- Although Sandra Hüller failed to take home the Best Actress trophy at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, her two Official Competition movies bagged the festival’s top awards: The Palme d’Or went to Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall; the Grand Prix went to Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest.
- Other Cannes winners include Aki Kaurismäki’s Jury Prize recipient Fallen Leaves, Best Director Tran Anh Hung for The Pot au Feu, Best Actress Merve Dizdar for About Dry Grasses, Best Actor Koji Yakusho for Perfect Days, and Best Screenplay for Monster’s Yuji Sakamoto.
- Johnny Depp and Martin Scorsese were among the Hollywood names that caused a stir at Cannes 2023.
2023 Cannes Film Festival Awards: Bypassed for Best Actress, Sandra Hüller is the star of this year’s Palme d’Or and Grand Prix winners
Perhaps the biggest surprise among the 2023 Cannes Film Festival winners, announced at the Grand Théâtre Lumière on May 27, was the fact that Sandra Hüller failed to top the Best Actress category. Hüller, after all, received widespread praise for her work in two of the festival’s most acclaimed titles: Justine Triet’s psychological trial drama Anatomy of a Fall / Anatomie d’une chute and Jonathan Glazer’s political “family” drama The Zone of Interest.
In the former, Hüller plays a writer accused of murdering her husband (Samuel Theis); the couple’s blind son (Milo Machado Graner) and his border collie (Palme Dog winner Messi) are the two key witnesses in the case.
In the latter (based on the 2014 novel by Martin Amis, who died at age 73 on May 19), she is Hedwig Höss, wife of Auschwitz commander Rudolf Höss (played by Christian Friedel), whose “ordinary” home is located right next to the camp. (Rudolf Höss would be hanged in Poland in 1947; Hedwig died in 1989.)
Now, Hüller’s “snub” by the Ruben Östlund-led jury may be explained by the fact that her movies won Cannes’ top two awards: The Palme d’Or went to Anatomy of a Fall (thus making it ineligible in any other category); the Grand Prix (second prize) went to The Zone of Interest.
So one assumes the jury felt that was enough Hüller honor for one ceremony, even though the 45-year-old East Germany-born performer has never taken home Cannes’ Best Actress trophy. (She had better luck in Berlin back in 2006.)
Third female Palme d’Or winner and first to lambaste Macron’s pension reforms
Of note, Anatomy of a Fall is only the third Palme d’Or winner directed by a woman. Its predecessors were Jane Campion’s The Piano in 1993 and Julia Ducournau’s Titane in 2021. (Ducournau was a jury member this year.)
Justine Triet received her Palme d’Or from the hands of Hollywood legend Jane Fonda, who remarked that in 1963, her first year at Cannes, “There were no women directors competing at that time and it never even occurred to us that there was something wrong with that. We have come a long way, but we have a long way to go.” (Out of the 21 features in competition for the 2023 Palme d’Or, a record seven were directed by women.)
While Academy Award winners generally thank God and Mom, Mom and God, in her acceptance speech Triet addressed the countrywide protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s changes to the retirement age in France, affirming, “these protests were denied … repressed in a shocking way.” (Including at the Cannes Film Festival – the same place where, back in 1968, everything was shut down in solidarity with France’s massive student protests.)
Triet went on to lambaste the “commercialization of culture this neoliberal government supports [and that] is in the process of breaking France’s cultural exception,” and dedicated her trophy “to all the young women directors and all the young male directors and all those who cannot manage to shoot films today,” adding that “we must give them the space I occupied 15 years ago in a less hostile world where it was still possible to make mistakes and start again.”
Unsurprisingly, French Culture Minister Rima Abdul Malak declared herself “flabbergasted” by “such an unjust speech. Her film wouldn’t have seen the light of day without our French film financing model, which allows for a diversity that is unique in the world. Let’s not forget that.” (Important detail: Abdul Malak chose not to address Triet’s assertions about new [French] filmmakers struggling in an increasingly arid cultural and financial environment.)
Eurocentric Palme d’Or
Speaking of “diversity”…
Since the year 2000, the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or has gone to no less than 14 French productions and co-productions.
During that time period, a mere four non-European countries have won Cannes’ top award: The United States (Elephant, 2003; Fahrenheit 9/11, 2004; The Tree of Life, 2011), Thailand (the co-production Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, 2010), South Korea (Shoplifters, 2018), and Japan (Parasite, 2019).
Or five countries, if you choose to include Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Anatolia-set Turkish-French-German co-production Winter Sleep. (Just bear in mind that Bilge Ceylan was born in Istanbul, Europe’s largest – or second largest, depending on the source – urban agglomeration.)
Acting winners Merve Dizdar and Koji Yakusho
And speaking of Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Cannes 2023’s Best Actress was Turkish stage, television, and film performer Merve Dizdar, who plays a rural teacher in the filmmaker’s eastern Anatolia-set drama About Dry Grasses / Kuru Otlar Üstüne, starring Deniz Celiloglu as an embittered teacher who dreams of a post in Istanbul (and who becomes enmeshed in a sexual misconduct accusation).
