CANNES – There was truly only one major shock when the winners of the 70th Cannes Film Festival competition were announced Sunday evening, and it was the fact Ruben Östlund‘s “The Square” won the Palme d’Or over Robin Campillo‘s “120 Beats Per Minute.” The latter centers on the Paris chapter of ACT UP, a radical organization, originally founded in New York City, that fought drug companies and the French government to move faster with releasing drugs that could treat HIV-infected patients. By the end of the festival, it was almost a given that it would take the top prize, but the jury instead threw festival-goers a curve by selecting Östlund’s follow-up to “Force Majeure.”
Pedro Almodóvar, the 67-year-old president of the jury, has been an out, gay filmmaker for almost his entire career. That made the fact that “120 BPM” earned the second prize, the Grand Prix, somewhat of a surprise. Almodóvar, as always, was brutally honest when asked why it had not won the top prize.
“I loved the movie. I was touched since the very beginning till absolutely the end and after the end, but I don’t know,” Almodóvar says. “Tomorrow we will read in the papers what the rest of the audience and journalist[s] think. This is a very democratic jury. I am the ninth part of this jury. This is the only thing I can tell you. The majority of us loved the movie of Campillo. I’m sure it will be very successful everywhere. [It’s about something] that happened here not so many years ago that belongs to the LGBT; it was about justice, and Campillo really told a story with real heroes that saved many lives.”
At that moment, Almodóvar choked up and, fighting back tears, continued, “We all agree with that.”
As for why Östlund’s drama took the Palme, jury member Agnès Jaoui noted, “It’s clever, it’s witty, it’s funny and it deals with questions so important for all of us. How do we help all the poor people all around the world? How do we deal with media? The importance of being shocking to get the attention of the media. It’s very well-acted. The main actor, [Claes Bang,] I fell in love and it’s really brilliant.”
Almodóvar spoke about how he views “The Square” in today’s fractured, politically charged global environment.
“It’s about the dictatorship of being politically correct,” Almodóvar says. “That is terrible and awful and more horrifying than any other dictatorship. Fortunately, in such a serious subject, [it also has such an] incredible imagination. The actor [Bang,] we talk about giving an award to him, he’s amazing. Everyone in the movie is. I think it’s a movie that I like to see again because it’s so rich. There are so many different things. The sanctity of these people to be politically correct and they live in a kind of hell because of that. And it is [written] and directed with a master hand.”
Many critics and attendees disagreed with the decision, but that’s often the case with the Cannes Film Festival’s jury prizes. It’s often the reason people across the world become so passionate about the winners even if they haven’t seen the film. And as in most cases, history will be the true judge on how both films are received.