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Still of Quentin Dolmaire in My Golden Days
Still of Quentin Dolmaire in My Golden Daysvia screendaily.com

The best and worst of Cannes 2015

From #heelgate to 3D threesomes and the end of the McConaissance – here’s what raised brows at this year’s festival

From a Gaspar Noé premiere where the cast watched their own 3D porn scenes to accusations of sartorial oppression on the red carpet in stiletto gate, there were tidbits of lighthearted spice and more politicised scandal at Cannes that added to the grand, controversial mystery on everyone’s minds: which way the awards would swing on Sunday night. Here’s what was rousing curiosity and fevered debate on the Croisette.

UNEXPECTED DHEEPAN PALME D’OR WIN

Nobody quite knew what to expect with the unpredictable Coen brothers leading the main competition jury, and there was widespread surprise when French director Jacques Audiard’s Dheepan nabbed the top prize. The film, in which a trio of illegal Sri Lankan immigrants must integrate into a gang-run housing estate on the outskirts of Paris, is a gripping take on the narrow options of the marginalised that explodes into an out-and-out thriller at the end.

More urgently topical than stronger favourites such as stunningly shot wuxia epic The Assassin – which won Hou Hsiao-Hsien best director – Audiard’s film speaks very much to a Europe rocked by the Mediterranean migrant boat disaster and policy debates over asylum seekers. The runner-up Grand Prix was more expected, going to the ambitious and riskily innovative debut of Hungary’s Laszlo Nemes, Son of Saul, a hellish sensory assault that managed a new language in depicting the Holocaust.

US INDIE HORROR IS ALIVE, KICKING AND HAS GONE PUNK

Last year, David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows revitalised the indie horror with its fresh, innovative flair. The Cannes premiere of Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room, which got a long, rowdy standing ovation, again showed that American genre filmmaking doesn’t have to conform to a stale template. Fast, funny and whip-smart, with a sky-high body count, the film pits punks against skinheads in a gory siege, as an on-the-road band get more than they bargain for after witnessing a crime at an out-of-the-way gig. The Blue Ruin director – who was himself in a hardcore punk band in the 80s – says he was inspired by cult classic Repo Man.

A MALTESE POODLE TAKES THE PALM DOG

For some arbitrary light relief, critics bestow an award for the best performance by a pooch (sorry, cats) every year, and the rhinestone collar this year went to the Maltese terrier-poodle cross from three-part epic Arabian Nights by Miguel Gomes. This ambitious take on contemporary Portugal’s financial crisis infused with strange humour was a festival highlight. In one of the most beguiling and strange scenes of the second part, the irrepressibly cheery dog Dixie, who is shunted from owner to owner, comes face to face with its shadow spectre in a haunted tower block.

DAD BODS ARE IN

Vanity is good business in Cannes, as the masses of street hawkers selling selfie-sticks attest. But a much-remarked trend for ‘dad bods’ on screen suggests that, even here, men can rest easy in the pressure stakes for the photogenic celeb look. Colin Farrell sported a paunch as a depressed divorcee prone to singing Nick Cave ballads who is reclaimed by lust in The Lobster, while Joaquin Phoenix was less than svelte as a professor who has an affair with his student in Woody Allen’s latest, The Irrational Man. Gérard Depardieu was also flabby and shirtless alongside Isabelle Huppert in Guillaume Nicloux’s Valley of Love. More realistic acceptance of celebrity ageing? Well, maybe not if you ask women.

3D PORN CAN BE BORING

One of the fest’s hottest tickets was for the midnight premiere of notorious button-pusher Gaspar Noé’s 3D porn Love, promoted with saliva-heavy poster images that promised unbridled raunch. The only shocking thing about the movie was how sedate it was, with the penchant for extreme sensory experimentation of Noe’s prior films Irreversible and Enter the Void in short supply, and the douchebaggery of the main protagonist – a disdainful sex obsessive torn between two bedmates – played with a cardboard lack of charisma by Karl Glusman.

Read our full reaction here

GREEK SURREALISM SURVIVES ENGLISH TRANSLATION

There was much anticipation as to whether Yorgos Lanthimos would take the all-out weirdness of his Greek films Dogtooth and Alps into The Lobster. Elegantly designed and shot, and boasting a big-name cast that includes Colin Farrell, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Olivia Colman, John C Reilly and Rachel Weisz, it’s set in a sprawling hotel and its forested grounds in which single people are consigned to find a mate within 45 days or be turned into an animal of their choice. The deadpan absurdity and fascination with the way humans perform the roles expected of them is pure Lanthimos, and was rewarded with the competition’s third place Jury Prize.

THE FRENCH HAVE STILL GOT IT

It raised eyebrows that a film which many considered one of the festival’s best was not included in the main competition: Arnaud Desplechin’s tender, heart-searing My Golden Days. In the film, we follow Paul Dedalus (Quentin Dolmaire) over several years of his life via extended nostalgic flashback, from his first naive foray into political activism to his tumultuous romance with attention-seeking Esther (Lou Roy-Lecollinet). It was a reminder that some of the real treasure at Cannes is always to be found in the parallel sections – and that no-one does the angst and ache of teenage coming-of-age like the French.

CANNES GETS DRUNK ON HOLLYWOOD SPECTACLE

A sharp jolt into the day for the press at Cannes happened with Mad Max: Fury Road – George Miller’s equivalent to a 20-espresso shot to the arm – screening at 8.30am. The cheers erupting in the Grand Theatre Lumiere proved that the fest’s arthouse-inclined attendees are not above the blazing spectacle of a loud and demented Hollywood actioner, even before breakfast. As one-armed rebel Furiosa, Charlize Theron is the real star of the desert-chase film: a staunch sharp-shooter whose feminist cred has outraged internet trolls and who puts Max (Tom Hardy) in the shade.

HEELGATE SHOWS GLAMOUR IS POLITICAL

The biggest scandal of the fest came with word that women had been turned away from red carpet screenings due to not wearing heels. Cannes is known for its reverent traditionalism, but the media jumped on what many see as an outmoded and misogynistic take on glamour. It was an especially embarrassing slip for a festival which has been making a show of trumpeting greater gender equality this year, and which opened with a female-directed film for the first time since 1987 (Emmanuelle Bercot’s Standing Tall). After stars such as Emily Blunt weighed in calling for flats to be worn by all, festival head Thierry Frémaux claimed that such a rule never existed.

COULD THE MCCONAISSANCE BE OVER?

If there was a turkey award in the main competition, Sea of Trees would have won it by a safe margin. Loudly booed, the reaction was more or less universal: this was its frequently brilliant director Gus van Sant way off-compass. The sentimental tale, complete with woodwind score, of a grief-stricken American who makes a pilgrimage to a Japanese forest that is a popular spot for suicides is the first serious misfire for Matthew McConaughey after his reinvention as a serious character actor. But we’re confident it’s a minor snag for these major talents.