Director Ruben Östlund, who already claimed the award in 2017 for The Square, has won the top prize for another outrageous satire
After what many have deemed to be a relatively middling Cannes as far as the competition selection was concerned, the winner of this year's prestigious Palme d'Or has landed with a slap of dismay and confusion. Ruben Östlund's super-satire Triangle of Sadness, a film which received generally mixed to warm reviews from critics but never really seemed like a proper contender for the festival's most revered prize, was deemed the winner. In my own lukewarm review, I said the film “attempts to navigate the choppy waters of wealth and privilege to often uproarious but frequently heavy-handed effect.” Good fun, but not exactly groundbreaking.
Of course, the announcement came as even more of a surprise since Östlund already claimed the Palme back in 2017 for his art world satire The Square, another divisive film met with mixed reactions at the time of its win. Cannes are known for their reluctance to give the Palme to the same director twice, especially in quick succession, but this means Östlund joins a very small group of people, including the Dardenne brothers, who have been recipients of the festival's highest honour on more than one occasion.
So what happened? For a while it seemed like the Palme was going to Lukas Dhont's Close, a film about the friendship between two teenage boys that moved the majority of the critics at the festival, but one I found to be manipulative and overcooked, verging on miserablism. Triangle, at least, was an undeniably entertaining film well worthy of debate, even though I think it represents the declining qualities of its director. There was a palpable energy in the press screening, and it ultimately came to feel like the only film of its kind during the festival run – a high-concept comedy that actually succeeded in creating a bit of a heady buzz outside of the theatre.
Actually, my own pick for the Palme this year would have been the Dardenne's Tori and Lokita, a deeply felt and hard-edged film about two young migrants trying to stay afloat in contemporary Europe, which our own Steph Green gave five stars and called “a bare and brutal slice of social realism which exposes the cruelty of the Belgian immigration system.” But the Dardennes already claimed the Palme on two previous occasions and it seemed unlikely they would manage a third time this year. They did, however, receive a “75th Anniversary Special Award” for their efforts.
Fortunately for its fans, Close ended up talking the Grand Prix (second place) prize, shared – oddly? unexpectedly? – with Clare Denis' mostly derided romantic drama Stars at Noon, which was neither romantic nor dramatic. It's difficult to understand what the jury saw in this chemistry-free foray, arguably the worst work yet from one of France's most revered directors, which I said “falls down in the one department you'd expect Denis to have a better handle on than most filmmakers: an ability to perceive and communicate human chemistry.”
And then there was the Jury Prize, like last year awarded to joint recipients. Firstly, Felix Van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch for their quiet friendship drama The Eight Mountains, well-liked by the majority of critics in Cannes, though not by the WLC team. I found it laborious and unrewarding in spite of some beautifully-captured scenery, while Steph Green wrote that “the resultant ennui-amid-nature plays out like diet Kelly Reichardt, with emotions often repetitive and impenetrable to a fault.” The prize was shared with Jerzy Skolimowski's EO, a playful riff on Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar that I didn't manage to see, though this felt like the one festival film that seemed to delight everyone who did.
You can read all of the winners from this year's Cannes film festival here.