After telling the Grand Théâtre Lumière crowd that she understands “what it’s like to be a woman in this area of the country,” Cannes’ first Turkish Best Actress dedicated her award to “all the women who are fighting to exist and overcome difficulties in this world and to retain hope.” (Less than 24 hours after Dizdar’s acceptance speech, a majority of Turkish voters reelected fascist Recep Erdogan as their president.)
Cannes’ other thespian winner was veteran Koji Yakusho (Shall We Dance?, Memoirs of a Geisha), named Best Actor for Wim Wenders’ Perfect Days, in which he portrays a middle-aged Tokyo denizen whose job is to clean public toilets and whose pastime revolves around his love of trees. (The only other Japanese actor to top that category was Yuya Yagira for Nobody Knows in 2004.)
More Cannes winners: Aki Kaurismäki & Tran Anh Hung
Cannes’ Jury Prize (third prize) went to Aki Kaurismäki’s Helsinki-set Fallen Leaves / Kuolleet lehdet, in which supermarket worker Alma Pöysti and heavy-drinking construction worker Jussi Vatanen find romance while the war in Ukraine rages in the background via media reports. This was Kaurismäki’s second Official Competition win; his The Man Without a Past was the Grand Prix recipient at the 2002 festival.
Tran Anh Hung, whose The Scent of Green Papaya was the Golden Camera winner back in 1993, was named Best Director for the 19th-century-set The Pot au Feu / La passion de Dodin Bouffant, starring romantic gourmands Juliette Binoche and Benoît Magimel in what sounds like something far closer to Babette’s Feast and Like Water for Chocolate (and Julie & Julia) than to The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover – which bodes well for its (feel-good) awards season prospects in France and elsewhere.
The Best Screenplay category winner was Yuji Sakamoto* for Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Monster / Kaibutsu, which has been described as a Rashomon-like tale about alleged sexual misconduct at a Japanese school. Monster was also the winner of this year’s Queer Palm, which, despite its name, is supposed to be an honor for, not a putdown of, movies featuring gays, bisexuals, etc.
Among the potential Cannes favorites completely shut out were Alice Rohrwacher’s The Chimera / La chimera, starring Josh O’Connor; Todd Haynes’ May December, starring Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore; Nanni Moretti’s The Future Sun / Il sol dell’avvenire, starring Moretti and Mathieu Amalric; and veteran Marco Bellocchio’s Kidnapped / Rapito.
Besides Swedish filmmaker and two-time Palme d’Or winner Ruben Östlund (The Square, 2017; Triangle of Sadness, 2022), Cannes’ Official Competition jury consisted of U.S. actor Paul Dano, French filmmaker Julia Ducournau, U.S. actress and director Brie Larson, French actor Denis Ménochet, British-Zambian screenwriter and director Rungano Nyoni, Afghan author Atiq Rahimi, Argentinian screenwriter and director Damián Szifrón, and Moroccan filmmaker Maryam Touzani.
Golden Eye & Golden Camera awards
The Golden Eye for Best Documentary was handed to two titles directed by women: Kaouther Ben Hania’s Four Daughters / Les filles d’Olfa, about how a Tunisian woman copes after two of her daughters flee home to join ISIS, and Asmae El Moudir’s Casablanca-set The Mother of All Lies / Kadib Abyad, in which the filmmaker delves into long-buried family secrets.
The top winner at Cannes’ Un Certain Regard sidebar was Molly Manning Walker’s directorial feature debut How to Have Sex, about three British female teenagers having a rowdy summer in Crete, while the Golden Camera for Best First Feature was given to Thien An Pham’s Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell / Bên trong vo kén vàng, in which a death in the family forces a man (Le Phong Vu) to undertake a journey into his past.
Lastly, animator Flóra Anna Buda’s 27, about a 27-year-old woman (Natasa Stork) unsure of her place in life, received the Palme d’Or for Best Short Film.
* No relation to the recently deceased Ryuichi Sakamoto, who composed Monster’s music.
Honorees Michael Douglas & Harrison Ford + Roger Corman
Also at Cannes 2023, veteran U.S. actor Michael Douglas, whose big-screen career dates back to the mid-1960s, was the originally announced Honorary Palme d’Or recipient. Douglas was in attendance at the special ceremony held on opening night. (Regarding the 1992 blockbuster Basic Instinct, he told an interviewer, “Audiences in France loved the film. I imagine every French woman took her husband to see it as a warning shot!”)
Another U.S. actor, Harrison Ford, at the festival to promote James Mangold’s critically derided (update: and commercially underperforming) Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, was given an impromptu Honorary Palme d’Or. “Indescribable,” is how the Raiders of the Lost Ark and Witness actor described his personal reception at Cannes. “I can’t even tell you. The welcome is unimaginable and it makes me feel good.”
