Director Todd Haynes (C), cast members Rooney Mara (L) and Cate Blanchett stand on the red carpet as they arrive for the screening of the film "Carol" in competition at the 68th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, May 17, 2015. Photo by Eric Gaillard, Reuters.
CANNES, France -- A lesbian love story starring Cate Blanchett scooped the Queer Palm award on the sidelines of the Cannes Film Festival on Saturday.
The unofficial prize went to "Carol" by director Todd Haynes, which tells the story of a love affair in 1950s New York at a time when homosexuality was criminalised.
Critics at the festival have swooned over the elegant movie, which is seen as a frontrunner for the top Palme d'Or prize on Sunday and is already being discussed as a possible Oscar contender.
"It is more than just a simple film -- it is a historic moment -- the first time a story of love between two women has been treated with the respect and importance that we accord to all other cinematic romances," said Queer Palm jury president Desiree Akhavan, an American actress and director.
The prize coincided with good news for gay rights activists in Ireland, where voters backed the legalisation of same-sex marriages, as well as the hosting of the Eurovision Song Contest in Austria after last year's victory by transvestite singer Conchita Wurst.
The Queer Palm jury also gave a special mention to "The Lobster", an eccentric fable about lovers who risk being turned into animals if they fail to find a partner, starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz.
Although the film did not contain explicit gay themes, the jury said it "ridiculed absurd social norms and conventions related to sexual relations".
Akhavan said the special mention for "The Lobster" reflected the lack of overtly gay representation among this year's official selection in Cannes.
"I had a lot of difficulty finding qualities in the selection of films this year. None seemed gay enough," she said.
She rejected criticism of the Queer Palm, including from French filmmaker Xavier Dolan who last year said he found it "disgusting" for distinguishing between gay and straight cinema.
"It's through queer cinema that I found confidence in myself and the strength to come out at a time when I was trying to understand what being gay meant and how it would influence my life," said Akhavan.
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