CANNES, FRANCE - Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda won the Palme d’Or at Cannes on Saturday for “Shoplifters,” a critically acclaimed family drama with unguessable plot twists.
The film depicts a family that, while living on a grandmother’s meager pension, sends their children to steal from stores. A series of media reports about people fraudulently claiming pensions inspired Kore-eda’s film.
Prior to Kore-eda’s accolade, the most recent Japanese winner of the Palme D’Or was director Shohei Imamura, who won the award for “The Eel” in 1997.
In “Shoplifters,” as he has done in other works, Kore-eda tried to shed light on a society in which people are struggling to make a living. The latest film is his fifth to be nominated for an award at Cannes.
At the award ceremony in the southern coastal resort, Kore-eda, 55, told the audience, “My legs are shaking. I’m really honored to be here.”
Rejoicing, he said, “I want to share the courage and hope (that comes with the award) with my staff and the film’s cast as well as with young directors.”
“I am hopeful that films can connect people who are in conflict in a separated world,” he said.
The selection of Kore-eda, who had been a critics’ favorite at Cannes since 2004’s “Nobody Knows,” defied speculation that the Palme might go to a female director, with three strong contenders in a year when the Hollywood sex scandal was the talk of the town.
Italian actress Asia Argento, who has accused movie mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault, said there were abusers in the audience who had yet to be outed.
Argento said Weinstein raped her during the Cannes festival in 1997 when she was 21. “This festival was his hunting ground,” Argento said in a speech ahead of the prize announcements.
Weinstein has denied allegations of nonconsensual sex. His representative, Juda Engelmayer, was not immediately available for comment on Saturday. Argento’s London-based agent, Steve Kenis, was not immediately available to provide further details.
“Even tonight, sitting among you, there are those who still have to be held accountable for their conduct against women,” Argento said at the black-tie ceremony.
“You know who you are, but, most importantly, we know who you are, and we are not going to allow you to get away with it any longer,” she said as she ended her speech to applause.
After the ceremony, Cate Blanchett, who headed the jury of five women and four men, said: “Women and men alike on the jury would love to see more female directorial voices represented,” adding that it had been “bloody hard” to select a winner.
“But in the end I think we were completely bowled over by how intermeshed the performances were with the directorial vision,” she said of “Shoplifters.”
The runner-up prize, the Grand Prix, went to Spike Lee’s satire “BlacKkKlansman,” based on the true story of a black police officer who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s.
Blanchett said the film’s ending, with footage of the far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August and President Donald Trump blaming “both sides (for the deadly violence) . . . blew us out of the cinema.”
A female director, Nadine Labaki from Lebanon, won the Jury Prize — effectively the bronze medal — for “Capharnaum,” a realist drama about childhood neglect in the slums of Beirut.
Fifty years after he helped get the Cannes festival cancelled in 1968 in solidarity with worker-student protests, 87-year-old Jean-Luc Godard received a Special Palme d’Or for his collage of sounds and images, “The Image Book.”
Poland’s Pawel Pawlikowski won Best Director for “Cold War,” a romance that moves from the peasant farms of Poland to Paris jazz clubs and back from the 1940s to the 1960s.
“Girl,” a Belgian drama about a transgender teenage girl’s quest to become a ballerina, won the Camera d’Or for the best directorial debut for director Lukas Dhont.
Jafar Panahi, the Iranian director who is prevented from leaving Iran and is in theory banned from making films, won Best Screenplay for “3 Faces” along with co-writer Nader Saeivar.
The award was shared with “Happy As Lazzaro,” a film written and directed by Italian Alice Rohrwacher.