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The Cannes Film Festival
Top Prize to Polanski at Cannes Festival
By A. O. SCOTT
CANNES, France, May 26 — The jury at the 55th Cannes International Film Festival awarded its top prize tonight to Roman Polanski for "The Pianist." Shot in the director's native Poland, the film, based on the memoirs of Wladislaw Szpilman, a Jewish pianist who survived the Warsaw ghetto, was an unusually personal project for Mr. Polanski, and the award represents his return to the first rank of international filmmakers.
It is also, in some ways, a deeply conventional film: a meticulously detailed period drama with a careful, melancholy performance by Adrien Brody at its center. In its other selections, however, the jury acknowledged some of the festivals wilder, more inventive participants. Chief among these was Aki Kaurismaki, the Finnish director who won the Grand Jury Prize for "The Man Without a Past," which also took the award for best actress, given to Kati Outinen for her role as a Salvation Army volunteer who falls in love with an amnesiac. Mr. Kaurismaki also distinguished himself by giving perhaps the shortest, and certainly the most honest, award speech in history. "First of all, I'd like to thank myself," he said. "And then the jury. Thanks."
Olivier Gourmet, a Belgian actor playing a quiet, brooding carpenter in Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's film "Le Fils," won the award for best actor. Paul Laverty took the screenwriting prize for "Sweet Sixteen," directed by Ken Loach. The award for direction was shared by Im Kwon-Taek for "Chihwaseon," about a talented painter struggling with political turmoil in 19th-century Korea, and Paul Thomas Anderson for his offbeat romantic comedy "Punch-Drunk Love." The Jury Prize went to Elia Suleiman's "Divine Intervention," a Keatonesque exploration of the large and small absurdities of Palestinian life under occupation. The jury also created a new, one-time category, the 55th Anniversary Prize, which was given to "Bowling for Columbine," Michael Moore's documentary about American gun culture.
The Caméra d'Or for the best first film was awarded to "Bord de Mer" by Julie Lopes-Curval, a French movie about a young factory worker dreaming of a better life. Special mention was given to "Japon," a Mexican film about an old man preparing for death.
Among the presenters was the Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar. Addressing Mr. Lynch, the head of the jury, who by tradition announced each award, Mr. Almodóvar said: "I have two prizes here, David. Can you tell me the names, or do I have to guess?" For the past week, most of Cannes had been doing just that.
As I walked out of the Palais des Festivals one afternoon, I was buttonholed by a friendly woman with a Palm Pilot who said she was conducting some kind of Internet poll. Who did I think would win the Palme d'Or, she wanted to know. A fair enough question, to be sure, but an utterly baffling one.
Of course, neither the inscrutability of the jury nor its sequestration from the curious press could prevent the usual buzz of speculation, fueled by hunches, rumors and, it often seemed, clairvoyance. For a few days I heard it firmly asserted that "The Man Without a Past" was the front-runner. After people tired of circulating that bit of pseudo-news, Mr. Kaurismaki was displaced by Mr. Sulieman. Then, before they had been screened, "The Pianist" and Nicole Garcia's "Adversaire" surged ahead, on the assumption that the selection committee likes to schedule its favorites at the end of the festival.
Some of the rumors carried a whiff of politics, both worldly and local. Perhaps the left-wing populism of "Bowling for Columbine" would not sit well Mr. Lynch, who is known to be politically conservative. Or perhaps this festival would be shadowed by the memory of 1999, when Mr. Lynch was in competition here with "The Straight Story," which was passed over for the Palme in favor of the Dardenne brothers' "Rosetta." The brothers were back this year as was David Cronenberg, who led the jury in its controversial decisions three years ago. Would any of this influence the outcome? I phrase as a question what was generally stated as a fact.
Mr. Cronenberg's entry, "Spider," an elegant nightmare adapted from Patrick McGrath's novel, is a directorial tour de force. Without a false camera move (and without the ghoulish special effects that he has used in many of his other movies), Mr. Cronenberg probes the splintered psychology of a mentally ill Londoner (Ralph Fiennes) who is tormented by the memory of his mother's murder. "Spider" was perhaps the starkest articulation of what often appeared to be the festival's main theme: male loneliness and disaffection. In movie after movie (by my liberal estimate more than half of the 22 competitors) men of all ages were shown, sometimes tragically, sometimes comically, to be ill at ease and at odds with the world around them.
