Polanski Wins Top Prize at Cannes


CANNES, FRANCE—At the climax of a competition considered the strongest of recent years, in a ceremony characterized by several unflattering references to President George W. Bush, the jury at the 55th Cannes Film Festival awarded the Palme d’Or to The Pianist—adapted by Roman Polanski from the memoirs of Holocaust survivor Wladyslaw Szpilman.

The Pianist, an English-language French production starring Adrien Brody as a young Jewish musician who, alone in his family, lives through the Warsaw ghetto and World War II, was more popular with the festival audience than the assembled journalists—many of whom deemed it overly familiar, as well as a safe choice in a competition filled with less conventional contenders. Indeed, the unusual number of movies that were given awards suggests differing opinions in the jury, which was headed by David Lynch and included Sharon Stone, Michelle Yeoh, and director Raul Ruiz.

The runner-up Grand Prix went to Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki’s The Man Without a Past. (Kaurismäki gave the evening’s pithiest acceptance speech, in English: “First of all, I would like to thank myself—then, the jury.”) A sentimental favorite among the thousands of critics gathered in Cannes, The Man Without a Past was the only movie to get more than one prize. Kati Outinen, an axiom of Kaurismaki’s cinema, was named best actress. Best actor was Olivier Gourmet for his role in The Son, directed by Belgian filmmakers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne (whose Rosetta won the Palme d’Or in 2000). The award surprised many who thought that it would go to Jack Nicholson for his remarkably concentrated portrayal of an unhappy Midwestern insurance salesman in Alexander Payne’s About Schmidt—not least because Nicholson was a good-natured and visible presence throughout the 12-day festival.

The jury’s desire to spread the love was most evident in the split director’s prize: between the Korean veteran Im Kwon-Taek (who has made nearly 100 features) for his costume drama Chihwaseon and the young American Paul Thomas Anderson, who made his Cannes debut with the eccentric and well-received Adam Sandler comedy, Punch-Drunk Love. Best screenplay went to Paul Laverty for Sweet Sixteen, British director Ken Loach’s cinema verité-style account of a troubled Glasgow youth. Laverty enlivened his acceptance speech by citing a series of Bush malapropisms.

Even more popular than Sweet Sixteen among the journalists (and winner of the international press’s FIPRESCI prize), Elia Suleiman’s Divine Intervention—an absurdist comedy concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—received the third place Jury Prize. The 42-year-old Palestinian director thanked his French producer Humbert Balsan but accepted his award without making a political statement. Not so Michael Moore, who responded to the special prize for his satiric documentary on American gun culture, Bowling for Columbine, with a lengthy prepared statement in what sounded like French.

Moore’s five-minute presentation occasioned incredulous hilarity among the press corps—particularly Francophones who had difficulty understanding what, if anything, he was saying. Some thought the filmmaker was engaging in self-satire, others took his mangled French as an example of grotesque grandstanding. In any case, Moore’s performance supplemented Bowling for Columbine‘s critique of American violence by vividly demonstrating the deficiency of the US education system.

David Cronenberg, Abbas Kiarostami, Mike Leigh, and Manoel De Oliveira were among the world-famous directors whose well-received entries went unrecognized. The most shocking omission was Alexander Sokurov, whose Russian Ark—a 96-minute tracking shot through the Winter Palace in Petersburg—seemed destined to win a prize for technical achievement. None was given.

The innovative, enigmatic Thai feature Blissfully Yours, by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, was named the best picture in the non-competitive “Un Certain Regard.” The Camera d’Or for best first feature went to French director Julie Lopes-Curval for Bord de Mer, with a special mention to Mexican filmmaker Carlos Reygadas’s Japón. Both films were shown in the Directors’ Fortnight. While relatively few journalists had seen Bord de Mer, the eccentric and unpredictable Japón was among the most widely discussed movies at Cannes. Some thought it was denied the Camera d’Or for having been shown in a somewhat longer version earlier this year at the Rotterdam Film Festival.

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All or Nothing at the Cannes Film Festival” by J. Hoberman