Palme D’Or Goes to Volver

The Cannes Film Festival closed today with the presentation of the Palme D’Or, arguably the most sought after prize for filmmakers.

Pedro Almodovar’s film Volver was considered to be the front runner for the prize. It instead went to Ken Loach’s The Wind That Shakes the Barley.

Ken Loach’s ‘Wind That Shakes the Barley’ Wins Top Prize at Cannes
Published: May 29, 2006 NY Times

CANNES, France, May 28 — The Wind That Shakes the Barley, a film about the Irish rebellion against British rule and the country’s subsequent civil war, won the top prize at the 59th Cannes Film Festival on Sunday. This was the 13th time Ken Loach, at 69 the oldest director in competition this year, had brought a film to Cannes. He has won several prizes, but never before the Palme d’Or. This year he got lucky.

Speaking in French and English, Mr. Loach, with his customary quiet directness, said he hoped his movie — one of several war films shown during the festival — might represent “a little step in the British confronting their imperial history.”

Maybe if we tell the truth about the past, we can tell the truth about the present,” he added.

An unspecified modern war, albeit one with obvious allusions to Afghanistan and Iraq, is at the center of Bruno Dumont’s Flandres, the runner-up, taking the Grand Prize. This is the second time Mr. Dumont, one of the most controversial of contemporary French directors, has won that honor. When his Humanité won in 1999, it caused a minor scandal, an event not repeated this year, although many festivalgoers were nonetheless surprised — some unpleasantly, given Mr. Dumont’s brutal, dehumanizing world view — by the award.

In a striking departure from tradition, the competition jury, headed by the Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai, spread the wealth this year by dividing the prizes for best actor and actress among a total of 10 actors and actresses: the “family” of women in Pedro Almodóvar’s Volver and the “brotherhood” in Rachid Bouchareb’s Indigènes (Days of Glory). Perhaps the presence of so many actors on the jury — five of the nine members, among them the Italian bombshell Monica Bellucci, the lovely Chinese actress Ziyi Zhang and Samuel L. Jackson, perennially one of the coolest men in Hollywood — inspired this generosity.

Mr. Almodóvar sat alone, clapping, as five of his actresses, including Penélope Cruz and Carmen Maura, accepted their collective prize for what many considered the finest film in competition. It was a bittersweet moment as the cast members, obviously overcome with emotion, thanked their director while blowing him kisses from the stage. “I think this award really belongs to Pedro,” Ms. Cruz said. “You are the greatest, the greatest. Thank you so much for what you do for women.” Mr. Almodóvar later took the stage to accept the award for best screenplay, a consolation prize that seemed a disappointment, not only to him.

Mr. Bouchareb, in contrast, was as elated as his cast, who summoned him to join them onstage. After several effusive (and lengthy) speeches, they all burst into a rousing rendition of a battle hymn that is sung in the film. Indigènes follows a small of North African soldiers fighting to liberate France from the Nazis during Word War II. Recalling classic Hollywood World War II combat films, it features strong performances, stirring speeches and gripping combat sequences. Like Flandres and The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Mr. Bouchareb’s movie has clear contemporary resonance.

War informed even those films that were not directly about military conflict. Among the most metaphorically loaded films in this respect was Babel, from the Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu (21 Grams), who won the director’s prize. This polyglot, multi-everything film (goats, sign language, a Japanese disco and Brad Pitt) traces the various miseries of American tourists in Morocco, a Mexican nanny living in Southern California, two very young Moroccan goat-herders and a deaf-mute schoolgirl in Japan. They’re all linked in a Crash-like story about the invisible connections among strangers. The win for Babel confirmed that this was a strong year for Spanish and Latin American cinema. Several films from Mexico were shown at the festival: two in competition as well as features from Argentina and Paraguay.

The jury was as cosmopolitan as the slate of winners, with the British actress Helena Bonham Carter, the Palestinian director Elia Suleiman, the French director Patrice Leconte and the Argentine filmmaker Lucrecia Martel joining Mr. Wong and the others. Both Mr. Jackson and Ms. Martel wore sunglasses during the ceremony, perhaps in tribute to the president of the jury, who is rarely seen without them. “Normally I don’t work with a script,” said Mr. Wong, who is notorious for his long shooting schedules and constant revisions, in his introductory remarks. “I think it’s much easier to make a film than to be on a jury.”

It is not known whether Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne — last year’s Palme d’Or winners and the presidents of this year’s Camera d’Or jury — would agree. But they reported that their panel, which acknowledges the best first feature in any of the festival’s sections, had been unanimous in their choice of A Fost Sau N-a Fost? (12:08, East of Bucharest), the debut feature by the Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu. A mordant look back at Romania’s 1989 Revolution, Mr. Porumboiu’s movie is the second entry from that country to win a major prize here in as many years (The Death of Mr. Lazarescu was a sensation last year in 2005), and the latest sign of a nascent and exciting national cinema.

In the main competition, the emotional thriller Red Road, directed by the British newcomer (and Oscar winner, for a short) Andrea Arnold, won the Jury Prize, equivalent to third place. Red Road, Ms. Arnold’s first feature, centers on a woman who works at a surveillance center and seems to live vicariously through the strangers she watches. Coupled with Mr. Loach’s victory, Ms. Arnold’s made this an unusually strong year for British filmmakers, though their harsh portrayal of their country’s past and present are not likely to please the tourist board.

Two short films, Conte de Quartier from France and Primera Nieve from Argentina, received special mention, while the Palme d’Or in that category went to Sniffer, by a 31-year-old Norwegian director, Bobbie Peers.

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