sacred Fig,” about a small family that comes violently undone just as the Women, Life, Freedom protest movement in Iran is igniting. The director, Mohammad Rasoulof, who fled the country right before the festival opened, accepted the award in person. On May 13, he announced on Instagram that he had left Iran after being sentenced to eight years in prison for his movies; he was also to be fined and whipped, and have property confiscated.

The Grand Prix, the festival’s second-highest honor, was given to “All We Imagine as Light,” from the Indian director Payal Kapadia. A gentle drama about three women coming to terms with one another and their own desires in contemporary Mumbai, “All We Imagine as Light” was another critical favorite. In Kapadia’s acceptance speech, she thanked the three leading actresses, whom she brought onstage with her, as well as all of the workers who make the festival run.

Jesse Plemons won best actor for “Kinds of Kindness,” the latest master-slave gross-out from the Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos. The French director Jacques Audiard won the jury prize, the evening’s third-highest one, for his competition entry, “Emilia Pérez.” That movie also won best actress. In an unusual move, the jury gave the award to four actresses from the film: Karla Sofía Gascón, Adriana Paz, Zoe Saldaña and Selena Gomez, a “harmony of sisterhood,” as the jury member Lily Gladstone put it. Accepting the award was Gascón, a Spanish transgender actress who plays the title character, a Mexican cartel boss who transitions into a woman.

Best director was given to the Portuguese filmmaker Miguel Gomes for “Grand Tour,” an authentically sui generis fantasia about a British civil servant in 1917 who, in running away from his fiancée, sets off on a time-skipping exploration of postcolonialism (among other things). After giving the jury a thumbs up, Gomes said in English, “Sometimes I get lucky.”

In a surprise, the screenplay award went to “The Substance,” an English-language horror freakout about a Hollywood actress, played by Demi Moore, who resorts to extreme measures after she is deemed to be stale goods. The French director Coralie Fargeat thanked Moore, who was in attendance.

The Camera d’Or prize for best first feature went to “Armand,” a psychological thriller from the Norwegian director Halfdan Ullmann Tondel about a facedown between the parents of two children, one of whom is accused of assaulting the other. (Tondel’s grandparents are Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman.)

In the run-up to the festival, rumors swirled about possible protests against the war in Gaza (none emerged) and bombshell revelations about various industry figures. The day that the festival opened, on May 14, The Guardian ran a story in which anonymous sources claimed that Coppola had tried to kiss some extras while making “Megalopolis.” Nothing more came of the story, and none of the reporters at the movie’s news conference even broached the claims with the director. In general, as festival organizers had hoped, the focus throughout the event remained largely on the movies.

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