Cannes: Sean Baker’s ‘Anora’ Wins Palme d’Or as ‘Emilia Pérez’ Takes Two Awards

After two weeks of nonstop cinema, the moment of truth finally arrived. The winners of the 77th Cannes Film Festival were announced at a gala ceremony on Saturday night.

The Palme d’Or, the fest’s top honor, went to Sean Baker’s sex worker screwball comedy Anora. A nervous and shaking Baker took the stage and thanked the jury, saying he still “couldn’t believe it.” Baker said winning Cannes’ top prize has been “my singular goal as a filmmaker for the past 30 years.”

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Baker also singled out Francis Ford Coppola and David Cronenberg, two veteran directors with films in Cannes competition this year, as major inspirations. Baker has come far, going from shooting his 2015 feature Tangerine on an iPhone5s to winning the Palme d’Or. He is the first American director to win the Palme since Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life in 2011.

Commenting on the jury’s decision, jury president Greta Gerwig said Anora had “something that reminded us of a classic, there were structures of Lubitsch and Howard Hawks. It did something truthful and unexpected.”

Anora is the fifth Neon film in a row to win Cannes’ top prize, following Anatomy of a Fall, Triangle of Sadness, Titane and Parasite. Neon hasn’t yet set a U.S. release date yet for the movie, but expect the distributor to launch it in early October, as they have for their previous Palme winners, a slot that has proven successful both for awards season and at the box office.

The Grand Prix, presented in a surprise appearance by Viola Davis, went to Payal Kapadia’s All We Imagine As Light, the first Indian film to play in Cannes competition since 1994.

Kapadia used her acceptance speech to express solidarity with the workers at the Cannes film festival who have been struggling for better working conditions and displayed her red “Sous les écrans la dèche” button, from the collective representing freelance workers at the festival. The workers have been protesting throughout this year’s festival. Kapadia said the values that drive her as a filmmaker are “solidarity and empathy” and singled out the “many people who work behind the scenes at the festival, they have done a magnificent job, it is thanks to them the festival exists” before holding up her Sous les écrans button.

Iranian political melodrama The Seed of the Sacred Fig from dissident director Mohammad Rasoulof, who fled Iran just weeks before the festival, received a special award from the jury.

The female stars of Jacques Audiard’s gender-transitioning Mexican crime musical Emilia Pérez (Adriana Paz, Zoe Saldaña, Selena Gomez and titular lead Karla Sofía Gascón) won best actress, with Gascón becoming the first trans actress to win in Cannes. Emilia Pérez also received the jury prize.

“Women together — that’s something we wanted to honor when we made this award,” said Gerwig. “Each of them is a standout, but together transcendent.”

Jesse Plemons won best actor for his role in Kinds of Kindness, Yorgos Lanthimos’ anthology film that re-teamed him with his Poor Things stars Emma Stone and Willem Dafoe. The Civil War and Power of the Dog actor plays three roles in Lanthimos’ bizarre surrealistic triptych: A submissive businessman, a grieving police officer and a bisexual cult member.

This has been a divisive Cannes and there was no clear frontrunner going into this year’s awards. Only a few movies — including All We Imagine as Light and The Seed of the Sacred Fig — have been universally embraced by critics.

Most have divided audiences. Coppola’s Megalopolis, starring Adam Driver, was both widely panned and selectively celebrated. Emilia Pérez was hailed by most as a masterpiece but left some critics cold.

Baker’s Anora was lauded by U.S. critics but dismissed by many in Europe as too mainstream for Cannes competition. Andrea Arnold’s Bird, a working-class melodrama with fantastical elements, similarly drew both praise and pans in almost equal measure. The Substance, from French director Coralie Fargeat and starring Demi Moore, Margaret Qualley and Dennis Quaid, was hailed as a masterpiece and dismissed as an unoriginal update on David Cronenberg-esque body horror. Cronenberg’s new film, The Shrouds, also in competition, didn’t so much divide critics as leave them underwhelmed, with most calling the movie a muted version of familiar themes from the veteran Canadian filmmaker.

Ali Abbasi’s Donald Trump movie The Apprentice, which looks at how the former U.S. president was shaped by his tutelage under cutthroat lawyer Roy Cohn (Sebastian Stan plays Trump, Jeremy Strong is Cohn), received the most press attention, particularly after Trump’s lawyers sent a cease and desist order to the filmmakers, trying to prevent the movie from being sold in the U.S. But Abbasi’s somewhat conventional biopic approach, and what some have seen as an overly sympathetic take on Trump’s early years, did not go over well with some critics.

One filmmaker everyone can agree on is George Lucas, who received an honorary Palme d’Or during the ceremony, for his contribution to cinema, from his first feature, THX-1138, which premiered in Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight section back in 1971, to the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises. Lucas was presented with the honorary Palme by his old friend Coppola, who he called “a big brother and mentor” upon receiving the award.

“I came here today to thank you all,” said Lucas. “I’m just a kid who grew up in the middle of California, surrounded by vineyards and made films in San Francisco with my friend Francis Coppola. So we spent our entire careers in parallel, and in San Francisco in particular. In fact, I’ve never made a Hollywood film as a director. So it’s a great honor to be here. I can tell you that.”

A full list of winners follows:

Palme d’Or

Sean Baker, Anora

Grand Prix

All We Imagine As Light

Jury Prize

Emilia Pérez

Best Director

Miguel Gomes, Grand Tour

Best Screenplay

Coralie Fargeat, The Substance

Best Actress

Adriana Paz, Zoe Saldaña, Karla Sofía Gascón, Selena Gomez, Emilia Pérez

Best Actor

Jesse Plemons, Kinds of Kindness

Honorary Palme d’Or

George Lucas

Special Award

Mohammad Rasoulof, The Seed of the Sacred Fig

Camera d’Or for Best First Film

Halfdan Ullman Tondel, Armand

Palme d’Or for Best Short Film

Nebojsa Slijepcevic, The Man Who Could Not Remain Silent

This story was originally published at 9:42 a.m. on May 25.

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