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By Jeremy Mathews | May 23, 2005

While perhaps in a different order than a poll of critics might have arranged, the Cannes Film Festival gave its three major awards to the three most beloved films in the official competition, with Belgian duo Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne winning their second Palme d’Or for “L’Enfant” (“The Child”). They won for “Rosetta” in 1998, in a somewhat controversial decision by David Cronenberg’s jury, but now they have the ultimate feat of two Palmes, and won’t likely have to put up with anymore doubts.

Their film looks at a young and irresponsible new father, played by Jeremie Renier, who acts stupidly, then tries to redeem himself. The Dardennes use their handheld, unforced style to depict an aimless man who realizes the responsibilities required in raising another life. The film was one of the festival favorites (and this year the favorites were also the best), ranking alongside Jim Jarmusch’s “Broken Flowers” and Michael Haneke’s “Caché,” as the best-ranked in the industry polls of critics.

The Grand Jury Prize, an amusing name for second place, went to Jim Jarmusch’s brilliantly observed “Broken Flowers,” which stars Bill Murray in a quiet and humorous performance that unfortunately wasn’t honored. But Jarmusch gave a very gracious speech, saying, “I would like to very proudly accept this on behalf of all of those who made the film…particularly to Bill Murray—I wouldn’t even have written this film without him.” He also thanked the festival “for this very strange jury we have” and fellow directors in competition David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan, Amos Gitaï, Johnnie To, Hou Hsaio Hsien, Wim Wenders, Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller. “We are really one tribe and I’m very honored to be one of you,” he said. Afterwards at the press conference, he added, “I’m in awe of many of these people. I got nervous—I would have mentioned more people, but I forgot.”

The Best Director award went to Michael Haneke for “Caché” (“Hidden”), which many felt deserved the top prize. Haneke’s layered thriller, featuring great performances by Daniel Autueil and Juliette Binoche, has been haunting most of the people who saw it for the rest of the festival. On Friday, it received awards from two independent juries, and will thankfully receive distribution from Sony Picture Classics.

Tommy Lee Jones’s “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” turned out to be a big winner as well, picking up two awards, one to Jones for Best Actor as a bereaved rancher who takes justice into his own hands when his Mexican immigrant friend is killed, and one to Guillermo Arriaga for Best Screenplay. Arriaga also wrote “Amores Perros,” and here reveals the same attention to both character richness and time-bending structure. “I’m surprised and deeply honored by this most prestigious film festival in the world. It was a terrific honor just to be admitted to the competition,” said Jones.

The Jury gave the Best Actress prize to Hanna Laslo, whose work as a struggling Israeli chauffeur with an injured husband was one of the strongest elements in Amos Gitaï’s “Free Zone.” Her mother was a holocaust survivor, and she dedicated the prize to her and the victims on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “It’s about time we sit and have a conversation and try to solve the problem,” she said.

The Jury Prize, which is kind of like honorable mention, went to “Shanghai Dreams,” by Xiaoshuai Wang (“Beijing Bicycle”). The film is a touching portrait of family life in China in the 1980s. The family it centers around was relocated to a small town and away from their home city, Shanghai, during a government work program. The daughter struggles with her origins and identity while forging a relationship with a young man from the country, whom, if she marries, would prevent her from going back to the family’s traditional yet distant home. Her over-strict father spoils her ambitions to do anything other than study while he fruitlessly dreams of returning to his home city. Quiet but often poignant, the film combines a family portrait with that of an interesting period in Chinese history. “Already to be here, it’s a big help for the film,” Wang said at the press conference, saying that he and other artistic filmmakers in China will hopefully have more freedom with their films because of the attention.”

The Palme d’Or for the shorts in competition went to Ukrainian Igor Strembitskyy for “Podorozhni, with special mention to “Clara,” by Van Sowerwine.

The Camera d’Or award, for best first film, was a tie between two films: Vimukthi Jayasundara for “Sulanga Enu Pinisa” and Miranda July for “Me and You and Everyone We Know.” “To get such recognition for the first one, it’s like someone saying, yeah, this way that you are, it’s OK. You can go on now,” July said. Her film is brilliant, and I was reminded of this the night before the ceremony. Having forgotten July’s film was in the Critic’s Week sidebar, I went to the screening of one of its prize-winning films. I’d planned on leaving if I had already seen the film, but this film’s magic immediately mesmerized again and I stayed through the entire movie.

At the press conference, July, a performance artist, said she has started work on another feature film, but also wants to do a book of short stories, more performance art pieces, “and other things I can’t do while making a film,” she said.

For the most part, the Jury, presided over by Emir Kusturica, gave the awards to deserving films, although “Shanghai Dreams” could have been passed over in favor of better work. The biggest snub was to “A History of Violence,” by David Cronenberg and starring Viggo Mortensen and a favorite among many.

The previous night, the winners of the Un Certain Regard competition were announced, and the jury awarded the top prize to Cristi Puiu’s “The Death of Mister Lazarescu.” The Romanian film, which I wrote about a couple days ago, is a painful tour of modern health care following a man who never receives proper treatment and is rarely acknowledged as a human being. Two special prizes for intimacy and spirit were also presented, respectively, to “Le Filmeur,” an engaging and humorous, if overlong, video diary by French filmmaker Alain Cavalier, and “Delwende,” by S. Pierre Yameogo from Burkina-Faso.

Director Alexander Payne, the president of the sidebar’s jury, eloquently began the presentation with the jury members’ decision to take the pulse of world cinema based on the 22 films from 16 countries they had watched. In the selection, he said, they saw many birds, many hospitals, teenagers rebelling against their fathers, attacks on religion, vomiting and urinating, lots and lots of sex, “but almost no depictions of love.”

Further writing on most of the winners can be found in my earlier Cannes reports.

And as I wind down from this 12-day, 50-plus-film marathon, I have an anecdote to explain just how insane this festival gets. The red carpet march, with audio, was on the screen prior to the awards ceremony, and made me excessively happy that I write about films instead of photographing the people in them. While the celebrities walking through might be used to the mess, it still must be like being in the halls in a prison of damned souls, desperately calling to you for an over-the-shoulder shot. With the urgency of people who will be shot if their task isn’t completed satisfactorily, photographers dressed up in tuxedos strain their voice to desperately yell at Salma Hayek to come back, Penelope Cruz to step away from her fellow cast members for a solo shot (“Penelope solo! This is so stupid!”) or Morgan Freeman to, “TAKE YOUR GLASSES OOOOOOOFFFFFFFFFF!!!” The stars somehow manage to smile during all this, as if they’re having a good time. Meanwhile, the rest of us groan, until we see great films like tonight’s winners and remember the power of cinema.

Check out Film Threat’s 2005 Cannes Film Festival coverage from the beginning>>>

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