Anora is a vivacious Cannes victor and a fitting end to a radically romantic festival

Estimated read time 5 min read

This was a Cannes that turned out to be about love, and the Palme d’Or went to a love story that knocks down the whole idea of a Cinderella romance, while also, in some mysterious and delicate way, passionately believing in it.

Sean Baker’s Anora is superbly acted by its star, Mikey Madison, who plays an erotic dancer and escort in New York called Ani (short for Anora) who finds herself in an exclusive commercial relationship with the wastrel son of a Russian oligarch, called Ivan, played by Mark Eidelstein.

Her client becomes deliriously infatuated with smart, gorgeous Ani, proposes marriage in Vegas, seals the deal in an all-night wedding chapel and then there is the long and gruesome blowback from his Russian parents who despatch a number of unhappy and almost Pinteresque goons to clear up the mess somehow, to intimidate or pay off Ani — to annul the marriage and annul her existence.

A still from Anora.View image in fullscreen

Anora would be nothing without the intelligence and integrity of Mikey Madison’s portrayal. Her Ani is not a cynic or a gold digger: she never set out to entrap Ivan but chooses to believe his commitment, chooses to believe that this was a marriage that could work; she sees that he brings the financial capital while she brings the desirability capital. But this is the way of the world — and she loves him, while not seeing what we can see: the terrible inevitability of Ivan’s immaturity and pusillanimity, the slo-mo car crash of his looming betrayal.

In spite of everything, Ani is an idealist and a romantic; she transcends her ordeal of humiliation and violence. In his previous movies, Tangerine and Red Rocket, Sean Baker has also taken a very distinctive and original approach to sex work. Anora is his best yet.

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Mohammad Rasoulof with his award.View image in fullscreen

Many in Cannes will have been deeply disappointed that the Palme didn’t go to The Seed of the Sacred Fig, a fable of theocracy and misogyny by the Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof, who is on the run from a prison sentence in his homeland. I think it deserved more than a special award for best screenplay (not even the actual screenplay prize). It certainly had a marvellous script which starts as a downbeat, subtle political drama, bringing in paranoia and oppression — especially in the extraordinary scenes in which a judge’s wife and daughters are taken for an unofficial interrogation, while blindfolded. Then it climaxes in a visionary, symbolic shootout. Festival chief Thierry Frémaux has compared the final scene to something by Anthony Mann.

I had been tipping Jacques Audiard’s gangster trans musical Emilia Perez for the Palme (while being a bit agnostic about it) but its Jury Prize, along with a four-way split for the best actress prize, means that his film is handsomely rewarded.

Karla Sofia Gascon and Jacques Audiard.View image in fullscreen

It is very interesting to see Adriana Paz, Selena Gomez, Zoe Saldana and trans star Karla Sofía Gascón share this acting award. Did Greta Gerwig’s jury consider simply and boldly giving the prize to Karla Sofía Gascón — but then thought a collective award for the top female cast laid the bet off and sent a better message about cis/trans solidarity?

Payal Kapadia’s Indian drama All We Imagine As Light was my favourite film in the Cannes competition and to win the Grand Prix for her first fiction feature is an amazing achievement. This movie about the lives of three nurses in Mumbai combined realist drama with metaphysical mystery and did it with wonderful calm and assurance. Comparisons with Satyajit Ray are clichéd — but they are justified here.

Payal Kapadia, director of All We Imagine As Light.View image in fullscreen

Miguel Gomes’s prize for best director is another very well judged choice from the jury — an utterly unique creative presence in world cinema has brought off another complex, charming, beguiling film in Grand Tour, a Somerset Maugham-style tale of a British colonial functionary in Burma during the first world war, getting cold feet about his wedding and then running away across Asia, but pursued by his formidable fiancée — and the movie has its metatextual level in the docu-contemporary scenes in all its locations.

Coralie Fargeat’s The Substance, the screenplay winner, was the raucously enjoyable body-horror satire starring Demi Moore that absolutely tore up the festival, and it’s not surprising to see it win a prize — there had been dark mutterings about the film’s producers begging her to cut 20 minutes from the running time and Fargeat imperiously announcing: “No! I am a French auteur!” She has been vindicated today.

Demi Moore and director Coralie Fargeat on the red carpet for the closing ceremony.View image in fullscreen

“A star is born” is a phrase that should be used sparingly, but it’s justified here for the great Jesse Plemons, whose performances in Yorgos Lanthimos’s portmanteau film Kinds of Kindness got him the best actor prize. With his stolidity and vulnerability, he is evolving into a classic everyman player, a Hollywood tradition which goes back from John C Reilly to Ernest Borgnine.

So: some mixed feelings about the great Rasoulof not being rewarded more for his achievement, but Anora brought energy, excitement, romance and its own strange kind of euphoria to Cannes.


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