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Cannes 2019: South Korean director Bong Joon-ho wins top prize


South Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s social satire Parasite, about a poor family of hustlers who find jobs with a wealthy family, won the Cannes Film Festival’s top award, the Palme d’Or, on Saturday.

The win for Parasite marks the first Korean film to ever win the Palme. In the festival’s closing ceremony, jury president Alejandro Inarritu said the choice had been “unanimous” for the nine-person jury.

The genre-mixing film had been celebrated as arguably the most critically acclaimed film at Cannes this year and the best yet from the 49-year-old director of Snowpiercer and Okja.

It was the second straight Palme victory for an Asian director. Last year, the award went to Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters, a film also about an impoverished family.

“We shared the mystery of the unexpected way this film took us through different genres, speaking in a funny, humorous and tender way of no judgment of something so relevant and urgent and so global,” Inarritu told reporters after the ceremony.

Although few quibbled with the choice of Bong, some had expected Cannes to make history by giving the Palme to a female filmmaker for just the second time.

Two years ago, Bong was in Cannes’ competition with Okja, a movie distributed in North America by Netflix. After Okja and another Netflix release, Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories, premiered in Cannes, the festival ruled that all films in competition needed French theatrical distribution. Netflix has since withdrawn from the festival on the French Riveira.

Grand Prize awarded to first black female director

The festival’s second place award, the Grand Prize, went to French-Senegalese director Mati Diop’s Atlantics. Diop was the first black female director in competition at Cannes.

Mati Diop attends the Atlantics (Atlantique) Photocall during the 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival on May 17, 2019 in Cannes, France. (Antony Jones/Getty Images)

Best actor went to Antonio Banderas for Pedro Almodovar’s Pain and Glory.

“The best is still to come,” said Banderas, accepting the award.

Céline Sciamma’s period romance Portrait of a Lady on Fire was the Palme pick for many critics this year, but it ended up with best screenplay.

In the festival’s 72-year history, only Jane Champion has won the prize, in 1993 for The Piano, and she tied with Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine.

Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, who have already twice won the Palme d’Or, took the best director prize for Young Ahmed, their portrait of a Muslim teenager who becomes radicalized by a fundamentalist imam.

The jury prize, or third place, was split between two socially conscious thrillers: The French director Ladj Ly’s feature-film debut Les Misérables and Brazilian director Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Bacurau.

Camera D’Or awarded to César Diaz

Ly called his film an alarm bell about youths living in the housing projects of Paris’s suburbs. Filho viewed his feverish, violent Western about a rural Brazilian community defending itself from a hard-to-comprehend invasion as a reflection of President Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil.

British actress Emily Beecham won best actress for her performance in Jessica Hausner’s science-fiction drama Little Joe. The jury also gave a special mention to Palestinian director Elia Suleiman’s It Must Be Heaven.

The Camera d’Or, an award given for best first feature from across all of Cannes’ sections, went to César Diaz’s Our Mothers, a drama about the Guatemalan civil war in the 1980s.

The ceremony Saturday brought to a close a Cannes Film Festival that was riven with concerns for its own relevancy. It had to contend, most formidably, with the cultural television force of Game of Thrones. The continuing rise of streaming was also a constant subject around the festival.

This year, bowing to pressure from 5050×2020, the French version of Time’s Up, the festival released gender breakdowns of its submissions and selections. Cannes said about 27 per cent of its official selections were directed by women. The 21-film main slate included four films directed by women, which tied the festival’s previous high.

The 72nd Cannes had its share of red-carpet dazzle, too. Elton John brought his biopic Rocketman to the festival, joining star Taron Egerton for a beachside duet after the premiere. And Quentin Tarantino unveiled his 1960s Los Angeles tale Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, with Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, 25 years after the director’s Pulp Fiction won the Palme d’Or.

Tarantino, who attended the closing ceremony, didn’t go home empty handed. On Friday, a prominent pooch in his film won the annual Palme Dog, an award given by critics to Cannes’s best canine.

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