It is not often that the Jury at the Cannes Film Festival and critics – including me – agree on the best on show. But this year at the Festival's 71st edition, critics and jurors seemed to go hand in hand with their favourites, at least most of the way. Honestly, one of the most favoured movie among critics, Hirokazu Kore-eda's Shoplifters, took the Festival's top honours, Palme d'Or. This was the first Japanese film after Shohei Imamura's The Eel in 1997 to sway the Cannes jury.
Kore-eda has through his career talked about family and the relationships within (Nobody Knows, After the Storm), and Shoplifters zooms in on a group of people who pretend to be a family. In a country which takes enormous pride in honesty (I have seen people leaving their bicycles unlocked, have seen men and women pick up newspapers from an unattended roadside shop and dropping the correct change in the box kept there), this family, which lives on an elderly woman's pension, adds to its income by shoplifting.
Osamu Shibata ( Lily Franky) and his young son, Shota (Jyo Kairi), returning home after their shoplifting spree on a cold night find a little girl freezing on the sidewalk. The father and son decide to bring the little girl home for a hot meal. Osamu's wife is not too happy with this addition, but when she see burn marks on the child's arms, she changes her mind.
Everybody is happy, including the old lady with the little addition. The girl turns out to be another deft lifter. And everything looks hunky-dory till the police begin probing the little's girl's disappearance. But instead of handing her over to her family, the shoplifting group – which lives and behaves like one close-knit family – cuts her hair, changes her name to disguise her. It is not till the end that we are let into the true world of these petty thieves. Kore-eda throws all the revelations at us in a nice wrap-up to tell us how each one in the so-called family is related to the other.
Shoplifters is a marvellous work about how relationships are created and sustained in this fragile world of economic deprivation, hunger and uncertainty.
Cold War from Poland is a hauntingly beautiful love story from Pawel Pawlikowski – who won the Best Director award. Shot in black and white – which still holds a certain charm – the work is based on the helmer's parents, and is a story set against the trying Cold War days moving across Berlin, Paris, Yugoslavia and Poland.
A bittersweet romance – a “sad ballet of two lovers” as one reviewer put it – Cold War tells us the tale of pianist Wiktor (Tomaz Kot) and singer-dancer Zula (Joanna Kulig) as their passion flits across time from the late 1940s to the early 1960s breaking the formidable barrier of the Iron Curtain.
Cold War offers a huge palate: from Zula's admission that she used the knife on her father when he mistook her for her mother to spying on Wiktor even when he and Zula are lovers. A film of music, mirth, merry times and tragically sad climax. Incredible that a woman as strong as Zula and a man as steadfast in love as Wiktor should end their lives that way.
Equally tragic was Italian auteur Matteo Garrone's Dogman – coming from a country which celebrates the macho man. But Dogman's protagonist Marcello Fonte, playing Marcello, is a meek guy who walks with a stoop. He runs a dog parlour, called Dogman in a little village in southern Italy that resembles a bombed out World War II relic. True, Marcello handles the fiercest of canines, but looks like a Sad Sack and is constantly bullied by the village thug, Simone (Edoardo Pesce).
Marcello is divorced, dotes on his daughter and supplies drugs on the sly to make that extra buck in order to take his little girl on exotic vacations. Everything seems so idyllic till Simone crosses the line, forces Marcello to help him rob his next-door neighbour, a pawn-broker. The cops catch on, and Marcello, who has some kind of strange affection for the slimy Simone, does not rat and spends a year in jail. When he gets out and asks Simone for his share of the loot, the bully mocks at him. How much longer can Marcello play the victim?
The best part of Dogman is its unpredictability: I had imagined as the first images of the movie flew across the screen that the climax would play out in a certain way. I was wrong, and I was happy that I was wrong.
(Author, commentator and movie critic Gautaman Bhaskaran has covered the Cannes Film Festival for 29 years, and may be e-mailed at email@example.com)