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‘Underground’ mines Cannes d’or

Emir Kusturica’s “Underground,” a flamboyant, 3 1/4-hour tale spanning 50 years of friendship and strife between two Belgrade men, on May 28 snared the Palme d’Or to bring the 48th Cannes Intl. Film Festival to a close.

With his win, the Bosnia-born Kusturica became only the third director – after Francis Ford Coppola and Bille August – to twice take the top prize at Cannes, having won 10 years ago for “When Father Was Away on Business.”

Popular choice

Based on the wild applause that greeted Kusturica’s triumph inside the Salle Lumiere of the Palais, the jury’s decision was a popular one. There was one visible dissenter: Greek director Theo Angelopoulos.

When Angelopoulos was called just moments earlier for the runner-up Grand Prix du Jury for his three-hour poetic drama “Ulysses’ Gaze,” he appeared stunned, ventured to the stage and muttered, “I prepared my speech for the Palme d’Or, but now I’ve forgotten it. Thanks, anyway.” He then walked gracelessly offstage.

The remaining jury awards were dominated by French and British entries. For the first time in recent memory, American films were shut out.

“Carrington,” a study of the enduring relationship between writer Lytton Strachey and artist Dora Carrington that waved the British flag, picked up two scrolls – a Special Jury Prize (with particular mention to its script) for writer and first-time director Christopher Hampton, and the best actor nod for Jonathan Pryce.

Brit Helen Mirren scored the best actress prize for “The Madness of King George.” With Mirren busy on Broadway in “A Month in the Country,” co-star Nigel Hawthorne accepted the award for her. “We’ve lost her to the Colonies, what what?,” Hawthorne quipped, in his best “King George” manner.

French features took two honors, with the directing prize going to Mathieu Kassovitz for “La Haine” (Hate), an edgy black-and-white tale of violent youth in Paris suburbs, and the Jury Prize being awarded to Xavier Beauvois’ AIDS-themed “N’Oublie pas que tu vas mourir” (Don’t Forget You’re Going to Die).

Special mention

The jury, headed by actress Jeanne Moreau, cited the Russian animated pic “Gagarine” by Alexei Kharitidi and Gregor Jordan’s Australian “Swinger” as, respectively, winners of the Palme and Jury Prize in the short subject competition.

Non-jury awards announced at closing ceremonies included the Technical Prize to Zhang Yimou’s “Shanghai Triad” for its visual splendor. The prestigious Camera d’Or for first feature was given to Iranian Jafar Panahi’s Directors Fortnight entry “The White Balloon.” Same pic also took the Fipresci Intl. Critics Prize for non-competing entries.

“Denise Calls Up,” American Harold Salwen’s tale of dating angst, was given a special-mention in the Camera d’Or.

Heavy favorite

The Angelopoulos film had been heavily touted for top honors and shared the top award from the international crix with Brit director Ken Loach’s Spanish Civil War drama “Land and Freedom.” Latter was cited as best of fest by the Ecumenical Jury but was shut out of top prizes by the main fest jury.

Moreau shared jury duties with Nadine Gordimer (South Africa), Maria Zverva (Russia), Gianni Amelio (Italy), Jean-Claude Brialy (France), Emilio Garcia Riera (Mexico), Gaston Kabore (Burkina Faso), Philippe Rousselot (France) and John Waters (U.S.).

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