CANNES, France — “Blue Is the Warmest Color” — an emotionally raw and sexually explicit contemporary French drama and critical favorite about a young woman’s awakening — won the Palme d’Or on Sunday evening at the 66th Cannes Film Festival here.
From the stage, Steven Spielberg, the head of the competition jury, announced that he and the other jurists had decided to formally recognize not only the movie’s director, Abdellatif Kechiche, but also its two young actresses, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux. This unusual, perhaps unprecedented step acknowledged the contributions of both women, who appear naked in several sex scenes, but it also took some auteur sheen away from Mr. Kechiche, suggesting that the jury had engaged in intense back-room negotiations. For much of the festival the critical favorite had been “Inside Llewyn Davis,” a period story from Joel and Ethan Coen about a New York folk singer trying to make it in 1961. The Coens’ film won the Grand Prix, but they were not in attendance.
Mr. Kechiche, Ms. Exarchopoulos and Ms. Seydoux took the stage together to accept their award — although only one Palme was visible — and exchanged hugs and kisses as the audience cheered and clapped for several long minutes. The pillow-lipped Ms. Exarchopoulos had been widely expected to win best actress, but that award instead went to a visibly surprised and shaking Bérénice Bejo (“The Artist”) for her role in “Le Passé,” a drama set in France from the Iranian director Asghar Farhadi. Bruce Dern won best actor for Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska,” a wistful, black-and-white comedy about a fading alcoholic (Mr. Dern) and his melancholic, somewhat dyspeptic son (Will Forte) who, during an increasingly absurd and touching road trip, journey into the past.
In the only real shock of the evening, the best director award went to the Mexican filmmaker Amat Escalante for his turgid, violent shocker “Heli,” which, among other staged atrocities, features a scene of a man having his groin lighted afire. “I wasn’t expecting this,” said Mr. Escalante, a sentiment shared by some critics. The jury prize went to “Like Father, Like Son,” a lovely melodrama from the Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda about a family almost undone by the news that its only son was accidentally swapped at birth with another child. The best screenplay was given to Jia Zhang-ke for “A Touch of Sin.” Calling the award a “big honor,” Mr. Jia said: “China is changing so fast. I think that film is the best way for me to look for freedom.”
The prize for Un Certain Regard, a sidebar section, went to “L’Image Manquante,” a feature from the Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh. The award for the Camera d’Or, for the best first feature, went to “Ilo Ilo,” from the Singaporean director Anthony Chen, who said it was the first time a movie from Singapore had won at Cannes. The Palme for the best short film was won by “Safe,” from the South Korean director Moon Byoung-gon.