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The Cannes Film Festival epitomizes the spirit of spring. For its 11-day duration, the French are enthralled with the festival as if for an annual rite. That’s in contrast to the Oscars, which are awarded at the tail-end of winter and look back over the year in film (not to mention the lifetime achievement awards, montages of Old Hollywood, and hand-wringing about whether this year’s host will make Hollywood less irrelevant). The movies featured in Cannes have either just opened or will in the near future. This spirit of the new is fostered even more by the business side of Cannes—in addition to the premieres and awards, it’s an enormous industrial fair where many sales and deals happen (sometimes jotted on a napkin).
The awards often go to the innovative and idiosyncratic, including Americans like Coppola (for The Conversation rather than The Godfather), Tarantino and Malick. Cannes, however, may be moving in the direction of the Oscars, with glitzy ceremonies shown live on TV, more elegant stars than titillating starlets, and a reverence for Europe’s film establishment, but is still determined to be different. Likewise, this year’s prize-winners are a mix of old and new; European and international.
The top prize, the Palme D’Or, went to septuagenarian Michael Haneke for Amour. Haneke used to be an enfant terrible, making ultra-violent films like Funny Games, but has now been crowned elder statesman of European cinema. Aside from his age, Haneke has already won before, for The White Ribbon (a stately if chilling movie about early twentieth-century Germany). Amour is about an elderly couple’s relationship in the face of mortality, starring screen legends Jean-Louis Trintignant (A Man and a Woman) and Emmanuelle Riva (Hiroshima Mon Amour). One can make a good case that the festival rewarded a mature director at the top of his game (his film has won near universal acclaim). But in giving 75-year-old Ken Loach the Jury Prize for The Angel’s Share, it seemed to be giving an Oscar-style life achievement award for the social films à l’anglaise that have long been popular in France.
On the other hand, the Grand Prix, considered as the runner-up to the Golden Palm, went to Reality, an Italian film directed by forty-three year-old Matteo Garrone (best known for the provocative crime epic Gomorra). The Best Director prize went to a non-European, Mexico’s Carlos Reygadad, 41, for the unconventional, arty Post Tenebras Lux, and the Best Screenplay prize went to Cristian Mungieu, from the “Other Europe” (in this case Romania), for Beyond the Hills, a controversial film about a disturbed woman subjected to an exorcism by even more disturbed religious. Mungiu also won a Golden Palm in 2007 for his second feature, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days. The Best Actress prize went to two actresses starring in Beyond the Hills, Cosmina Stratan and Critian Flutur. The Best Actor award went to Mads Mikkelson, a Dane, for his performance in The Hunt, a drama about child abuse.
America was represented in this year’s awards by Benh Zeitlin, who won the Camera d’Or prize, which goes to best first film. Zeitlin, a director in his early thirties, made Beasts of the Southern Wild, a drama about a 6-year-old’s search for her mother in the American South.
Now that the fanfare is done, cheers and jeers given by tempestuous festival-goers, and the prizes have been awarded, it only remains to be seen how the films will do in commercial release.
All images courtesy of Festival de Cannes
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