“Anora” Wins Palme d’Or at 2024 Cannes Film Festival

By J. Sperling Reich | May 25, 2024 3:10 pm PDT
2024 Cannes Film Festival Award Winners

With only his second film in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, Sean Baker won the Palme d’Or for “Anora” as the 77th annual event concluded on 25 May. The comedic-drama about a sex worker who marries the son of a Russian oligarch was one of the highlights at this year’s festival, receiving widespread critical acclaim. Baker’s film was acquired by NEON in November of 2023, making it the fifth year in a row one of the indie distributor’s titles has won the top prize in Cannes.

Reading from prepared remarks when accepting the award during the event’s closing ceremony, Baker wasn’t shy about letting audiences know where he hoped they would see his film. “This literally has been my singular goal as a filmmaker for the past 30 years. So I’m not really sure what I’m gonna do with the rest of my life, but I do know that I will continue to fight for cinema because right now, as filmmakers, we have to fight to keep cinema alive. This means making feature films intended for theatrical exhibition,” he said, generating applause. “The world has to be reminded that watching a film at home while scrolling through your phone and checking emails and half paying attention is just not the way, although some tech companies would like us to think so. Watching a film with others in a movie theater is one of the great communal experiences. We share laughter, sorrow, anger, fear, and, hopefully, have a catharsis with our friends and strangers, and that’s sacred. So I see the future of cinema is where it started: in a movie theater.”

The Grand Prix trophy, generally considered the runner-up prize in Cannes, was awarded to Indian filmmaker Payal Kapadia for “All We Imagine as Light.” This marks the first time in 30 years that an Indian film was selected by Cannes to appear in competition, a fact that Kapadia made sure to reference in her acceptance speech. “It was already a dream to be selected in competition and this was beyond my imagination,” she said. ““Please don’t wait another 30 years to have an Indian film.”

During a year in which the festival began under a cloud of rumored #MeToo accusations that never materialized, Kapadia’s comments about her movie’s characters and story were well received, “This film is about friendship between three very different women and oftentimes, women are pitted against each other. This is the way society is designed and that is unfortunate. But for me, friendship is a very important relationship. It can lead to greater solidarity, and inclusivity, and empathy towards each other. Which is why these are the values I feel we should strive for.”

Another big winner (and critical favorite) in Cannes this year was Jacques Audiard’s “Emilia Pérez.” It earned two major prizes – the Jury Prize and Best Actress for the film’s ensemble cast including Zoe Saldaña, Karla Sofía Gascón, Selena Gomez and Adriana Paz. The musical drama follows a young lawyer who helps the head of a Mexican drug cartel transition to a woman and then care for her children by pretending to be their aunt.

Many attendees a this year’s Cannes Film Festival thought “The Seed of the Sacred Fig” was destined to win the Palme d’Or since its Iranian filmmaker, Mohammad Rasoulof, fled his home country two weeks earlier after being sentenced to eight years in prison for making the movie. He was able to attend the premiere of his film in Cannes, walking the red carpet holding up photos of the imprisoned stars of his movie which centers, in part, around women’s rights in Iran. Rasoulof won a Special Prize for the movie.

Other winners included Jesse Plemons as Best Actor for the Yorgos Lanthimos triptych film “Kinds of Kindness”, Miguel Gomes as Best Director for “Grand Tour”, and Coralie Fargeat for Best Screenplay for the body horror satire “The Substance”.

This year’s prizes were chosen by a jury headed up by actress/writer/director Greta Gerwig, who said her colleauges, which included actresses Lily Gladstone and Eva Green as well as filmmakers Nadine Labaki and Hirokazu Kore-eda, among others, led with their hearts when awarding prizes. “It was an embarrassment of riches this year in terms of cinema,” she said, “We could have been talking into next week.”

The reason the jury chose “Anora” for the Palm d’Or is because, according to Gerwig, “There was something that reminded us of a classic, there were structures of Lubitsch and Howard Hawks. It did something truthful and unexpected.”

Over in the Un Certain Regard section of the festival, “Black Dog” from filmmaker Guan Hu won the top prize. The movie is set in China’s Gobi desert and tells the story of a ex-convict who returns home to help clear his town of stray dogs.

The Caméra d’Or award for best first feature was presented to Norway’s Halfdan Ullmann Tøndel for writing and directing “Armand” which stars Renate Reinsve who, in 2021, won the Best Actress prize in Cannes for “The Worst Person In The World.”

J. Sperling Reich