Cannes film festival 2019: the prize-winners

Our man about town at the 72nd Cannes Film Festival reports back on the winners and losers at the closing ceremony.

28 May 2019

By Geoff Andrew

Cannes 2019: Palme d’Or winner Bong Joon Ho

With few exceptions, it’s impossible to predict with any accuracy which films will be given awards at the Cannes film festival, where there are usually more than enough movies deserving of one prize or another; only occasionally – as was the case in 1991 with Barton Fink, or in 2009 with The White Ribbon – does one film stand head-and-shoulders above the rest of the field, making it a fairly dead cert for the Palme d’Or. This year’s edition of the festival had no clear frontrunner, and only a handful of films almost universally dismissed as poor; instead, it had a sizeable clutch of movies deemed by most attendees as good-to-very-good, which made it particularly difficult to guess which films the jury might favour.

And at least many of us who sat through all the competition titles felt pretty happy with how the awards were divided up by the jury; the movies which carried off prizes largely coincided with those that had been given the most stars for the Screen Daily critics’ grid. Overall, the awards felt sensible – unlike, say, those given by George Miller’s jury in 2016, when quite a few titles admired by the critics went entirely unrewarded – and some have attributed that to the predominance of writer-directors on the 2019 jury; besides jury president Alejandro González Iñárritu, there were Kelly ReichardtAlice RohrwacherPawel PawlikowskiYorgos Lanthimos and Robin Campillo. Admittedly, actors Elle Fanning and Maimouna N’Diaye and graphic novelist Enki Bilal are renowned primarily for something other than directing, though the last two have also been known to get behind the camera on occasion. What is also perhaps significant is that most of the auteurs  on the jury have at one time or another made films of socio-political import. There was, accordingly, an expectation that a certain sensibility might well be discerned in the choices they would make when distributing the prizes.

Atlantics (2019)

And lo, it came to pass. When the awards were announced, it became clear not only that this jury had pretty good taste, but that it had been interested, to some degree, in recognising films that were socially or politically aware, or somehow concerned with pressing ethical issues. But it was also evident that the jury had been keen to acknowledge the achievements both of the women directors competing for the Palme d’or, and of those younger filmmakers who were either new to or relatively recent contestants in the main competition. Indeed, the winners were pleasingly ‘diverse’ on a number of fronts. Of the Cannes ‘old guard’, only Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne figured among the prizewinners; they were named Best Directors for Young Ahmed – a film of no little socio-political import, since it focuses, which typically unsentimental compassion, on a 13-year-old Belgian boy who has fallen under the influence of an imam preaching a puritanical, almost extremist version of Islam.

Some might point out that a film by another Cannes favourite was rewarded, since Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory won Antonio Banderas the Best Actor gong. The award was well deserved, though some may have rued the fact that the film’s writer-director didn’t receive anything; though Almodóvar’s movies have gleaned quite a few prizes over the years, he still hasn’t won the coveted Palme d’Or, an omission many would probably like to see remedied at some point. The Best Actress prize, meanwhile, went to Emily Beecham for her lead role in Jessica Hausner’s first film in the main competition, Little Joe, a fascinating fable about the politics of the workplace and motherhood; again, a very subtly nuanced performance meant that the award felt perfectly logical.

Pain and Glory (2019)

There were many rooting for Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire to win the top prize, but in the event it received the prize for Best Screenplay, a reflection, perhaps, of the slightly clumsy treatment of painting and music in an otherwise impressive celebration of lesbian love and female solidarity that features an all-women cast. Another of the four films in the main competition directed by women – Atlantique, the feature debut of French-Senegalese writer-director Mati Diop, which deals, among other things, with arranged marriage, exploitative employers and the perilous migration of the poor and dispossessed – was a popular winner of the Grand Prix (effectively the second prize), while the Jury Prize (the third prize) was divided between two movies which also dealt with injustice and vengeful violence. Ladj Ly’s first feature Les Misérables deals with policing, crime and punishment in the Parisian suburbs, while Bacurau, by Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles, is a cautionary tale set in the near future about a remote Brazilian village menaced by murderous exploitation. Though very different in their aesthetic – the former is essentially realist, the latter more generic (it eventually turns into a kind of western) – the films echo one another (and Atlantique, for that matter) in their tales of the oppressed deciding to fight back against their oppressors.

Parasite (2019)

As it happens, that dynamic is also to some degree at work in the movie awarded the Palme d’Or: Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite. Essentially, the film blends comedy and suspense as a family of four, impoverished and unemployed, begin working their way into the lives of a wealthy couple and their kids by applying for jobs for which they have no official qualifications but which they manage to perform anyway through a mixture of fraudulent lies and intuitive intelligence. Inevitably, there is a risk of their being found out, and eventually chaos breaks out in a series of meticulously staged set-pieces. Underlying all the darkly comic fun, however, there is a constantly nagging reminder that the society on view is one of massive inequality and servitude; and it is almost undoubtedly this combination of commentary and satire, even more than the polished cinematic technique on display, which led the jury to honour Bong’s film with Cannes’ top prize.

Complete list of winners:


Palme D’Or: Parasite, Bong Joon Ho

Grand Prix: Atlantique, Mati Diop

Director: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardennes, Young Ahmed

Actor: Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory

Actress: Emily Beecham, Little Joe

Jury Prize: Les Miserables, Ladj Ly and Bacurau, Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles

Screenplay: Céline Sciamma, Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Special Mention: It Must Be Heaven, Elia Suleiman

Other Prizes:

Camera D’Or: Our Mothers, Cesar Diaz

Short Films Palme D’Or: The Distance Between the Sky and Us, Vasilis Kekatos

Short Films Special Mention: Monster God, Agustina San Martin

Golden Eye Documentary Prize: For Sama

Ecumenical Jury Prize: A Hidden Life, Terrence Malick

Queer Palm: Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Céline Sciamma

Un Certain Regard:

Un Certain Regard Award: The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmão, Karim Aïnouz

Jury Prize: Fire Will Come, Oliver Laxe

Best Director: Kantemir Balagov, Beanpole

Best Performance: Chiara Mastroianni, On a Magical Night

Special Jury Prize: Albert Serra, Liberté

Special Jury Mention: Joan of Arc, Bruno Dumont

Coup de Coeur Award: A Brother’s Love, Monia Chokri; The Climb, Michael Angelo Covino

Director’s Fortnight:

Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers Prize: An Easy Girl, Rebecca Złotowski

Europa Cinemas Label: Alice and the Mayor, Nicolas Parisier

Illy Short Film Award: Stay Awake, Be Ready, An Pham Thien

Critics’ Week:

Nespresso Grand Prize: I Lost My Body, Jérémy Clapin

Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers Prize: César Diaz, Our Mothers

GAN Foundation Award for Distribution: The Jokers Films, French distributor for Vivarium by Lorcan Finnegan

Louis Roederer Foundation Rising Star Award: Ingvar E. Sigurosson, A White, White Day

Leitz Cine Discovery Prize for Short Film: She Runs, Qiu Yang

Canal Plus Award for Short Film: Ikki Illa Meint, Andrias Høgenni


First Prize: Mano a Mano, Louise Courvoisier

Second Prize: Hiéu, Richard Van

Third Prize: Ambience, Wisam Al Jafari; Duszycka (The Little Soul), Barbara Rupik


Competition: It Must Be Heaven, Elia Suleiman

Un Certain Regard: Beanpole, Kantemir Balagov

Director’s Fortnight/Critic’s Week: The Lighthouse, Robert Eggers

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