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Anora, a comic yet devastating film about a sex worker’s marriage, wins Palme d’Or at Cannes

Sean Baker’s Anora, a comic but devastating Brooklyn odyssey about a sex worker who marries the son of a wealthy Russian oligarch, has won the Cannes Film Festival’s top award, the Palme d’Or.

Baker accepted the prize with his movie’s star, Mikey Madison, watching in the audience at the festival’s closing ceremony on Saturday.

The win for Anora marks a new high point for Baker, the director of The Florida Project.

It’s also, remarkably, the fifth-straight Palme d’Or won by indie distributor Neon, following ParasiteTitane, Triangle of Sadness and last year’s winner, Anatomy of a Fall.

“I don’t really know what’s happening right now,” Baker said.

Director Sean Baker, Palme d’Or award winner for the film Anora, speaks during the closing ceremony of the 77th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France, on Saturday. (Stephane Mahe/Reuters)

While Anora was arguably the most acclaimed film of the festival, its win was a slight surprise. Many expected either the gentle Indian drama All We Imagine As Light or the Iranian film The Seed of the Sacred Fig to win. Both of those films also took home prizes.

It wasn’t the only surprise of the closing ceremony, though. Before George Lucas was given an honorary Palme d’Or, his old friend and sometimes collaborator Francis Ford Coppola appeared to present it to him, reuniting two of the most pivotal figures of the last half-century of American movie-making.

All We Imagine As Light, about sisterhood in modern Mumbai, won the Grand Prix, the second-highest honour at Cannes. Payal Kapadia’s second feature was the first Indian film in competition at Cannes in 30 years.

The jury awarded a special prize to Mohammad Rasoulof’s The Seed of the Sacred Fig, a drama made secretly in Iran. Days ahead of the film’s premiere, Rasoulof, facing an eight-year prison sentence, fled Iran on foot. His film, which includes real footage from the 2022-23 demonstrations in Iran, channels Iranian oppression into a family drama. The Cannes crowd met an emotional Rasoulof with a lengthy standing ovation.

A person crosses their arms over their chest as they react emotionally.
Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof reacts while accepting a special prize for his film The Seed of the Sacred Fig, made secretly in Iran. Rasoulof, facing an eight-year prison sentence, fled Iran on foot earlier this month. (Andreea Alexandru/Invision/The Associated Press)

Coralie Fargeat’s body horror film The Substance, starring Demi Moore as a Hollywood actress who goes to gory extremes to remain youthful, won for best screenplay.

“I really believe that movies can change the world, so I hope this movie will be a little stone to build new foundations,” Fargeat said. “I really think we need a revolution, and I don’t think it has really started yet.”

Some thought Moore might take best actress, but that award instead went to an ensemble of actors: Karla Sofia Gascon, Zoe Saldana, Selena Gomez and Adriana Paz for Jacques Audiard’s Emilia Perez, a Spanish-language musical about a Mexican drug lord who transitions to a woman. Gascon, who accepted the award, is the first trans actor to win a major prize at Cannes.

Two people embrace as awards are displayed on a table.
Emilia Perez director Jacques Audiard, left, and actor Karla Sofia Gascon pose with their awards at Cannes. Gascon is the first trans actor to win a major prize at the festival. (Sarah Meyssonnier/Reuters)

Emilia Perez also won Cannes’s jury prize, giving a rare two awards at a festival where prizes are usually spread around.

Best actor went to Jesse Plemons for Yorgos Lanthimos’s Kinds of Kindness. In the film, three stories are told with largely the same company of actors. Plemons, a standout in several chapters, didn’t attend the closing ceremony.

Portuguese director Miguel Gomes won best director for his Grand Tour, an Asian odyssey in which a man flees his fiancée from Rangoon in 1917.

An overhead shot shows a person holding an award as another looks on.
Portuguese director Miguel Gomes, left, is shown after being presented with the best director prize for his film Grand Tour by German director Wim Wenders, right. (Antonin Thuillier/AFP/Getty Images)

“Sometimes I get lucky,” shrugged Gomes.

The Caméra d’Or, the prize for best first feature across all of the festival’s official selections, went to Halfdan Ullmann Tøndel for Armand, starring The Worst Person in the World star Renate Reinsve. Tøndel is the grandson of Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman and Norwegian actor Liv Ullmann.

George Lucas was given the honorary Palme d’Or during the brief awards ceremony. During the festival, Cannes gave the same tribute to actor Meryl Streep and the Japanese anime factory Studio Ghibli.

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