Bong Joon-ho has won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival for his black comic thriller Parasite.
The South Korean director is best known for previous films Okja and Snowpiercer, and earned rave reviews for his new film, which is about a poor family who insinuate themselves as servants into a much richer one. The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw described it as “a luxuriously watchable and satirical suspense drama [that] runs as purringly smooth as the Mercedes driven by the lead character”.
Bong is the first Korean director to have won the top award at Cannes, after last appearing in competition with Okja in 2017. He is the second Asian winner in successive years, after Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda triumphed in 2018 with Shoplifters.
Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood left empty-handed despite widespread critical acclaim, as did another heavyweight director Ken Loach, whose gig-economy drama Sorry We Missed You had made a major impact at the beginning of the festival.
The awards ceremony is always brisk, compared to the Oscars, with little time for political pronouncements from the podium. However Fahrenheit 9/11 director Michael Moore, as he presented the jury prize, hit out at Donald Trump, quoting painter Pablo Picasso. “Art is the lie that enables us to realise the truth,” he said, “Trump is the lie that enables us more lying.” Moore added: “In dark times, art is what has helped save humanity from the autocrats and idiots.”
The Grand Prix – considered the runners-up award – went to Senegalese director Mati Diop for Atlantique, a supernatural drama about African migrants. Diop had atttracted considerable attention before the festival as the first black woman to have a film selected for competition, and her film was a resounding critical success.
Antonio Banderas was a popular winner of the best actor award for Pedro Almodovar’s Pain and Glory; Banderas played a film-maker clearly modelled on Almodovar himself as he looks back over his career, in which memories of his mother (played by Penelope Cruz) loom large.
Emily Beecham – the British star of cult hit Daphne – won the best actress award for Little Joe, a sci-fi parable directed by Austrian film-maker Jessica Hausner. She is the first British actor to win in this category since 1997, when Kathy Burke triumphed for her performance in the Gary Oldman-directed Nil by Mouth.
Brazilian film Bacurau and French drama Les Misérables shared the third-place jury prize: the former was jointly directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelle and won plaudits for its anti Jair Bolsonaro message, while the latter, from first time feature director Ladj Ly, was much liked for its portrayal of tough French street life.
Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, the veteran Belgian film-makers who have previously won the Palme d’Or twice, took home the best director award for their radicalisation drama Young Ahmed, while Céline Sciamma, considered by many critics a strong contender for the Palme d’Or, was given best screenplay for her 18th-century-set lesbian romance Portrait of a Lady on Fire.
In a press conference after the awards ceremony, Bong thanked Cannes for the honour, saying: “It is the 100th anniversary of cinema in Korea this year. I think that Cannes has given Korean cinema a great gift.” He also added that he was pleased to hear that the jury had unanimously voted for Parasite to win, and “as I am a real fan of films it is another reason to be pleased”.
Bong deflected a suggestion that Parasite contained comments aimed at North Korea, saying that an impression of a North Korean TV anchor in the film was “just a small joke”. “If North Koreans see my film one day, I think they will laugh.”
In a press conference after the awards ceremony, Banderas joked that the win was “good news for his cardiologist” and thanked Almódovar, the director of Pain and Glory and with whom he has worked in seven previous films. “The award is for the character I played, and that is the alter-ego of Pedro Almódovar. There is something of him here.” Banderas added: “I thank him for the years, our movies together.”
Beecham appeared somewhat nonplussed at her win, for Jessica Hausner’s sci-fi parable Little Joe, saying she had been “overwhelmed” by the experience. “I had a kind of inkling this morning because I had a phone call from [Little Joe’s] producer. I had to put my stuff in a backpack and get on a plane.”
Full list of awards
Palme d’Or Parasite (dir Bong Joon-ho)
Grand Prix Atlantique (dir Mati Diop)
Best director Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Young Ahmed
Best actor Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory
Best actress Emily Beecham, Little Joe
Jury prize (ex aqueo) Les Misérables (dir Ladj Ly); Bacurau (dir Juliano Dornelles, Kleber Mendonça Filho)
Best screenplay Céline Sciamma, Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Special Mention Elia Suleiman, It Must Be Heaven
Camera d’Or Our Mothers (dir Cesar Diaz)