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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Japanese director wins coveted Palme d'Or

Veteran filmmaker Hizokazu Kore-eda's Shoplifters was one of the Cannes Film Festival's most acclaimed entries

Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-Eda poses on stage after he was awarded with the Palme d'Or for the film Shoplifters on May 19, 2018 during the closing ceremony of the 71st edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France. / AFP / Valery HACHE
Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-Eda poses on stage after he was awarded with the Palme d'Or for the film Shoplifters on May 19, 2018 during the closing ceremony of the 71st edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France. / AFP / Valery HACHE

Japanese director Hizokazu Kore-eda's tender portrait of a poor, improvised family Shoplifters has won the Palme d'Or, the top award at the Cannes Film Festival.

In the Cannes closing ceremony Saturday, the Cate Blanchett-led jury selected one of the festival's most acclaimed entries, one hailed as a modest masterpiece from a veteran filmmaker renowned for his delicate touch.

Shoplifters is about a small-time thief who takes a young girl home to his family; after seeing scars from abuse, they decide to keep her and raise her as their own.

While many speculated that the jury might award only the second Palme d'Or to a film directed by a woman, the most likely contender — Lebanese director Nadine Labaki's Capernaum — was instead given Cannes' jury prize. The film drew a rousing standing ovation but less enthusiastic critic reviews for its tale of a 12-year-old boy living in poverty who sues his parents for neglect.

Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman, the highest profile American film in competition at Cannes, was awarded the grand prize. The film ignited the French Riviera festival with its true tale of a black police detective who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan. Lee connected the film to modern day with real footage from last year's violent white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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The 12-day festival, the first since the downfall of film mogul Harvey Weinstein (for decades an annual fixture in Cannes), was shaken by debate over gender equality in the film industry and at Cannes.

In a striking rally, 82 women — the same number of female filmmakers to ever be selected to Cannes competition lineup — stood on the Palais red-carpet steps, as Cate Blanchett said, "a symbol of our determination to change and progress."

Some changes were swift. Just days later, with Blanchett's jury looking on, Cannes' Artistic Director Thierry Fremaux signed a pledge to make the festival's selection process more transparent and promised other measures to improve the festival's record of including female filmmakers. Three of this year's 21 films in competition were directed by women.

Polish filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski took best director for his follow-up to the Oscar-winning Ida, Cold War. Like Ida, Cold War is a black-and-white period film that delves into Polish history. It's about an up-and-down romance in post-war Poland and Paris, behind and outside the Soviet Iron Curtain.

Best actress went to Samal Yeslyamova for Kazakh writer-director Sergey Dvortsevoy's Ayka.

Taking best actor was Marcello Fonte for Matteo Garrone's Dogman, an award that was presented by fellow Italian actor Roberto Benigni.

The prize for best screenplay was split between Italian writer-director Alice Rohrwacher's time-warped fable about a poor farm boy in rural Italy Happy as Lazzaro and Nader Saeivar and Jafar Panahi's script for Three Faces.

Mr Panahi has been banned from travelling outside Iran since he was arrested for participating in "propaganda against the regime" in 2010 after supporting mass protests over the country's disputed 2009 election. Both Mr Panahi and Russia's Kirill Serebrennikov were unable to attend their Cannes premieres because both are barred from travelling out of their home countries. Seats were left empty for both, who received standing ovations in absentia.

A "Palme d'Or Speciale," a special award not previously awarded, was given to Jean-Luc Godard for "continually striving to define and refine what cinema can be," said Ms Blanchett. Mr Godard's Image Book is a film essay collage that contemplates the West's relationship to the Arab world. The 87-year-old French filmmaking legend called into his Cannes press conference via FaceTime.

The closing ceremony was held ahead of the premiere of Terry Gilliam's The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Famously victim to countless delays and debacles, the film took nearly 30 years for Gilliam to complete. And its Cannes premiere was still almost cancelled because of an injunction sought by producer Paolo Branco, who insisted the festival needed his permission. French courts last week denied Mr Branco's request, allowing the screening to move forward.

Last year's Palme d'Or winner was Ruben Ostlund's The Square, which went on to be nominated for best foreign language film at the Academy Awards.