Ken Loach has won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in one of the most surprising awards ceremonies in decades.
Loach won the festival's top prize, for his social realist piece I, Daniel Blake.
The film had been well reviewed, but few reckoned it was a serious contender for the big gong. Loach, who won for The Wind that Shakes the Barley in 2006, now becomes one of eight directors to have two Palmes (none has three).
I, Daniel Blake details the struggles of a Newcastle joiner to negotiate the labyrinthine British welfare system.
“At times of despair the far right take advantage,” the British film-maker said. “And some of us who are old remember what that was like. So we must give a message of hope and say another world is possible and necessary.”
If Loach's victory caused mild tremors of surprise, there was genuine shock at the awarding of the Grand Prix, the second prize, to Xavier Dolan's It's Almost the End of the World. The young Québécois director's film, in which a young man returns home to tell his family he is dying, received almost universal pans from the critics.
"Giving Xavier Dolan the Grand Prix is the worst Cannes jury decision in a very, very long time," Guy Lodge of industry bible Variety noted.
Olivier Assayas's best director triumph for Personal Shopper was only marginally less surprising. The avant-garde ghost story was booed at its press screening, but those critics who liked it tended to love it. This is the sort of award that triggers brawls at the Cineaste Tavern.
Then there was Jaclyn Jose's win for best actress. Jose, excellent in the Philippine social realist drama Ma' Rosa, beat such fancied actresses as Isabelle Huppert, Kristen Stewart and Ireland's Ruth Negga. Most pundits expected Sonia Braga, superb in Kleber Mendonça Filho's Aquarius, to get her hands on a trophy.
The big loser of the night was, however, Maren Ade's Toni Erdmann. A regular poll of critics published by Screen International concluded that the German comedy was the best reviewed at Cannes in the last 20 years.
The Cannes authorities will, surely, have been secretly hoping that Ade would take the prize. She would thus have become the first woman to win a Palme d'Or since Jane Campion in 1993 (and only the second ever).
In the event, it won nothing at all. The debate about under-representation of women bubbles on for another year. Mind you, had Toni Erdmann won it would have been the first comedy to triumph in 25 years. Perhaps the writing was on the wall for those who looked.
There was some success for women directors. The Camera d'Or, the award for the best first film, went to Divines by Houda Benyamina.
Andrea Arnold, the British director of Red Road and Fish Tank, won her third Jury Prize – essentially the bronze medal – for the exciting, chaotic American Honey. The great Irish cinematographer Robbie Ryan shot both I, Daniel Blake and American Honey. So domestic audiences have something to smile about.