Cannes Film Fest 2017: Ostlund’s The Square Wins Palme d’Or

The 70th anniversary Cannes Film Fest ended with an unconventional awards ceremony in which Pedro Almodóvar and his jury bestowed a couple unexpected prizes.

The jury gave a special award to Nicole Kidman, who appeared in four projects in this year’s official selection, including competition titles “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” and “The Beguiled,” season two of “Top of the Lake” and special screening “How to Talk to Girls at Parties.”

The Palme d’Or went to Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s cutting art-world (and real-world) satire “The Square,” which dares to bring aspects of conceptual and performance art into the sphere of cinema. The choice came as a surprise, if only because the masterful, 142-minute film has divided audiences.

Östlund’s follow-up to Un Certain Regard winner “Force Majeure,” “The Square” centers on a posh museum curator who is perfectly comfortable wining and dining wealthy donors, but must step outside his comfort zone after having his pockets picked on the way to work.

After the show, Almodóvar explained their choice: “It’s contemporary, it’s about the dictatorship of being politically correct, and how they live in a paranormal hell because of that.”

The Grand Prix went to “BPM (Beats Per Minute),” director Robin Campillo’s wrenching, deeply humanistic look at the early-’90s war on AIDS, set on the front lines of the French gay-rights movement, in which the members of ACT UP-Paris take on pharmaceutical companies, politicians and bureaucratic institutions slow to acknowledge the devastating toll of the disease.

“BPM” marks French director Campillo’s first time in competition, although he had a hand in the creation of a previous Palme d’Or winner as co-writer of Laurent Cantet’s “The Class.”

Best director went to Sofia Coppola for “The Beguiled,” a fresh adaptation of Thomas Cullinan’s female-driven Civil War novel, about a wounded Union soldier who takes refuge in a Virginia girls’ school.

In the press conference following the awards, jury member (and French multi-hyphenate) Agnès Jaoui expressed her disappointment at how few films in competition passed “the Bechdel test” — which asks whether at least a film contains two or more female characters who talk to one another about something other than a man.

In third place, the Jury Prize went to “Loveless” by Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev, who uses the search for a missing child to take a cold, hard look at all that is rotten in modern-day Russia — and the world.

Diane Kruger earned best actress for her role in Fatih Akin’s “In the Fade,” a tour-de-force performance in which the German-born actress tackled her first starring role in her native language. In accepting the prize, she acknowledged anyone who, like her character, “has survived an act of terrorism and who is trying to pick up the pieces and go on living after having lost everything. Please know that you are not forgotten.”

Joaquin Phoenix accepted best actor honors for “You Were Never Really Here,” appearing on stage in a pair of Converse sneakers.  The actor transformed himself for the role, assuming the look of a grizzled war veteran.