Watch This Stirring Clip From Cannes Palme D’or Winner ‘I, Daniel Blake’

Perhaps a testament to an era of singularly great filmmaking, three exalted veteran directors stole most of the conversation at this year’s Cannes Film Festival—with the announcement coming yesterday that Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake, had won the coveted Palme D’or.

Indeed, Woody Allen’s Café Society had opened the festivities on May 11, with French comedian and Master of Ceremonies Laurent Lafitte delivering the shockingly questionable, Roman Polanksi referencing joke, “It’s very nice that you’ve been shooting so many movies in Europe, even if you are not being convicted for rape in the U.S.” The director seemed to take it in stride, but it set off a media and celebrity firestorm.

Then Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, starring Isabelle Huppert as a rape victim that sets out for revenge, ignited the media’s most fervent socio-cultural conversation around Cannes. Of course, he had caused a similar stir in 1992 with the highly controversial Basic Instinct.

But Loach took the top prize this year for his heartbreaking new neorealist film. His second Palme D’or (including 2006’s The Wind That Shakes The Barley), it tells the story of ailing and unable to work carpenter Daniel Blake (played by Dave Johns), who faces the loss of all his benefits. He befriends single mother Kattie (Hayley Squires), and they together fight for dignity and survival.

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Of course, in these times of worsening inequality, there’s a strong ideological undercurrent to the film—even if it’s not foot-on-the-barricades political.

And to be sure, during his acceptance speech, Loach cautioned, “The world we live in is at a dangerous point right now. We are in the grip of a dangerous project of austerity, driven by ideas that we call neo-liberalism, that have brought us to near catastrophe.”

Watch the I, Daniel Blake festival teaser trailer, here:

Movie Reviews: ‘Splice’, ‘I Am Love’, ‘Solitary Man’

I Am Love – In the mannered melodrama I Am Love, director Luca Guadagnino invites us into the lives of the moneyed Recchi family through its kitchen. With painstaking, extended close-ups, he focuses on the Recchi servants as they place, with trained precision, flatware on whiteclothed dining tables. All of this structured pomp is a metaphor for the traditions that stifle the spirit of the clan’s gracious matriarch, Emma (Tilda Swinton). But when Emma meets her son’s friend, a chef named Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), she breaks out of her routine and the focus on cutlery disappears. Their initial spark explodes into a full-blown, all-consuming, gorgeous Italian affair, which climaxes when Emma is forced to choose between the stability of her past and her risky, lustful reawakening. As a caged bird desperate to escape, Swinton has never been better. —Nick Haramis

Solitary Man – At 65, Michael Douglas can still walk the walk. Over the opening credits of Solitary Man, he strides through the streets of Manhattan, cutting a trim, handsome figure—and his character, Ben Kalmen, knows it. That’s his problem. Ben is well into his midlife crisis: he has already left his wife (Susan Sarandon), already destroyed his high-powered career and already bedded scores of pretty young things. Broke and unfocused, he is charming to the point of smarminess, a good time to the point of being unethical (he believably and creepily seduces the 18-year-old daughter of his girlfriend, Jordan, played by an icy Mary-Louise Parker). He’s also a liability as a father, grandfather and friend. Needless to say, he’s fun to watch. —Willa Paskin

Looking for Eric – On paper, English director Ken Loach’s Looking for Eric overflows with indie-movie clichés: troubled, middle-aged postman Eric Bishop’s life is falling apart; his sons don’t listen to him—and one of them is mixed up with a gangster; he’s still in love with the woman he left when he was in his twenties; and he’s having conversations with a figment of his imagination (the great Manchester United soccer player, Eric Cantona, who plays himself in the film). The hallucinated life coach even convinces Bishop (Steve Evets) to seize the day and take control of his circumstances. But credit goes to Loach for bringing his characteristic low-key realism to bear on the project, extracting the twee and leaving the sweetness. If the movie’s culmination feels a bit stagey, the naturalistic conversations and good cheer between friends balance it out. —W.P.

Splice – Director Vincenzo Natali’s (Cube) latest film is a cautionary tale, but it’s never clear against what, exactly, we’re being cautioned: Post-millennial parenting? Science as big business? The lust for power? Geneticists Elsa (Sarah Polley) and Clive (Adrien Brody), a young married couple who work for a pharmaceutical company, combine animal DNA to make throbbing slime-blobs. After Elsa throws her own genes into the spin-cycle, she and Clive welcome into the world an ersatz daughter—one with gills and wings—named Dren (Delphine Chanéac). There are moments of sci-fi beauty in the film, which is shot through with all kinds of creature-making tricks, but they’re too infrequent to make up for the story’s icky subplot, in which Clive puts the “orgasm” back in “organism” by bedding his pubescent progeny. —N.H.

Casino Jack and the United States of Money – For a certain kind of scumbag, the life of“über-lobbyist” Jack Abramoff might make for a heartwarming bildungsroman: a college Republican grows up and gets rich shilling for crooked countries, bribing congressmen and screwing over Native American tribes. For everyone else, it’s a sobering look at the sad, corrupt circle-jerk that constitutes modern life in Washington. Oscar winner Alex Gibney’s documentary is far less ham-fisted than the works of his liberal peer Michael Moore, and his use of source material—an email exchange between Abramoff and his co-conspirator Michael Scanlon that includes hilarious frat-boy hip-hop slang like “You da man”—is impeccable. Footage of a dapper, teenage Karl Rove is, on its own, worth the price of admission. —Scott Indrisek