Twelve days ago these results were inconceivable. No Pedro Almodovar, no Ang Lee, no Jane Campion, and no Ken Loach in the winners’ circle. Best Performance awards for their actors only for Quentin Tarantino and Lars Von Trier. And considering nine out of the twenty films won an award of some kind, what were the jury thinking? Certainly the outcomes in several categories were unexpected. But it’s the tight finish that often makes the Cannes race such a thriller.
As the 62nd Cannes Film festival drew to a close the international press openly greeted several of the results with jeers, and boos. Most of us skip the formal ceremony and grand dinner, opting for the ‘bleechers’, watching the prize closing ceremony on a giant screen en masse like the Barmy Army, responding volubly to proceedings as in a gladiatorial combat. Each year no one translates the French commentary so like collegiate under graduates, we play up.
The general verdict on Warwick Thornton’s Camera D’Or was a collective thumbs up: those who had seen the film found it powerful, beautifully shot (he’s a director/writer/cinematographer) and profoundly moving. His candid answers about the plight of his people and cinema as his personal saviour were well received.
The competition outcomes were more controversial. The jury prize – shared between Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank and Korean vampire movie Bak-Jwi’s Thirst, elicited loud jeers. On most critics’ lists they were considered lesser contenders. Of the Korean films in selection, Mother (in Certain Regard) was deemed as much better movie.
The screenplay award was met with laughter and guffaws. At the post award press conference, one daring scribe asked : ‘’On what grounds do you propose to give it a screenwriting award to someone who told us last week that he often improvises during shooting??" But as Lou Ye, a renegade Chinese film-maker already been slapped with a five-year ban from film-making in his homeland, who broke its conditions by making Spring Fever abroad, as a French/Hong Kong co-production, most of us admired his bravery and let it pass.
The Best Performance announcements were popular, greeted with loud cheers as Charlotte Gainsburg won her award for her fragile, brave and poignant turn (as a mother attempting to come to terms with a child’s death) in Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist, at least partially vindicating the director’s less than happy Cannes 2009 experience.
Likewise Christoph Waltz, the Austrian–born German actor whose bravura performance as the Nazi SS multi-lingual colonel lights up Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, at least put a notch up for the popular director. Who was the first person he called? Quentin, of course. Both movies are about to be subjected to heavy cutting prior to release, so what are Waltz’s thoughts on the subject, he was asked?’ What an excellent idea to cut them together/combine them, he replied deadpan before thanking Tarantino for re-inspiring him into a new, vibrant phase of his career.
Best Director gong to Philippine director, Brillante Mendoza, was loudly jeered. Possibly in another context journalists would show more generous spirit but the knowledge that some of their favourites like Jane Campion (who was in most people’s top three lists) would walk away empty-handed, created a more incendiary mood.
A lifetime achievement award to Alan Resnais brought everyone in the main auditorium to their feet, with an equally respectful response among the press.
The two top prizes were smooth sailing: these were the two standout films of 2009. Many of us would have like to see an acknowledgement of the outstanding performance from Tahar Rahmin, in his first lead role as a young Arab in search of identity in a corrupt cruel prison system of Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet (Un prophete). But the euphoria on his face when his mentor director was called up to accept the Grand jury (runner up) prize indicated he already considered himself on the winning team. The raw truthfulness and toughness in his portrayal deserved an ex-aequo with Christoph Waltz. For that matter, the entire cast deserved a best ensemble gong.
Undoubtedly some national politics are involved. Few believed that a French film would win the Palme D’Or two years in a row.
And the Palme D’Or? From the time of its first screening here, the buzz about the powerful artistry and disturbing themes (a Haneke trademark) in the Austrian-born German filmaker’s The White Ribbon (Das Weisse Band) was circulating. By Saturday he already had two endorsements – the International Critics Prize (FIPRESCI) and runner up in the Ecumenical Jury award described as ‘a profound film of beautiful formal and cinematographical craft that moved all of us, reminding us to beware of the symptoms of our inner violence that breeds social and political violence.’
No one could begrudge Michael Haneke his first Palme D’Or. This festival is his showcase where he has experienced a roller coaster. With chilling (German version) Funny Games, he came to international notice here, won the Grande Jury (runners up) prize for The Piano Teacher (2001) for which (this year’s) head of the jury, Isabelle Huppert, won Best Actress. In 2005, the hotly tipped and acclaimed Hidden (Cache) with Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil walked away empty-handed, apart from an international critics prize. Likewise, his complex drama Time of the Wolf was overlooked.
An eclectic talent the director has worked in TV, theatre and opera, making his debut feature at 47. His dark, disturbing films are acclaimed for their artistry and philosophical content. The White Ribbon, explores the violence and abuse in a rural community in Northern Germany in 1913, prior to the outbreak of World War I.
It’s been a tough competition – dark and deep themes, violence, sexual abuse, self- mutilation, corruption, to name a few. There’s no wonder some of the lighter films have found it challenging to make an impact.
Juror, writer Hanif Kuresihi, expressed it succinctly: “I’ve seen things in these films that I’ve never seen in the cinema or even real world.”