CANNES, FRANCE—Elephant, Gus Van Sant’s controversial, poetic evocation of a Columbine-like high school shooting beat out two critically lauded favorites—Clint Eastwood’s character-driven crime thriller Mystic River and Lars Von Trier’s stylized allegory Dogville—to win the Palme d’Or at the 56th Cannes Film Festival.
The obviously elated Van Sant, whose movie was particularly praised by French critics and who concluded his acceptance speech with the cry “Vive la France,” was also awarded the prize for direction—a rare occurrence for a festival that tends to honor as many films as possible. Indeed, given the generally acknowledged mediocrity of the competition, the jury—headed by French director Patrice Chéreau, a dour presence at the awards ceremony in black tie, black shirt, and what appeared to be a black leather evening jacket—spread its largesse among very few contenders. (Conspicuous by their absence were the five French entries in the 20-film competition.)
Uzak (Distant), a spare and deliberate study of the strained relationship between an urban intellectual and his rural kinsman, written and directed by Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan, won the runner-up Grand Prix. Ceylan, whose feature is in the tradition of Michelangelo Antonioni’s early-’60s modernism, accepted his award in the name of the late Turkish Kurdish filmmaker (and Palme d’Or winner) Yilmaz Güney. The two leads, Muzaffer Özdemir and the late Mehment Emin Toprak (who died in an automobile accident shortly after Uzak‘s Turkish premiere), shared the prize for best actor.
The prize for best screenplay went to Denys Arcand’s crowd-pleasing weepie The Barbarian Invasion, a sequel to the Quebecois filmmaker’s 1986 hit, The Decline of the American Empire; playing a middle-class junkie who provides the dying protagonist with heroin to ease his pain, Marie-Josée Croze was named best actress over such obvious choices as Nicole Kidman (Dogville), Zhang Ziyi (Purple Butterfly), Charlotte Rampling (Swimming Pool), and non-professional Agheleh Rezaïe (the liberated Afghani woman in Iranian director Samira Makmalbaf’s At Five in the Afternoon). Accepting her third-place jury prize, the 23-year-old Makmalbaf, who could be seen nervously readjusting her chador in the presence of photographers, made the evening’s only political comment with an oblique but sarcastic reference to “the most famous president in the world . . . Mr. George W. Bush.”
The Caméra d’Or for best first feature went to Danish director Christoffer Boe’s self-deconstructing love story Reconstruction, an entry in the International Critics’ Week section. In the course of his thanks, Boe called upon Vincent Gallo not to “give up,” thus acknowledging the festival’s major scandale, Gallo’s outrageously narcissistic and roundly ridiculed road movie The Brown Bunny. Nearly as nutty, Alexander Sokurov’s beautifully wrought and bizarrely homoerotic study of a filial relationship, Father and Son, received the FIPRESCI prize for a film in competition from a jury of 10 international film journalists chaired, as many noted, by veteran Russian critic Andrei Plakhov.
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