Todd McCarthy's Cannes Awards Analysis

Abdellatif Kechich Cannes - H - 2013
Getty Images

THR's chief film critic weighs in on the ceremony, which saw the sexually explicit "Blue Is the Warmest Color" awarded the top prize.

See The Hollywood Reporter's Live at Cannes video interviews with the winners below.

CANNES -- Did Steven Spielberg actually dig the lesbian love story? Was Bruce Dern really better than Michael Douglas? What jury members pressed for the ultra-violent Mexican film that no one wanted to think about after it showed on the first day? Was Berenice Bejo really better than Marion Cotillard, who was initially supposed to play her role in The Past? What was presenter Asia Argento on? Was that Agnes Varda’s real hair or a hat?

These were some of the questions people wanted answers to after the awards were presented Sunday night to conclude the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. Whether it had won or not, this was already destined to be the year of Blue Is the Warmest Color, given how everyone had to see it just for the unprecedented and protracted realistic sex scenes between Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux in Abdellatif Kechiche’s close-up, three-hour portrait of a female love affair. (Read THR's review here.)

PHOTOS: Inside the Cannes Awards Ceremony

The awards are almost always a strangely stiff, awkward affair, basically conducted in two languages, French and English, and with frequent TV cutaways to unsuspecting audience members caught disdaining or ignoring what’s being said onstage.

This year’s presentation, hosted by a sometimes odd but faintly amusing Audrey Tautou, was particularly snappy. This wasn’t thought of as a particularly Asian-dominated festival, but Asians came on strong at the outset, winning the Cinefondation award and the Camera d’Or for best first film in any category, as well as Jia Zhangke’s screenplay award for A Touch of Sin and the Prix du Jury to Kore-eda Hirokazu for the generally appreciated Like Father, Like Son.

VIDEO: Live From Cannes: The Cast and Crew of ‘Blue is the Warmest Color’

When director Amat Escalante was brought up to accept the directing prize, the first words out of his mouth were, “I wasn’t expecting this.” No one in the audience disagreed with him, as his sometimes unwatchably violent film about contemporary Mexico was not something anyone considered in the mix for awards.

The big standing ovation of the evening went to Kim Novak, who was at the festival to appear with the restored version of Vertigo, which last year was rated best film of all time in the once-a-decade Sight & Sound magazine poll.  The star seemed genuinely pleased to be here, as did Inside Llewyn Davis leading man Oscar Isaac when he accepted the Grand Prix from her on behalf of the Coen brothers, who had already returned to the United States.

STORY: Todd McCarthy's Cannes Wrap

It was tears and cheers and hugs all around when Spielberg finally announced the Palme d’Or for Blue Is the Warmest Color, with the two stars and director all announced as winners of the prize. This is the second year in a row that the Palme has gone to a French film directed by a foreigner -- Austrian Michael Haneke won last year for Amour and Kechiche is Tunisian. The director responded onstage very slowly and seriously while the actresses just gushed, and the win certainly confirmed Blue as the hot film of the moment, no matter the misgivings numerous critics have about it for reasons ranging from length and lack of artistic discipline to feminist issues. Spielberg’s jury made it official: It’s the film of the year so far, not just sexually but artistically.