Likely also feeling good was 97-year-old veteran director-producer Roger Corman (The Raven, The Masque of Red Death), who received a special tribute from Quentin Tarantino while the two were presenting the Grand Prix. Corman made a point of comparing his filmmaking style – “uninhibited, full of excess and fun” – to the Cannes festival itself.
Johnny Depp & Martin Scorsese cause a stir
Two other Hollywood names, Johnny Depp and Martin Scorsese, didn’t receive any official Cannes honors or awards ceremony tributes, but the star of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and the director of the 1976 Palme d’Or winner Taxi Driver did cause a bit of a stir at the festival.
Depp’s appearance as Louis XV in Maïwenn’s historical drama Jeanne du Barry – and the long standing ovation that greeted the film’s cast – outraged those who believe he should forever be an outcast after his recent defamation lawsuit against ex-wife Amber Heard.
Martin Scorsese’s commotion was less controversial: His period crime drama Killers of the Flower Moon, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, was Cannes 2023’s most eagerly anticipated cinematic event, which resulted in a breathlessly reported 1,385-minute (or whereabouts) standing ovation.
And that’s a wrap.
Immediately below is the list of this year’s Cannes Film Festival winners.
List of 2023 Cannes Film Festival winners
Palme d’Or: Anatomy of a Fall (France)
Grand Prix: The Zone of Interest (United Kingdom | Poland | United States)
Jury Prize: Fallen Leaves (Finland | Germany)
Best Director: Tran Anh Hung, The Pot au Feu (France)
Best Actress: Merve Dizdar, About Dry Grasses (Turkey | France | Germany | Sweden)
Best Actor: Koji Yakusho, Perfect Days (Japan | Germany)
Best Screenplay: Yuji Sakamoto, Monster (Japan)
Palme d’Or for Best Short: 27 (Hungary | France)
Short Film Special Mention: Intrusion / Fár, dir.: Gunnur Martinsdóttir Schlüter (Iceland)
Golden Eye (ex aequo) for Best Documentary: Four Daughters (Tunisia | France | Saudi Arabia | Germany) & The Mother of All Lies (Morocco | Egypt | Saudi Arabia | Qatar)
Queer Palm: Monster
Un Certain Regard
Best Film: How to Have Sex (United Kingdom | Greece)
Jury Prize: Hounds / Les meutes (Morocco | France | Belgium | Qatar | Saudi Arabia)
Directing Prize: Asmae El Moudir, The Mother of All Lies
Ensemble Prize: The Buriti Flower / Crowrã, dir.: João Salaviza & Renée Nader Messora (Portugal | Brazil)
New Voice Prize: Omen / Augure, dir.: Baloji (Democratic Republic of Congo | Belgium | The Netherlands | Germany | South Africa)
Freedom Prize: Goodbye Julia / Wadaean Julia, dir.: Mohamed Kordofani (Sudan | Sweden | Germany | Saudi Arabia | France | Egypt)
Golden Camera / Caméra d’Or
Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Vietnam | France | Singapore | Spain)
(Screened in the Directors’ Fortnight sidebar)
Europa Cinemas Label: Creatura, dir.: Elena Martín (Spain)
Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers Prize: A Prince / Un prince, dir.: Pierre Creton (France)
Grand Prize: Tiger Stripes, dir.: Amanda Nell Eu (Malaysia | Taiwan | France | Germany | The Netherlands | Singapore | Qatar | Indonesia)
French Touch Prize: It’s Raining in the House / Il pleut dans la maison, dir.: Paloma Sermon-Daï (Belgium | France)
GAN Foundation Award for Distribution: Pyramide Films, Inshallah a Boy (Jordan | France | Saudi Arabia | Qatar)
Louis Roederer Foundation Rising Star Award: Jovan Ginic, Lost Country (France | Serbia | Croatia | Luxembourg)
Sound and Images Awards
Higher Technical Commissions’s Artist-Technician Prize: Johnnie Burn, sound designer and chief sound editor on The Zone of Interest.
Higher Technical Commissions’s Young Technician Prize: Anne-Sophie Delseries, head set designer on Marguerite’s Theorem / Le théorème de Marguerite (France | Switzerland)
“Cannes Film Festival 2023 Awards: Sandra Hüller Victorious – Sort of” notes
Cannes Film Festival website.
Sandra Hüller Anatomy of a Fall movie image: Les Films Pelléas | Les Films de Pierre | Le Pacte.
Alma Pöysti and Jussi Vatanen Fallen Leaves movie image: Sputnik | B-Plan Distribution.
Maïwenn and Johnny Depp Jeanne du Barry movie image: Le Pacte.
“Cannes Film Festival 2023 Awards: Sandra Hüller Victorious – Sort of” last updated in July 2023.