Sean Baker's "Anora" wins top honor at Cannes Film Festival

Sean Baker’s “Anora,” a comic but devastating Brooklyn odyssey about a sex worker who marries the son of a wealthy Russian oligarch, has won the Cannes Film Festival’s top award, the Palme d’Or.

Baker accepted the prize with his movie’s star, Mikey Madison, watching in the audience at the Cannes closing ceremony Saturday. The win for “Anora” marks a new high point for Baker, the director of “The Florida Project.” It’s also, remarkably, the fifth straight Palme d’Or won by indie distributor Neon, following “Parasite,” “Titane,” “Triangle of Sadness” and last year’s winner, “Anatomy of a Fall.”

“This, literally, has been my singular goal as a filmmaker for the past 30 years, so I’m not really sure what I’m going to do with the rest of my life,” said Baker, laughing.

US director Sean Baker poses with the trophy during a photocall after he won the Palme d’Or for the film “Anora” during the Closing Ceremony at the 77th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes on May 25, 2024.

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But Baker, the first American filmmaker to win the Palme since Terrence Mallick in 2012 with “The Tree of Life,” quickly answered that his ambition would remain to “fight to keep cinema alive.” The 53-year-old director said the world needed reminding that “watching a film at home while scrolling through your phone, answering emails and half paying attention is just not the way, although some tech companies would like us to think so.

“So I say the future of cinema is where it started: in a movie theater,” said Baker.

While “Anora” was arguably the most acclaimed film of the festival, its win was a slight surprise. Many expected either the gentle Indian drama “All We Imagine As Light” or the Iranian film “The Seed of the Sacred Fig” to win. Both of those films also took home prizes.

It wasn’t the only jolt of the closing ceremony, though. Before George Lucas was given an honorary Palme d’Or, his old friend and sometimes collaborator Francis Ford Coppola appeared to present it to him, reuniting two of the most pivotal figures of the last half-century of American moviemaking.

Closing Ceremony Red Carpet - The 77th Annual Cannes Film Festival
George Lucas and Mellody Hobson attend the Red Carpet of the closing ceremony at the 77th annual Cannes Film Festival at Palais des Festivals on May 25, 2024 in Cannes, France.

Stephane Cardinale – Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images

“All We Imagine As Light,” about sisterhood in modern Mumbai, won the Grand Prix, Cannes’ second-highest honor. Payal Kapadia’s second feature was the first Indian in competition at Cannes in 30 years.

The jury awarded a special prize to Mohammad Rasoulof’s “The Seed of the Sacred Fig,” a drama made secretly in Iran. Days ahead of the film’s premiere, Rasoulof, facing an eight-year prison sentence, fled Iran on foot. His film, which includes real footage from the 2022-2023 demonstrations in Iran, channels Iranian oppression into a family drama. The Cannes crowd met an emotional Rasoulof with a lengthy standing ovation.

Coralie Fargeat’s body horror film “The Substance,” starring Demi Moore as a Hollywood actress who goes to gory extremes to remain youthful, won for best screenplay.

“I really believe that movies can change the world, so I hope this movie will be a little stone to build new foundations,” said Fargeat. “I really think we need a revolution and I don’t think it has really started yet.”

Some thought Moore might take best actress but that award instead went to an ensemble of actors: Karla Sofía Gascón, Zoe Saldaña, Selena Gomez and Adriana Paz for Jacques Audiard’s “Emilia Perez,” a Spanish-language musical about a Mexican drug lord who transitions to a woman. Gascón, who accepted the award, is the first trans actor to win a major prize at Cannes.

Spanish actress Karla Sofia Gascon poses after she and the rest of the female cast won the Best Actress Prize for her part in the film “Emilia Perez” during the closing ceremony at the 77th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, on May 25, 2024.

SAMEER AL-DOUMY/AFP via Getty Images

“Emilia Perez” also won Cannes’ jury prize, giving a rare two awards at a festival where prizes are usually spread around.

Best actor went to Jesse Plemons for Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Kinds of Kindness.” In the film, three stories are told with largely the same company of actors. Plemons, a standout in several chapters, didn’t attend the closing ceremony.

Portuguese director Miguel Gomes won best director for his “Grand Tour,” an Asian odyssey in which a man flees his fiancée from Rangoon in 1917.

“Sometimes I get lucky,” shrugged Gomes.

The Camera d’Or, the prize for best first feature across all of Cannes official selections, went to Halfdan Ullmann Tøndel for “Armand,” starring “The Worst Person in the World” star Renate Reinsve. Tøndel is the grandson of Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman and Norwegian actor Liv Ullman.

During the brief awards ceremony, Lucas was to be given an honorary Palme d’Or. During the festival, Cannes gave the same tribute to Meryl Streep and the Japanese anime factory Studio Ghibli.

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