Cannes 2024: Sean Baker’s screwball comedy Anora wins Palme d’Or

Kinds of Kindness, latest collaboration between Dublin’s Element Pictures and Yorgos Lanthimos, scoops award for Jesse Plemons’s performance

The 77th Cannes film festival has ended with the awarding of the Palme d’Or to Sean Baker’s universally popular screwball comedy Anora. Screening towards the middle of an event that had a slowish start, the profane, furiously paced film – a radical variation on Pretty Woman – produced shrieks of delight at its press screening and red-carpet premiere.

The film stars the electrifying Mikey Madison as a sex worker who marries a Russian client and is propelled into sickening mayhem through the streets of New York City. Baker, from New Jersey, seemed stunned to receive the award from George Lucas.

“Right now, as filmmakers, we have to fight to keep cinema alive,” he said. “This means making feature films intended for theatrical exhibition. We have 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 theatre is one of the great communal experiences.”

The 2024 event was characterised by an unusually large amount of domestic activity. Five features in the official selection were Irish productions or co-productions. One of those took a prize. Jesse Plemons’s performances in Kinds of Kindness, the latest collaboration between Dublin’s Element Pictures and Yorgos Lanthimos – arriving just over two months after the same team took four Oscars for Poor Things – won the American performer best actor here.

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Plemons plays three roles in Lanthimos’s typically off-centre triptych. He was not in the auditorium to take his prize.

Greta Gerwig’s jury managed to spread the love responsibly. There is usually some acclaimed film that wins nothing, but, in 2024, all the best received films went home with a gong. A “special award” went the way of Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof for his work on the vast political thriller The Seed of the Sacred Fig. Rasoulof, sentenced by the Islamic Republic to eight years in prison, a fine and a whipping, fled the country and gave an impassioned speech here.

“I would like to add a word and talk about the artists, the members of academic life, the film-makers who are all in Iranian jails,” he said from the podium. “I would like to talk of Toomaj Salehi who has been sentenced to death for his artistic creation.” Salehi is a rapper known for his protest songs.

The only film to win more than one prize was Jacques Audiard’s rambunctious Emilia Perez. It was daring to attempt a musical about a Mexican drug kingpin who elects to transition from male to female, but the film went down a storm. It ended up taking the Jury Prize (essentially the bronze medal) and the prize for best actress. Unusually that last award went to four actors: Adriana Paz, Zoe Saldaña, Karla Sofía Gascón, and Selena Gomez. Gascón, a transgender performer from Argentina, gave a triumphant oration.

“To separate them would be to undermine the magic of what they did together. Each of them is a standout. They’re transcendent,” the citation ran. It is not unheard of to give the prize to an ensemble. In 2006, six performers shared the best actress prize here for Pedro Almodóvar’s Volver.

The Grand Prix, which counts as runner up, went to Payal Kapadia’s All We Imagine as Light, a luminous, touching film about a nurse in Mumbai. “Thank you very much to the Cannes film festival for having us here,” the young director said. “Please don’t wait 30 years to have another Indian film.” It has, indeed, been that long since an Indian film played in competition.

One of the less likely sensations of the event was Coralie Fargeat’s wonderfully bloody body horror The Substance. Demi Moore plays an actress of a certain age who invites all hell when she signs up for a bizarre de-ageing process. A prize was likely, but few guessed it would take best screenplay. The gong will nonetheless be welcome.

Francis Ford Coppola, in a most unusual circumstance, joined George Lucas before he gave out the Palme d’Or. Coppola will have suspected that his indifferently received Megalopolis, which screened here in the first week, wasn’t going to take the prize, but this must surely be the first time a nominee here helped give out an award for which he was still technically competing.

Only at Cannes.

The award winners of the 77th Cannes film festival in full

  • Palme d’Or: Anora – directed by Sean Baker
  • Grand Prix: All We Imagine as Light – directed by Payal Kapadia
  • Jury Prize: Emilia Pérez – directed by Jacques Audiard
  • Best Director: Miguel Gomes – for Grand Tour
  • Special Award: Mohammad Rasoulof – for The Seed of the Sacred Fig
  • Best Performance by an Actor: Jesse Plemons in Kinds of Kindness
  • Best Performance by an Actress: Ensemble of Adriana Paz, Zoe Saldaña, Karla Sofía Gascón, and Selena Gomez in Emilia Pérez
  • Best Screenplay: The Substance, directed by Coralie Fargeat

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