Cannes 2009: Final round-up

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2009 was a vintage year for Cannes. Dave Calhoun presents the prizewinners, including the Palme d’Or for Michael Haneke, and looks back on a great festival


And the winners are...


Palme d’Or: Michael Haneke’s ‘The White Ribbon
Read Time Out review here Grand Prix - Jacques Audiard's 'A Prophet' Read Time Out review here
Best Actor - Christoph Waltz, ‘Inglourious BasterdsRead Time Out review here
Best Actress - Charlotte Gainsbourg’ ‘AntichristRead Time Out review here
Best Director - Brillante Mendoza, ‘Kinatay’Best Screenplay - Feng Mei, ‘Spring FeverRead Time Out review here
Life Achievement Award - Alain Resnais (‘Wild Grass’)Read Time Out review here
Shared Jury Prize - Andrea Arnold, ‘Fish Tank’, Park Chan-wook, ‘Thirst’Read Time Out review here When the Cannes line-up was announced last month, there was something special in the air. Just look at the names. Michael Haneke. Pedro Almodóvar. Jane Campion. Quentin Tarantino. Ken Loach. This was a collision of heavyweight auteurs like there hadn’t been for years. Better still, there were no grandstanding special screenings of Hollywood titles in the programme to distract from the 20 international films competing for the Palme d’Or. Sure, the festival was to open with ‘Up’, an American cartoon, but that was from Pixar, purveyor of imaginative fare such as ‘Wall-E’ and ‘Ratatouille’. A crass piece in The Times last week, written by someone who wasn’t at Cannes, suggested that the festival had sold out and was no longer of any artistic importance. The writer argued that the event had long ago decided that ‘all roads eventually lead to Hollywood’. What rot. Of the 20 films in this year’s competition, only two were American – Tarantino’s ambitious ‘Inglourious Basterds’ and Ang Lee’s amusing, lightweight ‘Taking Woodstock’ – and Lee is Taiwanese and has spent half his career making films in Asia while Tarantino, for all his flaws, is hardly Michael Bay. The bigger, smarter point about the festival is that what gets reported from Cannes are the Hollywood presence – Brad Pitt on the red carpet – and the unofficial celebrity sideshows, which this year included Paris Hilton. Has the star of ‘The Hottie and the Nottie’ got a film in the Official Selection? Of course she hasn’t. But then neither did Brigitte Bardot when she posed for the cameras in 1953. This year the films spoke loudly for themselves. There was barely one mediocre film in the competition. But head and shoulders above all others was Michael Haneke’s ‘The White Ribbon’, which rightly won the Palme d’Or. The director of ‘Hidden’ and ‘Funny Games’ has made an austere, black-and-white drama set in a German village in 1913 and 1914 – on the eve of Germany’s transformation by war and a plunge into political and social chaos. Haneke presents various families, each headed by a flawed patriarch. Strange acts occur: the doctor falls off his horse after someone ties wire between two posts; a disabled child is found half-blinded after an attack. Haneke explores relationships between parents and children, between husbands and wives, with a precise, investigative eye. Moments and incidents build up to offer a rich portrait of a community at a crucial point in history. It’s up to us to decide how much the ‘acts of revenge’, as one character describes them, and the ‘malice, envy, apathy and brutality’ of this village reflect something in the German national character that made National Socialism possible.For a view of history that couldn’t be less rigorous, you couldn’t find better than Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Inglourious Basterds’, a film that plays fast and loose with the facts and unleashes a wild and childish revenge fantasy on German soldiers and politicians in Nazi-occupied France. This is Tarantino’s usual mix of tongue-in-cheek drama and hyper-real conversations loaded with pop cultural nods. That’s fine – nobody wants realism from Tarantino. But he makes a mistake by adding the real personalities of Hitler and Goebbels to two stories of vengeance that collide in a hysterical, exploitative finale. We follow a young Jewish French girl looking to avenge her parents’ deaths and a bunch of deep undercover Jewish-American soldiers, the titular ‘basterds’, led by Brad Pitt, who roam France collecting Nazi scalps. Chatty even by Tarantino’s standards, it’s a patchy film and its endless cinema references are tiresome. Pitt is upstaged by a great performance of comic evil from Christoph Waltz as a Nazi colonel. The jury thought so too and gave Waltz the best actor award.Tongues were wagging positively all festival about Jacques Audiard’s ‘A Prophet’. The French director of ‘The Beat that My Heart Skipped’ has made an impressive prison movie that applies muscular direction and a realist eye to what is essentially a genre tale: a young French-Arab man, Malik (Tahar Rahim), enters a tough jail as a quiet man and is sucked into a maelstrom of rivalries as a grizzly Corsican Mafioso, César (Niels Arestrup), forces him to commit murder. The portrait of the jail is as exceptional as the two leads; the wild twists of the plot, less so, although Audiard brilliantly bullies you into believing it all. The director left the festival with the jury’s second prize, the Grand Prix.Lars Von Trier is the festival equivalent of the drunk at the wedding: loud, confrontational and guaranteed to liven up the party. But you wouldn’t want to take him home with you. His peril-in-the-woods horror yarn ‘Antichrist’, he told a press conference, confirmed he was the ‘greatest director in the world’. It didn’t – the film is an average stab at horror that expands such spooky tropes as the cabin in the forest and parents dealing with a child’s death and punctuates the whole thing with images so worrying that only Von Trier would dare create them. Clitorectomy, anyone? The gender war between Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg’s characters at the heart of the film is interesting, but you know that Von Trier’s aim is to shock us out of the bourgeois complacency that he thinks we inhabit. It’s all a bit patronising and tired. Festivals inspire a dash of patriotism, and flying the flag for the UK were Ken Loach, Andrea Arnold and Jane Campion. The last might be from New Zealand, but her ‘Bright Star’, a swooning study of the doomed romance between John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), is a British production. If the story lacks a little fire, Campion’s success in making it feel so easy, modern and beautiful more than makes up for it. I’d already seen Loach’s rousing and moving ‘Looking for Eric’, but I stuck my head round the door of the screening and it was great to hear a global crowd laughing at a bunch of Mancunian posties. Andrea Arnold’s ‘Fish Tank’ shows flashes of Loach, but the 48-year-old Londoner and director of ‘Red Road’ has her own eye for the emotions of women in danger. She tells of a teenage girl (Katie Jarvis) on an Essex estate who is aggressive and unpleasant, but inside dying a little and desperate for love. It’s not perfect, but I love how Arnold finds poetry on the ragged edges of the city. She walked away with the same prize she won for ‘Red Road’ in 2006, the Jury Prize, not a major award, but a worthy acknowledgement nonetheless.Who else unveiled films in this great year for established auteur talent? Only one director, Isabel Coixet, had never been in the competition before, while it was Loach's tenth stab. There was 87-year-old Alain Resnais, who started making films in the 1940s. He delivers an eccentric, controlled and charming story of middle-aged infatuation with ‘Wild Grass’, although the film goes astray at the end. There was Pedro Almodóvar, who ties himself in self-reflexive knots with ‘Broken Embraces’, whose theme of controlling the image is intermittently fascinating but a little too distancing for its own good. And in the slightly lazy ‘The Time that Remains’ Palestinian Elia Suleiman again applies a Buster Keaton-inspired, deadpan comic touch to the history of his family from 1948. Finally, Marco Bellochio’s ‘Vincere’, the veteran Italian’s account of how Mussolini abandoned the mother of his first child, is a great tale, but I found its operatic storm of music, weather and archive footage a bit too melodramatic.

Author: Dave Calhoun


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