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By Voice Film Critics
By Alan Scherstuhl
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Days before the 61st Cannes Film Festival ended, rumors were rife that the jury was having difficulties reaching consensus. As the award ceremony commenced, president Sean Penn cited the title of the festivals closing-night film in promising the audience and the world that, as the jurys decisions were announced, Youre going to wonder What Just Happened?
True to his word, Penn bestowed the Palme dOr on the first French movie to win Canness top prize in 20 years, Laurent Cantets The Classan engrossing but glib account of teacher-student dynamics in a multicultural French middle school, acted by a spirited, almost entirely nonprofessional cast. That Cantets film, the last of the 21 movies shown in competition, was (per Penn) a unanimous choice suggests that the movie offered a welcome solution to a divided jury.
Many of the other awards seemed to reflect a series of awkward compromises. The runner-up Grand Prix went to Matteo Garrones well-received Gomorrah. While this corrosive, if slapdash, exposé of organized crime in Naples was an expected winner, few predicted that the third-place Prix du Jury would go to Paolo Sorrentinos Il Divoa bombastic phantasmagoria satirizing the late career of Italian politician Giulio Andreottiand no one could remember the last time that two Italian movies had placed so highly, particularly as Cannes juries have traditionally displayed exquisite geographical sensitivity. (No Asian film was cited this year, not even Jia Zhangkes 24 Citya masterful and moving portrait of the most rapidly expanding economy in world history, set in the very part of China that had been ravaged by an earthquake days before the festival opened.)
In another unanimous decision, the Che problem was solved by declaring Benicio Del Toro best actorthe only mention that Steven Soderberghs daring political essay would receive. As if to reproach Angelina Jolies bereft mother in Clint Eastwoods gothic thriller Changeling, the jury anointed Sandra Corveloni best actress for her role as a single mother of four in the Brazilian directors Walter Salles and Daniela Thomass routine favella drama Linha de Passe.
Other awards confirmed established Cannes taste. Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylanwho had won the Grand Prix for his 2002 Distant and the international critics FIPRESCI prize for his 2006 Climateswas named best director for a lesser film, Three Monkeys. Similarly, the Dardenne brothers, winners of two previous Palmes dOr, were commended with a screenplay prize for Lornas Silence, perhaps the weakest film of their career.
The best evidence of a divided jury was the special prize given jointly to Catherine Deneuve and Clint Eastwood. A mumbled, awkwardly worded statement explained that the award was both for their career achievements as well as the specific films each had in competitionChangeling and Arnaud Desplechins A Christmas Tale, which featured Deneuve, amid a large and talented ensemble, as a fractious familys matriarch. Both movies had been expected to receive more substantial recognition (although for many observers, the most startling omission was Ari Folmans wrenching animated documentary Waltz with Bashirignored despite, or perhaps because of, Persepolis director Marjane Satrapis presence on the jury.) The consolation prizes appeared to have boomeranged. While Deneuve received her award with professional aplomb (despite the normally demonstrative Cannes audiences bored disinclination to greet her with the customary standing ovation), Eastwood made his feelings apparent by snubbing the ceremony entirely. Incredibly, no one was designated to accept the award on his behalf.
In happier outcomes, the Prix un Certain Regard went to Sergey Dvortsevoys Tulpanan astonishing ethnographic-drama-cum-animal-movie set in the vast emptiness of the Kazakhstan steppeand the Camera dOr (for best first feature) was awarded to British video artist Steve McQueen for Hunger, a rigorous treatment of the passion of Irish Republican martyr Bobby Sands. The FIPRESCI jury (this year headed by former Village Voice film editor Howard Feinstein) gave its award to Kornél Mundruczós Delta, a beautifully shot, old-fashioned Hungarian art film about the persecution of an incestuous couple that, had it been made in the bad old days, might have packed a more substantial allegorical wallop.
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