Julia Ducournau's “Titane,” a wild body-horror thriller featuring sex with a car and a surprisingly tender heart, won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, making Ducournau just the second female filmmaker to win the festival's top honor in its 74-year history.
The win Saturday was mistakenly announced by jury president Spike Lee at the top of the closing ceremony, broadcast in France on Canal+, unleashing a few moments of confusion. Ducournau, a French filmmaker, didn't come to the stage to accept the award until the formal announcement at the end of the ceremony. But the early hint didn't diminish from her emotional response.
“I'm sorry, I keep shaking my head,” said Decournau, catching her breath. “Is this real? I don't know why I'm speaking English right now because I'm French. This evening has been so perfect because it was not perfect.”
After several false starts, Lee implored Sharon Stone to make the Palme d'Or announcement, explaining: “She's not going to mess it up.” The problems started earlier when Lee was asked to say which prize would be awarded first. Instead, he announced the evening's final prize, as fellow juror Mati Diop plunged her head into her hands and others rushed to stop him.
Lee himself spent several moments with his head in his hands before apologizing profusely for taking a lot of the suspense out of the evening.
“I have no excuses,” Lee told reporters afterward. “I messed up. I'm a big sports fan. It's like the guy at the end of the game who misses the free throw or misses the kick.”
Decournau's win was a long-awaited triumph. The only previous female filmmaker to win Cannes' top honor – among the most prestigious awards in cinema – was Jane Campion for “The Piano” in 1993. In recent years, frustration at Cannes' gender parity has grown, including in 2018, when 82 women – including Agnes Varda, Cate Blanchett and Salma Hayek – protested gender inequality on the Cannes red carpet. Their number signified the movies by female directors selected to compete for the Palme d'Or – 82 compared with 1,645 films directed by men. This year, four out of 24 films up for the Palme were directed by women.
In “Titane,” Agathe Rousselle plays a serial killer who flees home. As a child, a car accident leaves her with a titanium plate in her head and a strange bond with automobiles. In possibly the most-talked-about scene at the festival, she's impregnated by a Cadillac. Lee called it a singular experience.
“That's genius and craziness together,” Lee said. “Those two things often match up.”
Cannes' closing ceremony capped 12 days of red-carpet premieres, regular COVID-19 testing for many attendees and the first major film festival to be held since the pandemic began in almost its usual form.