Asian talents score big at Cannes
text size

Asian talents score big at Cannes

Six Asian filmmakers bring home big prizes from the recently concluded film festival


From Japan to Malaysia by way of Vietnam, Asian filmmakers of disparate sensibilities triumphed at the recently-wrapped 76th Cannes Film Festival. The Palme d'Or may have gone to French filmmaker Justine Triet from her tense drama Anatomy Of A Fall, but six other awards handed out by the world's most influential film festival went to filmmakers from Asia, an unprecedented slate of recognition.

Inside The Yellow Cocoon Shell. (Photos courtesy of CANNES FILM FESTIVAL)

Hirokazu Kore-eda's Monster may not impress all critics, but the nine-member jury led by Ruben Ostlund gave the film -- specifically to its screenwriter Yuji Sakamoto -- the Best Screenplay Award. Monster is a childhood drama told in three acts, each from a different point of view, and each slyly withholding and revealing bits of information which altogether construct a moving tragedy in the end. Kore-eda said in an interview that he didn't want the audience to pay attention to the "interesting three-part structure", but to the emotional impact of its totality. The film will open in Bangkok in July.

The Best Director Award, another major prize of the night, went to Vietnam-born French director Tran Anh Hung for his kitchen spectacle The Pot-Au-Feu. Tran is well-known among cinephiles since the mid-1990s for The Scent Of Green Papaya (1993) and Vertical Ray Of The Sun (2000), both of them a tableau of sensuous, classy household drama set in a Vietnam imbued with French sophistication.

In The Pot-Au-Feu, a film that divided Cannes' usually prickly reception, Benoit Magimel and Juliette Binoche play two cooks in the 19th century who devote their lives to perfecting the art of French cuisine. Almost the entire film is made up of cooking scenes -- long, immersive, almost fetishistic sequences of the two stars chopping, julienning, marinating, braising, boiling, grilling, sautéing or simmering some exotic ingredients in their super-large chateau kitchen. Cooking shows will blush, especially now that the film has won Cannes kudos.

Perfect Days. 

The most exhilarating winner at this year's Cannes went to In The Yellow Cocoon Shell, a three-hour-long Vietnamese film by Pham Thien An. Shown in the Directors' Fortnight section, the film won the Camera d'Or, or the Best First Film Award, practically to the cheers of all independent filmmakers from Southeast Asia watching the online broadcast. The deliberately-paced film chronicles a young man's journey from Ho Chi Minh, along with the young son of his brother, to the misty mountains to find his existential footing, wondering along the way how faith will manifest itself to him. In a series of long, meditative sequences and conversations about death and divine will, Pham has shown himself to be a new voice in Southeast Asian cinema.

Inside The Yellow Cocoon Shell is the product of a global network of funding schemes, script labs and producing workshops that supports independent filmmakers from the less affluent parts of the world. Likewise Amanda Nell Eu's Tiger Stripes, a gutsy Malaysian film about a 12-year-old girl's physical and psychological transformation. It won the Grand Prix at the Critics' Week section, becoming the first Malaysian film to do so.

Finally, the two acting prizes -- or one-and-a-half? -- also went to Asian performers. Koji Yakusho won Best Actor for his turn in Wim Wenders' Perfect Days, a minimalist ode to Japanese sensibility in which the actor plays a toilet cleaner who takes joy in the simplest things in life. It may sound cloying, but Yakusho and Wenders find just the right balance between sweetness and sincerity to make the film glow.

The Pot-Au-Feu. 

Meanwhile, Merve Dizdar won Best Actress for About Dry Grasses, a Turkish film by Cannes regular Nuri Bilge Ceylan. In this verbose study of male ego, the actress plays a bold, leftist schoolteacher with a bitter past who gets involved with a brash male colleague.

Asian cinema, no matter how that term is amorphous and arbitrary, has had its brightest moment of 2023, albeit without any Thai participation. Perhaps next time then.

Vietnamese director Pham Thien An at the Cannes Film Festival, on Saturday. (Photo: Christophe Simon)

Do you like the content of this article?