A wild serial-killer story with some of the most controversial scenes of the festival, “Titane” was directed by Julia Ducournau, who became just the second woman to win the Palme, after Jane Campion took the prize in 1993 for “The Piano.”
And though “Titane” had been hotly tipped as a prime contender for the Palme, that reveal came much earlier than intended: At the beginning of the closing ceremony, when the jury president, Spike Lee, was asked to announce the first prize of the night, he misunderstood and read off the first-prize winner instead.
“Don’t do it!” shouted the actress-director Mélanie Laurent, a jury member seated next to Lee. But the cat was already out of the bag.
(At a news conference after the ceremony, Lee said that he had no excuses and that “I messed up,” adding, “I’m a big sports fan. It’s like the guy at the end of the game in the foul line, he misses the free throw or a guy misses a kick.” He also said he apologized to the Cannes organizers. “They said forget about it.”)
The accidental “Titane” reveal was only the first of several chaotic moments at the ceremony, as the spoiled Palme reveal was followed by a best-actor prize for Caleb Landry Jones for the Australian tragedy “Nitram.” When a nervous-looking Jones took the stage, he appeared sick to his stomach, said, “I cannot do this,” and beat a hasty retreat.
Still, by the time a teary Ducournau was brought out at the end of the ceremony to finally accept her Palme, she had embraced the chaos. “This evening has been perfect,” she said, “because it’s so not perfect.”
Other major winners included Leos Carax, who took the best-director prize for his eccentric musical “Annette,” best-actress winner Renate Reinsve for the Norwegian romantic dramedy “The Worst Person in the World,” and a pair of ties: The second-place prize was split between “A Hero,” from the Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, and the Finnish drama “Compartment No. 6,” while the third-prize tie went to the Nadav Lapid film “Ahed’s Knee” and “Memoria,” starring Tilda Swinton.
At the last Cannes film festival, held in 2019, the Palme winner was “Parasite,” the first major prize Bong Joon Ho’s film took on its path to the best-picture Oscar. Though “Titane” is far too gory to become a major Oscar contender, its Palme win firmly establishes Ducournau as a major international director only two feature films into her career.
Correction: July 17, 2021
An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of the winner of the best director prize. He is Leos Carax, not Leox Carax.