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By Jeremy Mathews | May 24, 2004

Check out Jeremy’s previous reports from Cannes>>>
Only two years after the Cannes Film Festival broke four decades of not placing documentaries in competition, Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” has won the Palm d’Or. It was one among many surprises in an award ceremony that quieted all the assured predictors who spent the last 10 days telling people who would win. Moore, who received a special award in 2002 for Bowling for Columbine, responded emotionally when jury president Quentin Tarantino enthusiastically announced his victory. He gave a touching speech in which he described his love for cinema—and, being Michael Moore and all, talked a little politics.
Moore proudly informed the audience that his film now has a distributor in Albania. Every country will be able to see it, he said, except one. “You will ensure that the American people will see this movie,” he said toward the jury. Moore also quoted Abraham Lincoln, “If you tell the people the truth, the republic will be safe.”
The news has of course been out since before the festival that Disney will not allow its subsidiary Miramax, the film’s financier, to distribute the film. Now Miramax heads Harvey and Bob Weinstein have bought the film back from the company to find a way to release it on the target date of July 4. One rumor has the Weinsteins arranging a cooperative effort among several of the important independent distributors, including classics wings and other companies affiliated with major studios.
Moore had already received his share of love at the festival, when he received a standing ovation that lasted around 15 or 20 minutes after his official screening. “Fahrenheit 9/11” shows him continuing to grow with editing technique and making the films less about himself than his subjects. His aim to entertain people while he informs them could create wider public interest in politics if the film is a hit. He explained the honor the award gives him more at a press conference after the film, saying that he goes to the movies three or four times a week—”I don’t go to screenings, I don’t watch DVDs. I go to the theater…The films that I got to see this week were incredible.”
The Grand Jury Prize, second place despite its nice name, went to “Old Boy,” directed by Korean Park Chan-wook. In it, a man finds himself imprisoned for 15 years without explanation. Most of the film takes place as he tries to find his captor and an the crime for his punishment. While many, myself included, felt the film was uneven, it was an obvious prize contender for the Tarantino-led jury, with its revenge theme and cool fight scenes.
Tony Gatlif won the Best Director prize for his work on “Exiles.” The film is a deliberately paced work of landscapes, cultural identity and music that looks at a Parisian couple trying to get back to Algeria to connect with their heritage. While the film is quite moving, its somewhat difficult style didn’t create much talk during the festival.
The Best Actor prize went to young Yagira Yuuya for his touching performance in Kore-eda Hirokazu’s “Nobody Knows.” Kore-eda’s film is possibly the best in competition, as it follows a year in the life of four siblings, each with a different father, who live in poor, unsupervised circumstances while their single mother is away. As the oldest person in the house, 12-year-old Yagira captures the tragedy of youthful innocence combined with overwhelming responsibility.
Maggie Cheung’s performance in “Clean,” written and directed by Olivier Assayas, was also worthy of her award for Best Actress. She plays a recovering heroin addict who tries to clean up her life after her rock star husband dies in the hope of seeing her son, currently in his grandparents’ care. The film doesn’t sugarcoat or sentimentalize the situation, and Cheung portrays a brave woman who meets the problems she created for herself with acceptance and tries to improve her life.
Another surprise award went to Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Tropical Malady,” the first Thai film ever to compete at Cannes. The film tied for the special mention Jury Prize with Irma P. Hall’s performance in the Coen brothers’ “The Lady Killers.”
Catalin Mitulescu won the Palm d’Or for short films with “Trafic,” and Jonas Geirnaert won the Grand Jury Prize for “Flatlife.” Geirnaert upstaged the winner a bit with his speech, in which he said that he wished Cannes was more like a film festival than a business festival and, in case Moore didn’t win, asked Americans not to vote for Bush.
Conspicuously absent from the prize recipients were Wong Kar-wai’s “2046,” considered a big contender before it even screened, Walter Salles’s audience favorite “The Motorcycle Diaries” and Emir Kusturica’s “Life is a Miracle.” In the room where the press watched the feed (not to be confused with the polite audience where the awards took place), the somewhat pretentious “Tropical Malady” received boos that the film’s supporters drowned out with bravos, and boos were also mixed in with applause for Gatlif.
While there were more worthy films than “Tropical Malady” and “Old Boy,” no one ever completely agrees with the jury and if there weren’t any surprises, the awards would be a bit dull. Leave it to Tarantino to keep things interesting.

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