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Sean Baker's 'Anora' wins Palme d'Or, the Cannes Film Festival's top honour

Sean Baker, winner of the Palme d'Or for the film 'Anora,' poses for photographers at the 77th international film festival. Scott A Garfitt/Invision/AP) Sean Baker, winner of the Palme d'Or for the film 'Anora,' poses for photographers at the 77th international film festival. Scott A Garfitt/Invision/AP)
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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.

The win Saturday for "Anora" marked a coronation for Baker, the acclaimed indie filmmaker of "The Florida Project." It's also, remarkably, the fifth straight Palme d'Or won by specialty distributor Neon, following "Parasite," "Titane," "Triangle of Sadness" and last year's winner, "Anatomy of a Fall." Baker accepted the prize with his movie's star, Mikey Madison, watching in the audience at the Cannes closing ceremony.

"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.

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 theatre," said Baker.

The awards were chosen by the nine-member jury led by Greta Gerwig, who told reporters she was "forever changed as a filmmaker because of this experience." Gerwig praised "Anora" as having the feeling of classical cinema, saying it felt like an Ernst Lubitsch or Howard Hawks film that led in unexpected directions.

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. Coppola, who earlier in the festival premiered his self-financed sci-fi epic "Megalopolis," called him his "kid brother." Lucas called Coppola "a big friend and a brother and a mentor."

"I'm just a kid who grew up in a vineyard in Modesto, California, who makes movies in San Francisco, with my friend Francis," said Lucas. "It's definitely a different world. I've actually never made a film in Hollywood as a director."

"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 in 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."

Sean Baker holds the Palme d'Or for the film 'Anora,' during the awards ceremony of the 77th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Saturday, May 25, 2024 (Photo by Andreea Alexandru/Invision/AP)

Some thought Moore, who attended the awards ceremony, might take best actress. But that honor instead went to an ensemble of actors: Karla Sofia Gascon, Zoe Saldana, 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. Gascon, who accepted the award, is the first trans actor to win a major prize at Cannes.

"This award is not just for me," Gascon told reporters. "It's for all people who are fighting for themselves and their rights."

Explaining the jury's unusual choice of giving best actress to an ensemble, Gerwig said each performer was a standout, "but together they're transcendent." "Emilia Perez" also won Cannes' jury prize, giving it 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 fiancee 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.

Last year's top winners in Cannes went on to considerable arthouse success and awards-season runs through the Oscars. That included the Palme winner "Anatomy of a Fall" and the Grand Prix winner "The Zone of Interest."

Whether this year's Cannes lived up to that lineup was a regular conversation topic during the festival. But it was a notably eventful Cannes not just for some of the films—including "Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga" and Kevin Costner's "Horizon: An America Saga"—that screened but for other surrounding dramas.

After stalling for years in France, the #MeToo movement gained momentum ahead of the festival following allegations by Judith Godreche against two prominent French filmmakers. She brought her short "Moi Aussi" to the festival.

The wars in Gaza and Ukraine were sometimes referenced in press conferences and in subtly symbolic ways on the red carpet. Festival workers, seeking better protections, protested during the opening night ceremony. The Olympic flame, ahead of its arrival in Paris for the summer games, stopped by. Honorary Palmes were also given to Meryl Streep and the Japanese anime factory Studio Ghibli.

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