Boxer film wins prize at Cannes

Finnish director Juho Kuosmanen (above, third from left) with the cast of his film, The Happiest Day In The Life Of Olli Maki, (from left) Jarkko Lahti, Oona Airola and Eero Milonoff.
Finnish director Juho Kuosmanen (above, third from left) with the cast of his film, The Happiest Day In The Life Of Olli Maki, (from left) Jarkko Lahti, Oona Airola and Eero Milonoff.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Director Sean Penn with his children Hopper (left) and Dylan Frances at the screening of his work, The Last Face, in Cannes last Friday.
Director Sean Penn with his children Hopper (left) and Dylan Frances at the screening of his work, The Last Face, in Cannes last Friday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

While Juho Kuosmanen's film was tops in the Un Certain Regard competition, Sean Penn's directorial effort was booed

CANNES • A black-and-white film about a real-life Finnish boxer, The Happiest Day In The Life Of Olli Maki, won the top prize in Cannes' second-most important competition, Un Certain Regard, last Saturday.

The first feature by Finnish director Juho Kuosmanen tells the story of the build-up to a world featherweight championship title match in 1962, when Maki fought American Davey Moore. But he is distracted, falling in love, and ends up being beaten by Moore in the second round of the fight.

"I am totally surprised and happy," said Kuosmanen, who has worked in theatre and opera. "This is the first festival that I've been to."

Harmonium by Japanese director Koji Fukada, about a family shattered by a visitor who comes to live with them, won the runner-up jury prize.

A special prize went to the Dutch-Japanese animated film The Red Turtle by Michael Dudok De Wit.

American Matt Ross took the director's prize for Captain Fantastic, starring Viggo Mortensen as the head of an eccentric family of brilliant home-schooled children.

With the main awards due to be announced yesterday (today Singapore time), festivalgoers talked about whether German director Maren Ade's bittersweet father- daughter tale Toni Erdmann would win the top prize, the Palme d'Or, and if actor Sean Penn's directorial effort The Last Face was worse than Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn's The Neon Demon.

Refn left audiences slackjawed with his tale of cannibal fashion models set in Los Angeles. One critic shouted "Trash!" at the screen as the lights came up.

Penn may be the unfortunate winner of this dubious contest, from the insistent jeers that greeted The Last Face at its press screening.

Booing - lustily, rightly, wrongly - is a Cannes tradition.

Michelangelo Antonioni's 1960 art film landmark L'Avventura was famously heckled, as was Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976), which went on to win the Palme.

Penn is unlikely to receive any awards. The Last Face earned just 0.2 out of four stars in an international critics' poll by trade magazine Screen - the worst score in the survey's 13-year history.

The film centres on two relief-aid doctors (Penn's ex-girlfriend, Charlize Theron, and Javier Bardem) who fall in love in 2003 amid the genocidal horrors of Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The Hollywood Reporter's take - "a stunningly self-important but numbingly empty cocktail of romance and insulting refugee porn" - was one of the kinder verdicts.

Late in the main competition, a twisted rape thriller by Dutch director Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct, 1992) drew rave reviews.

Elle, the story of a powerful woman, played by French actress Isabelle Huppert, who is assaulted and embarks on a dangerous game with her attacker, was a surprise hit for its portrayal of a woman taking matters into her own hands.

Verhoeven said his film is not a traditional tale of revenge, but about a woman who "takes another route" and draws her rapist back into her life.

Huppert, who some critics said delivered the performance of her career, said it was the fact that her character "does not react in a predictable manner that creates the tension".

There is little to explain her motivations or true feelings towards her attacker and there is an intentional "ambiguity to everything", said Verhoeven.

The Guardian's Nigel Smith tweeted that the film was "perverse, hilarious and insanely pleasurable".

Variety said Elle could be a career high for the director of Showgirls (1995) and RoboCop (1987).

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 23, 2016, with the headline 'Boxer film wins prize at Cannes'. Print Edition | Subscribe