Left: Alain Resnais, Les Herbes folles (Wild Grass), 2009, still from a color film, 104 minutes. Right: Jacques Audiard, Un Prophète (The Prophet), 2009, still from a color film in 35 mm, 150 minutes.

BELIEVE NOTHING YOU READ about the films at Cannes, including this post, written after the fact and in the relative calm of my own apartment. Cannes is hard—thirteen caffeinated days resulting in thirteen nearly sleepless nights, and in the end you’ve seen, at best, fifty of some two hundred titles in the various official lineups, not to mention the hundreds more in the market. And when the films are as punishing as they were this year—if the blood on the screens had run into the Mediterranean, the sea would have been red for weeks—you may wonder why you’re interested in movies at all.

This was the most gynecological Cannes ever, replete with a self-inflicted clitoridectomy (Charlotte Gainsbourg pulling out the stops in Lars von Trier’s lyrically photographed, psychodrama send-up Antichrist) and an unintentionally hilarious “gynocam” shot (a CGI close-up of the entrance of a monster-size penis into a vaginal canal, viewed from the perspective of . . . what exactly: a cervix? The viewer’s eye about to be hit, metaphorically, with a wad of cum?) at the climax of Gaspar Noé’s numbingly attenuated neo-psychedelic trance film, Enter the Void. Adolescent as it is, Noé’s movie is something to see, or at least might have been, had it not gone on for 155 minutes; the same can be said of Quentin Tarantino’s similarly inflated, similarly idiotic World War II comic-book fantasy, Inglourious Basterds.

Gaspar Noé, Enter the Void, 2009, still from a color film, 150 minutes.

The coincidence of large numbers of films featuring women—either troubled or in trouble—with a jury headed by the reigning actress of French cinema, Isabelle Huppert, and on which the women (all of them actresses) outnumbered the men (all of them writers or directors) five to four, made for some very strange misogynist buzz on the Croisette. There was much speculation about whether Huppert would force her “perverse” priorities on the pussy-whipped men of the jury, or whether she and juror Asia Argento, so different in style, could ever agree. In the end, the awards were reasonable, and with one or two exceptions, predictable. I’ll try to parse them here, although my interpretations of the jury’s decisions are as speculative as anyone else’s. In cinemas outside the US, the Cannes imprimatur matters. It may even determine whether a filmmaker who comes from a highly censored film culture will ever work again. One example is the Chinese director Lou Ye, whose Hong Kong–produced gay roundelay, Spring Fever, won Best Screenplay (even though the screenplay was the least successful aspect of a film that itself wasn’t nearly as good as his 2006 Summer Palace); it will be harder for the Chinese government to prevent Lou from working at home when he’s been feted at Cannes.

Unlike the famed 1999 jury headed by David Cronenberg, which split the top four awards (Palme d’Or, Grand Prize, Best Actor, and Best Actress) between just two films—the DardennesRosetta and Bruno Dumont’s Humanité—Huppert’s jury spread the wealth as much as possible. With Cannes priding itself on being the foremost international film festival, it would have been a serious diplomatic gaffe to give the Palme to a French film, since a French film (Laurent Cantet’s The Class) won last year. Thus Jacques Audiard’s popular, beautifully wrought prison drama, A Prophet, about the rise of a young Frenchman of Arab descent to the highest ranks of organized crime, had to be contented with second best—the Grand Prize (which to the ordinary film viewer looks just as impressive on a poster as the Palme d’Or). Alain Resnais’s buoyant, romantic comedy, The Wild Grass, the only great film I saw, was also, by virtue of the flag it carried, out of the running for the Palme. Since it would have been unseemly to give Resnais, at age eighty-seven, the second prize, the jury honored him with a lifetime-achievement award instead. That cleared the way for Michael Haneke’s enigmatic and glaringly obvious The White Ribbon to take the top prize. Both The White Ribbon and A Prophet will be released in the US by Sony Pictures Classics.

Left: Andrea Arnold, Fish Tank, 2009, still from a color film, 124 minutes. Joanne (Kierston Wareing). Right: Park Chan-wook, Thirst, 2009, still from a color film in 35 mm, 133 minutes. Tae-ju (Kim Ok-vin).

Will there be an American distributor or even a film festival willing to take on Kinatay, by the Philippine director Brillante Mendoza, whom the jury, in its most controversial move, named best director? Easily the toughest, most controlled film in the festival (one translation of the title is Slaughter), it depicts the kidnapping, torture, gang rape, killing, and dismemberment of a prostitute by a posse of mob enforcers, all seen through the eyes of a police-academy student who’s gone along for the ride, not knowing what he is getting into. He doesn’t walk out, and neither did I. And that’s where a moral argument rightly begins.

While Christoph Waltz’s Best Actor award was a done deal from the moment his Nazi colonel stole Inglourious Basterds away from its putative hero, Brad Pitt, the rumor was that although Gainsbourg deserved Best Actress, Huppert felt too competitive with her to let that happen. See what I mean about misogyny? Fortunately, sisterhood prevailed, and not only with Gainsbourg. The jury gave additional awards to Park Chan-wook’s vampire epic, Thirst, and Andrea Arnold’s angsty coming-of-age comedy, Fish Tank, both of which focus on furious females.

Amy Taubin