At the awards ceremony of the 35th Deauville Festival of American Film on Sunday the 13th of September, the organisers decided to pay their respects to the memory of Michael Jackson. This they did by shining a spotlight on the empty stage while playing a medley of Jackson's hits.
In what anyone who pays attention to lyrics might deem an unfortunate choice, the festival then expressed its thanks to its main sponsors, (including Cartier, who provide the trophies) by flashing their logos on the auditorium's giant screen to the strains of "Beat It." Which, need I spell out, is an informal American command to get the hell out of here and don't come back.
This (harmless) disconnect between intent and content happens with surprising frequency in France when a catchy melody comes along. Some years ago, the TV commercials for a prominent French bank were set to Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side" - which happens to be about the tawdry sexual antics of several male characters of questionable moral caliber. Apparently the bank's advertising department was drawn to the pleasant melody and the lyric that says "Everybody had to pay and pay" - without making too fine a point about the payment covering same-sex fellatio.
There were 11 films in the competition this year and main jury president Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie, A Very Long Engagement, forthcoming October release Mic-Macs) said on behalf of himself and the jury, "We're going to leave a little frustrated because if they'd let us, we would have given prizes to half if not two thirds of the films." He emphasized that this was a pleasant change from juries where the trick is "to choose the least bad movie."
The runner-up Jury Prize was a tie between "Precious" by Lee Daniels and "Sin Nombre" by Cary Joji Fukunaga. California-born Fukunaga accepted in near-perfect French.
The Grand Prize matched the choice of the International Critics' jury. "I'm happy to see that tonight, industry professionals are thinking on the exact same wavelength as critics," said Jeunet, announcing "The Messenger" by first-time director Oren Moverman. The subtle yet
wrenching tale of two soldiers assigned to notify next of kin when a loved one has been killed in the field in Iraq, never tips into excess or pathos or cheap melodrama. The performances by Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson and Samantha Morton are as exemplary as they are affecting.
Moverman sent an acceptance message as thoughtful as his film, expressing his wish that the movie will open a discussion about "war, love and grief" in keeping with his conclusion that "war is always wrong and love must prevail."
The Revelation (Newcomer) prize sponsored by Cartier, went to Lynn Shelton's "Humpday."
The Michel d'Ornano Prize, which honors the late d'Ornano - who was mayor of Deauville for 15 years and served as French Minister of Culture - went to "Silent Voices" written and directed by Lea Fehner, a talented young woman about to turn 28. The film's French title (the
d'Ornano prize recipient is the only French film shown at the 100% American-themed event), "Qu'un Seul Tienne et les Autres Suivront" translates roughly as "If One Hangs in There, Others will Follow."
The apparently disparate components of this intense ensemble drama about visitors to a French prison and the inmates they come to see, dovetail with a wallop. In keeping with her lengthy and enigmatic title, Fehner accepted the award (some 16,000 euros from the Motion Picture Association of America by way of the Franco-American Cultural Fund) by sharing the expression that sustained her during the shoot: "We often talk about the violence of a river, but we don't speak about the effect it has on the banks of that river."
Taken as a group, this year's prize winners tell us that you shouldn't be an obese black teenager from an abusive single parent household if you can help it ("Precious"), any more than you should try to smuggle yourself into the U.S. with limited resources ("Sin Nombre") or promise to have gay sex with your fellow heterosexual buddy for an arty porn film ("Humpday") or end up in prison ("Silent Voices") or join the U.S. military given its current engagements ("The Messenger").
The juries have spoken. Now beat it!