CANNES, FRANCE— Nanni Moretti’s The Son’s Room, a film designed especially to make grown men weep, walked off with the Palme d’Or on Sunday night. A career move that might be described as “Italy’s Woody Allen makes his Interiors,” Moretti’s rapturously received—and, to this viewer, deeply suspect—heart-tugger concerns a middle-class family struggling with the loss of the teenage son (the writer-director plays the patriarch, a psychotherapist). Expect a U.S. crossover of near Benigni proportions. (BAMcinématek has fortuitously scheduled the first stateside Moretti retrospective for next month.)
Less predictably, the 10-person jury—chaired by Liv Ullmann, and including directors Edward Yang and Terry Gilliam and actors Julia Ormond and Charlotte Gainsbourg—conferred three top honors on Michael Haneke’s La Pianiste: the Grand Prix (the runner-up prize) and the two acting awards. A French-language film set in Vienna, Haneke’s comically self-serious study of sexual repression and desire functions best as a vehicle for the ever game Isabelle Huppert, playing an uptight piano teacher whose icy facade falls away to reveal a raging sadomasochist. (The queasiest moment involves a razor blade, the most surprising has her attempting to hump her crazy mother.) Huppert was considered a shoo-in for an acting prize (Ullmann said the decision was unanimous), but Benoit Magimel’s award (he plays the studly student who spurs his instructor’s most imaginative fantasies) could be seen as something of a slight to the French star Michel Piccoli, widely perceived as a front-runner for his performance in Manoel De Oliveira’s Vou Para Casa (I’m Going Home).
The top prize may have gone to the biggest tearjerker, but the jury resisted sentimentality in another respect, ignoring entirely the core of veterans who gave Cannes 2001 its riptide of melancholy, not to mention some of its best films: 92-year-old De Oliveira; 70-year-old Jean-Luc Godard’s Éloge de L’Amour, a momentous encapsulation from a director whose two greatest recent works have been titled Histoire(s) du Cinema and L’Origine du XXIème Siecle; 73-year-old Jacques Rivette’s spry, enchanting romantic farce, Va Savoir! (acquired by Sony Pictures Classics); 74-year-old Shohei Imamura’s Warm Water Under a Red Bridge, a tender, funny fable of female ejaculation that the Farrellys might want to file away as a reference point for the twilight of their career.
Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Millennium Mambo, which screened on the final weekend, earned a technical prize for sound designer Tu Duu-chih, who also worked on Tsai Ming-liang’s What Time Is It There? With Mambo, a mesmerizing portrait of youthful anomie in present-day Taipei recounted from the vantage point of 2011, Hou further experiments with narrative ellipses and disjunctions (and subtly elaborates on themes and structural ideas from Flowers of Shanghai), though many evidently bored critics were prepared to dismiss it out of hand.
Two Americans shared the directing prize: Joel Coen, for The Man Who Wasn’t There, the Coen brothers’ worst film since The Hudsucker Proxy, and David Lynch, for Mulholland Drive, his best since Blue Velvet. The screenwriting award went to Bosnian writer-director Danis Tanovic, for rendering the Balkan conflict as a black-comic existentialist sketch in No Man’s Land (United Artists will release the film in the States). The boldest prize came from a separate jury, headed by Portuguese actress Maria de Medeiros, who awarded the Camera d’Or for best first feature to Zacharias Kunuk’s Arctic fable, Atanarjuat the Fast Runner, a ravishing, nearly three-hour digital-video adaptation of an ancient Inuit legend—coproduced by the National Film Board of Canada, it’s the first ever feature to be shot in the Inuit language.
The complete Village Voice series on Cannes 2001.