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Palme d'Or loves "Amour"

The 65th Cannes Film Festival's eleven days of prediction, wild speculation and gossip, some of it centering on the notoriously cranky personality of this year's jury president Nanni Moretti, came to an end Sunday evening in festival's business-like awards ceremony (or Soiree de Palmares, as the French call it) that traditionally lacks the extended let's-put-on-a-show aspect of the Oscars. The jury was seated onstage in a solemn group, and the awards given with a modest amount of fancy-dress formality, a bit of unrehearsed fumbling, and acceptance speeches that were short, dignified and to the point.

The foul weather that has marred the usually sunny festival continued to the end, and elite guests and movie stars alike walked a red carpet tented by a plastic roof as the rain fell on the multi-colored umbrellas of the surrounding crowds. Festival director Thierry Fremoux personally held an umbrella for Audrey Tautou, star of Claude Miller's closing night film, "Therese Desqueyroux," as she headed up the famous steps in a calf-length ivory lace gown with a bodice heavily embroidered in gold.


Actress Berenice Bejo, an international sensation since her starring role and subsequent Oscar nomination for "The Artist," performed mistress of ceremonies duties in a white, bridal-looking strapless sheath with long train, her only jewel an enormous heart-shaped emerald ring. Just about the only prediction this year that turned out to be accurate was the one that advised that all was unpredictable under the jurisdiction of the pensive and often-scowling Moretti.


My favorite and hoped-for win of the festival came early in the program -- the Camera d'Or, prize for best first film, went to the American independent "Beasts of the Southern Wild" by Benh Zeitlin, presented by Camera d'Or jury head, Brazilian director Carlos Diegues. Taking a few emotional seconds to gather his thoughts, Zeitlin stated that the film was a first for everyone involved, including the producers, the actors, and the crew.


In the ceremony's first major surprise, the Jury Prize went to UK director Ken Loach, whose comedy "The Angels' Share" was looked upon by many critics as a minor work, although its crowd-pleasing aspects are undeniable. Loach, who wears his social conscience on his sleeve, followed "Wow," and a few sentences in French, with an exhortation to the audience to join in solidarity with those resisting economic oppression.

Nastassja Kinski in a draped white number and a bejeweled choker with a reptilian pattern that called to mind her famous poster, presented the Best Screenplay award to Romanian director Cristian Mungiu for "Beyond the Hills," another film that had been received with a lackluster response quite different from that of his 2007 Palme winner "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days." Best Director went to Carlos Reygadas of Mexico, whose mysterious, supernatural-themed "Post Tenebras Lux" gathered some passionate supporters in the course of the festival, but never a groundswell of buzz.


"The Hunt" by Thomas Vinterberg, a film I liked but which was dismissed by many of my colleagues as a cliched TV film, earned Best Actor for its charismatic Danish mega-star Mads Mikkelsen, who plays against type in the film as a shy kindergarten teacher falsely accused of child molestation. Receiving the prize from beauteous Chinese star Gong Li, Mikkelson gave the longest of this year's acceptance speeches, sharing the award with his wife, director Vinterberg, and a host of cast and crew. A small portion the audience leapt to their feet in a standing ovation (the Danish contingent, perhaps?).


The best actress award, presented by Alec Baldwin, was another of the jury's highly unpredictable choices. Taking the stage for the presentation, Baldwin commented, "You have to come to Cannes; you have to wear a tuxedo; you have to walk the red carpet... it's a hard job but somebody's got to do it." Co-winners were the two Romanian actresses Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur, who starred in "Beyond the Hills," Stratan playing a novice in a strict monastery, and Flutur her troubled best friend.

Grand Prize went to "Reality" by Matteo Garrone, a bittersweet comedy about a fish vendor whose obsession is being selected for the reality show "Big Brother." Although Garrone is greatly respected for his previous international hit "Gomorrah," predictions for this one to be a prize-winner were slight.


The big moment for the Palme d'Or finally came, with Adrien Brody and Audrey Tautou as presenters. A few minutes prior, the TV camera had scanned the front rows where filmmakers who have been invited as prospective award winners were seated, and it was easy to spot that the only director seated there who had not yet won an award was Michael Haneke, director of "Amour."


The winner was Haneke, with his second Palme d'Or. "Amour" was the one film that had consistently come out ahead in critic's polls, and just about the only prediction that coincided with the jury's choice. To rhythmic applause and a standing ovation, Haneke brought his two veteran stars Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant to the stage with him, and dedicated the award to them. Their very moving performances were the soul of a film that deals with old age and death as its difficult subject matter. Both stars added comments of their own, Riva stating that the film was, "For me, a work of passion."

The Palme d'Or for Best Short Film was the award that opened the program, and that prize went to Turkish filmmaker Rezan Yesilbas for "Silence," presented by Jeanne-Pierre Dardennes and Kylie Minogue.


The awards of the "A Certain Regard" section of the festival had been announced on Saturday with less pomp, by a jury presided over by actor Tim Roth. Roth, whose own credits range from the avant-garde ("The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover") to cult ("Reservoir Dogs" and "Pulp Fiction") to Oscar-nominated mainstream ("Rob Roy"), commented: "This was an extraordinarily strong group of films and our deliberations were passionate... The filmmakers never once failed us."


The final "A Certain Regard" choices were also surprising, but admirably diverse, with the top prize going to "Despues de Lucia" by Mexican director Michel Franco, a film about a young girl and her dad struggling with starting over in a new town. The Special Jury Prize went to the French film "Le Grand Soir" by Benoit Delepine and Gustave Kervern, in which two brothers aim to spearhead a punk revolution following personal economic disaster.


The "A Certain Regard" jury eschewed a Best Actor prize, but gave two Best Actress awards. Canadian Suzanne Clement won for her role in Xavier Dolan's "Laurence Anyways," an unusual love story between a woman and a man who aspires to become one. Emily Dequenne was also singled out for role in the Belgian film "A Perdre la Raisson" by Joachim Lafosse. Special Distinction of the Jury was awarded to "Djeca" aka "Children of Sarajevo," the story of a sister's discovery of her brother's double life in the aftermath of the Bosnian war.

Cannes photocall and red carpet images by AP.

Barbara Scharres

Barbara Scharres is the former Director of Programming at the Gene Siskel Film Center, a public program of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  

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