A few of these unhappy fellows were artists, like the tormented heroes of "The Pianist"; of Marco Bellocchio's passionate film "L'Ora di Religione" (Sergio Castellito, as an artist who rages against his family's attempt to have his murdered mother declared a saint); and of "Chihwaseon."
Most, however, affirmed the cinema's power to find heroism and humor in the pain and frustration of ordinary working and domestic life. Timothy Spall, playing a London cabdriver in Mike Leigh's "All or Nothing," seems to bear the disappointments of his family, his neighbors and an entire social class in his rounded shoulders and sagging face. Jack Nicholson does something similar in a bracingly restrained and nuanced performance as the retired Midwestern insurance executive in "About Schmidt," Alexander Payne's mordant, moving adaptation of a Louis Begley novel. Adam Sandler in "Punch-Drunk Love," turned a nervous, awkward plunger-salesman into an unlikely and entirely credible romantic hero. The list goes on and on, from Mr. Gourgmer's grieving woodworker in "Le Fils" to Martin Compston's Glasgow delinquent in Mr. Loach's "Sweet Sixteen," from Wu Qiong's provincial Chinese teenager in Jia Zhang-ke's "Unknown Pleasures" to the bourgeois impostor played by Daniel Auteuil in "L'Adversaire," who murders his family rather than admit he has been lying to them (and stealing their money) for years.
These movies yielded an astonishing array of powerful performances, making the competition for the best actor award especially intense, with nearly a dozen credible contenders. In contrast to this bounty and, perhaps, as a result of it, the best actress field was notably sparse. There were plenty of strong performances: Ms. Outinen in "The Man Without a Past," Miranda Richardson in "Spider," Emily Watson in "Punch-Drunk Love," Lesley Manville in "All or Nothing," for starters, but these were essentially supporting roles as love objects or psychological foils in movies whose emotional and dramatic focus was decidedly masculine. Women were the central characters in a scant handful of films, among them Manoel de Oliveira's "Principle of Uncertainty," and Robert Guédiguian's "Marie-Jo and Her Two Loves," whose heroine (Ariane Ascaride) finds herself unable to choose between her husband and her lover.
A more surprising exception to the men-first rule came from Abbas Kiarostami, who has made his share of films about masculine loneliness and alienation (one of them, "A Taste of Cherry," won the Palme in 1997). His new film, "10" (the director's first fictional feature shot in digital video), follows a Tehran woman (Mania Akbari) through a series of conversations, all of which take place in her car.
The lack of substantial roles for women is a familiar enough problem in Hollywood. French cinema, which venerates actresses and permits them to ripen, is supposed to be different, so the paucity of leading women was somewhat surprising.
This year, the tradition of great actresses and directors who love them (and allow them to love) was honored only by "Marie-Jo and Her Two Loves." Two other French entries, Olivier Assayas's "Demonlover" and Gaspar Noé's "Irréversible," were notable for a violent, empty misogyny masquerading as sexual daring. Both directors are unquestionably talented, and capable of jolting stylistic invention, but these movies — an incoherent thriller about multinational corporations fighting for control of the global market in Japanese animated Internet pornography and a chronologically reversed revenge story with a nine-minute rape scene at its center — are ultimately less provocative than suffocatingly pretentious.
In a scathing review of "Irréversible" in Le Monde, Samuel Blumenfeld compared Mr. Noé to a bad philosophy student whose research consists of barroom conversations, and noted that the film's gratuitous violence is proportionate to its intellectual laziness.
It would be unfair, and inaccurate, to end on such a sour note. "Irréversible" spools backward, beginning with ruined lives and ending, cruelly and cynically, on a note of hope and promise, but this festival mostly lived up to its promises, providing plenty of variety and surprise. Cannes is a place of paradox, consecrated to the highest art and the meanest commerce, dispensing a democratic art form in the most hierarchical fashion possible, and the competition this year invites a suitably paradoxical conclusion. Who knew that so much anomie and isolation could yield so much pleasure?
shame Polanski can't go to America for interviews though.
its just a big media fair, im pretty cynical about cannes. that said the specila jury prize is sometimes interesting especially if scorsese is on the panel.
Cannes is better than the Oscars though.
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