Your NPR news source

Award Winners at Cannes

SHARE Award Winners at Cannes

Award Winners at Cannes

The prizes for the films at this year's Cannes Festival, during a closing ceremony hosted by actor Vincent Cassell, delivered an unexpected but welcome surprise. The jury was headed by Chinese filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai, and included actors Monica Bellucci, Samuel L. Jackson, Helena Bonham–Carter, and Zhang Ziyi, actor/director Tim Roth, and filmmakers Patrice Leconte, Lucrecia Martel, and Elia Suleiman.

The handicapping among the press this time around turned out dead wrong. Most film critics put their bets for the Palme d'Or, the top prize, to Almodovar's film Volver, which stars Penelope Cruz and an ensemble of women. Volver is a convoluted incest story centering on two sisters whose mother comes back from the dead. Other top contenders were Alberto Gonzalez–Inarritu's Babel, a complex triptych of parallel stories set in Morocco, Japan and the Mexican–American border. This intense 2 ½ hour non–stop thriller includes star turns from Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. Most felt that Flanders, the fourth feature by French filmmaker Bruno Dumont, who scored in Cannes previously with his Life of Jesus and L'Humanité, was a flawed film. The dark horse, and the subject of much controversy, was Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette. The film was received by scattered applause followed by many boos at the first screening, though at the official screening, it received a standing ovation, and was warmly embraced by the French press, which left everyone else scratching their heads.

Every jury has its politics, and what was evident from the prizes at the 2006 Cannes Festival is that serious, political, edgy, committed films won over fluff. The jury decided to give the Best Actress prize to the ensemble of six actresses who play in Almodovar's Volver. The six actresses made their short acceptance speeches, and each thanked Almodovar profusely, with what looked like a sour–faced Penelope Cruz coming in last. Almodovar, too, looked rather unhappy, even when he got up on stage to accept the award for Best Screenplay, something which could be viewed as a consolation prize. He rambled about how he learned everything about women from his sisters. A day later, a French scandal sheet revealed that Almodovar has not had sex with a woman since he was 22—news that for some reason they found shocking—but working with Penelope Cruz has reawakened his interest in women.

The Best Actor prize also went to an ensemble of the four actors who are at the center of Rachid Bouchareb's Indigènes, or Days of Glory. This film by the French filmmaker is the powerful story of soldiers from the former French colonies who are recruited to fight for the liberation of France in the last years of the second World War. They are used by the French military, thrown into difficult battles, yet remain the objects of racism, never treated equally with French soldiers in the same army. In what was perhaps the most moving moment of the award ceremony, the four French–Arab actors on stage sang a capella their marching song from the film, the text of which says they come from Africa to make France free. At the end, they received a standing ovation from the 4,000 people in the audience.

Alberto Gonzalez–Inarritu, who said that his entire filmmaking career started at Cannes with the screening of his first feature, Amores Perros, received the Prix Mise–en–scene, for best direction.

Surprisingly, Bruno Dumont won the Prix du Jury, the runner-up prize, for his Flanders.

The biggest surprise of the evening was reserved for the recipient of the Palme d'Or. It went to British filmmaker Ken Loach, for The Wind that Shakes the Barley, his tense recounting of the Irish troubles in 1920 during the Irish guerilla war for independence. Loach, speaking first in French then in English, said that he hoped we would perhaps learn from the past in order to understand the present, and that he hoped that because of the Palme d'Or, more people would get to see the film. He also said that he wanted the film to get Britain to confront its imperialist past. Loach's film played early on in the festival, a spot usually not reserved for what the Festival direction might think are the Palme d'Or winners. Though most people liked it, it was not received particularly well by the French press. Others thought it too conventional and preferred Loach's contemporary social dramas which are set among the British or Scottish working class.

What united all of the prize winning films in Cannes was the fact that each had a political theme. Babel deals with issues of terrorism in the middle east and with immigration along the Mexican–American border. The farm boys in Bruno Dumont's Flanders go off to war in an unnamed middle–eastern country where they commit brutal gang rape and massacre.

Days of Glory touches on the buried subject of the largely unacknowledged and unrecompensed contribution of 130,000 “natives” from Africa and the Middle East who joined the French army in order to free France from the Nazis.

The fact that the fluff of Marie Antoinette was completely shut out of the Cannes Festival prizes is, in itself, a political statement.  

This is Milos Stehlik for Chicago Public Radio's Worldview.

Worldview film contributor Milos Stehlik is the director of Facets Multimedia.

More From This Show