Sean Baker’s “Anora” wins Palme d’Or, the Cannes Film Festival’s top honor

Sean Baker‘s “Anora,” a humorous yet heartbreaking Brooklyn journey about a sex worker who weds the son of a wealthy Russian oligarch, has clinched the Cannes Film Festival’s foremost honor, the Palme d’Or. Baker received the award with his film’s lead, Mikey Madison, observing from the audience at the Cannes closing gala on Saturday. The triumph for “Anora” signifies a new pinnacle for Baker, the filmmaker behind “The Florida Project.” It’s also, astonishingly, the fifth consecutive Palme d’Or secured by indie distributor Neon, following “Parasite,” “Titane,” “Triangle of Sadness,” and the previous year’s winner, “Anatomy of a Fall.” “This has genuinely been my singular aim as a filmmaker for the past three decades, so I’m not entirely sure what I’ll do with the remainder of my life,” Baker said, chuckling.

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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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However, Baker, the first American filmmaker to secure the Palme since Terrence Mallick in 2012 with “The Tree of Life,” promptly declared his mission to “strive to keep cinema alive.” The 53-year-old director emphasized that the world needed reminding that “watching a film at home while browsing your phone, replying to emails, and half focusing is simply not the way, though some tech giants might try to convince us otherwise.”

“Thus, I assert that the future of cinema lies where it originated: in a movie theater,” said Baker. While “Anora” was perhaps the most praised film of the festival, its triumph was somewhat unexpected. Many anticipated either the touching Indian drama “All We Imagine As Light” or the Iranian feature “The Seed of the Sacred Fig” to prevail. Both of those films also received honors.

The closing ceremony held another surprise. Before George Lucas was bestowed an honorary Palme d’Or, his long-time friend and occasional collaborator Francis Ford Coppola made an appearance to present it to him, reuniting two of the most influential figures in the past fifty years of American cinema.

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.

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“All We Imagine As Light,” centering on sisterhood in contemporary Mumbai, garnered the Grand Prix, Cannes’ second most prestigious accolade. Payal Kapadia‘s sophomore feature was the first Indian entry at Cannes in three decades. The jury conferred a special honor on Mohammad Rasoulof‘s “The Seed of the Sacred Fig,” a drama clandestinely produced in Iran. Just days before the film’s debut, Rasoulof, facing an eight-year prison term, fled Iran on foot. His film, integrating real scenes from the 2022-2023 protests in Iran, transforms Iranian oppression into a familial saga. The Cannes audience greeted an emotional Rasoulof with an extended standing ovation. Coralie Fargeat‘s body horror film “The Substance,” featuring Demi Moore as a Hollywood actress who resorts to gruesome measures to maintain youth, won the award for best screenplay.

“I genuinely believe that films can alter the world, so I hope this movie will be a small stone to lay new foundations,” said Fargeat. “I truly think we need a revolution and I don’t believe it has begun yet.” Some speculated Moore might receive best actress, but that accolade instead went to a collective 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 prize, is the first trans actor to earn a major award at Cannes.

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Spanish actress Karla Sofia Gascon poses after she and the rest of the female cast secured the Best Actress Prize for their roles 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 claimed Cannes’ jury accolade, securing rare double awards at a festival where recognitions are typically distributed widely. Best actor was awarded to Jesse Plemons for Yorgos Lanthimos‘ “Kinds of Kindness.” In the film, three narratives are recounted with mostly the same cast. Plemons, a standout in several sections, did not attend the closing event. Portuguese director Miguel Gomes took home best director for his “Grand Tour,” an Asian adventure where a man escapes his fiancée from Rangoon in 1917. “Sometimes I get lucky,” remarked Gomes. The Camera d’Or, the accolade for best debut film across all of Cannes‘ official selections, was awarded to Halfdan Ullmann Tøndel for “Armand,” starring “The Worst Person in the World” actress Renate Reinsve. Tøndel is the grandson of Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman and Norwegian actor Liv Ullman.

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

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