As people in Paris gathered once more for an anti-gay-rights demonstration on Sunday, Cannes’ jury, led by Steven Spielberg, awarded the Golden Palm to a great love story with minutes-long sex scenes between two women: Blue Is the Warmest Colour by French director Abdellatif Kechiche.
It was the one film everyone was raving about, the obvious highlight of almost two weeks of very strong cinema. Nevertheless, at the following press conference in Cannes’ Palais des Festivals, everyone wanted to see it as a political statement in favour of gay marriage – an issue heavily discussed at the moment, and not only in France. Spielberg’s simple answer: “As you’ve seen, they don’t get married in the film.” That should indeed suffice as an answer.
The actual novelty of the jury’s decision was something else anyway: as Spielberg made clear in his announcement, the Golden Palm would – for the first time in Cannes’ history – not only be awarded to a film and its director. Instead he invited three artists onstage: Kechiche and both lead actresses, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux. The jury, composed of artists like Ang Lee, Nicole Kidman, Lynne Ramsay and Christoph Waltz, used this announcement as a trick, since the festival’s regulations forbid multiple awards to a film receiving the Golden Palm. It was a brave and fitting decision, since Blue is the Warmest Colour lives through the breathtaking performances of its two leads. And it is the kind of film that lets you forget the surroundings, the festival and all its little quirks you might not expect from a distance.
Taking place at the Côte d’Azur and in the mostly warm month of May, in contrast to the German winter of February’s Berlinale, the Cannes Film Festival often has a touch of holiday feeling, even when one has to work hard accessing the movies and reporting between films. Still, in the first days of this year’s festival you sometimes wished you were in Berlin, not so much because of reports that temperatures in Berlin were actually higher than in southern France, but because of the daylong and mostly heavy rainfall. Although you could easily say that rain is a perfect weather for a film festival because people spend most of their time sitting in a warm and comfortable theatre seat, that’s not in counting with Cannes’ festival policy: at one of the main theatres of the Cannes Competition, the “Debussy” right next to the Palais, critics have to wait outside until they are let in, creating a long procession of black umbrellas which, seen from above, could make a great establishing shot in a movie.
As the festival came to a close on Saturday, the last Competition entries having just been shown, we sat outside a bar in one of the smaller streets behind the Palais. Just as we were recapping the last film, one of its stars sat down next to us. As if it was the most normal thing in the world, Mathieu Amalric, French actor and former 007-antagonist, had a late beer with his female companion. Amalric was part of two festival entries: In Arnaud Desplechin’s first film set in the US, Jimmy P., he played the famous ethnologist Georges Devereux; later in the festival, he appeared as a theatre director in the new movie by Roman Polanski, Venus in Fur. As Amalric sat on the terrace of the little bistrot, enthralled in his discussion, he did not seem to have a lot of sympathy for autograph hunters. Maybe it was time for the festival to be over, so that the great love stories on screen would again leave enough space for the ones in our lives.