Controversial doc still without U.S. distrib

See Winners

This article was last updated on May 23, 2004 at 9:24 p.m.

CANNES — Walking off with the top prize at an awards ceremony that was even more eccentric in its choices than it was pointedly political, Michael Moore’s agit-prop documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11″ won the Palme d’Or at the 57th Cannes Film Festival on Saturday night.

Acknowledging the lusty standing ovation of the black-tie crowd in the Palais Lumiere, Moore noted, “The last time I did this, onstage in Hollywood, all hell broke loose,” referring to his Oscar acceptance for “Bowling for Columbine.” In atypically restrained remarks, the biggest star in Cannes this year told the jury, “You’ve put a huge light on this movie,” adding, “You will ensure that the American people will see this movie.”

The official anointing of Moore’s blistering resume of the Bush administration’s behavior since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, with special attention on Iraq, was one of the least surprising choices pulled out of the hat by the jury headed by Quentin Tarantino. The group clearly worked overtime to come up with some of their awards, which were all over the map and had observers straining to remember such an odd bunch of prizes.

Park Chan-wook’s “Old Boy,” a stylish and particularly violent crime meller from South Korea, took the Grand Prix, this year’s name for the second place award. As he did for “Fahrenheit,” Tarantino, in announcing the award, said that “the jury is proud” to give this particular prize, essentially confirming reports through the week that Tarantino was particularly keen on this picture.

Hugely surprising, given the ho-hum critical reception, was the director award to French helmer Tony Gatlif for the road romance “Exiles,” another film Tarantino was reportedly quite high on.

Perhaps the only award that could have been predicted with confidence was the screenplay nod to Agnes Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri for “Look at Me” (Comme une image), a highly literate French ensembler that was one of the most widely enjoyed films of the festival.

By contrast, an award no one could have guessed was the best actor prize to Yuya Yagira, who was 12 years old when director Hirokazu Kore-eda made his up-close study of three abandoned children. Accepting the award, Kore-eda apologized for Yuya’s absence, saying he was busy taking school exams.

Slightly surprising was the actress nod to Maggie Cheung for her role as a mother who kicks her drug addiction in “Clean,” a Canadian-French production directed by Cheung’s ex-husband Olivier Assayas.

Jury picks

Two jury prizes, used by Tarantino and his group to honor whatever they wanted, were given to American actress Irma P. Hall, who was said to be in the hospital, for her work in the Coen brothers’ “The Ladykillers,” and to Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Tropical Malady,” a Thai film few would dispute was the artiest picture in the competition.

Among the films ignored by the jury were “The Motorcycle Diaries,” “Shrek 2,” “The Life and Death of Peter Sellers,” two-time Palme d’Or winner Emir Kusturica’s “Life Is a Miracle” and Wong Kar Wai’s “2046,” which had been the subject of so much frenzied attention just two days before, when it arrived late for its first screenings. Cynical tradesters suggested that Wong could now continue cutting the film and resubmit it to other competitive fests as a different picture.

A political strain ran through the 45-minute ceremonies, which were ably hosted by Italian actress Laura Morante, beginning with a plea by Jonas Geirnaert, a young Belgian who won the short film jury prize for “Flatlife,” for Americans watching the program not to vote for Bush.

This sentiment was soon seconded by Camera d’Or jury prexy Tim Roth, who announced that the top prize for a first film went to Keren Yedaya’s French-Israeli “Or,” which was shown in the Critics’ Week. Sharing a Camera d’Or special mention were Yang Chao’s “Passages” from China, an Un Certain Regard selection, and, from the Directors’ Fortnight, Mohsen Amiryoussefi’s “Bitter Dream” from Iran. Short film Palme d’Or went to Catalin Mitulescu’s “Trafic” from Romania.

Once the evening’s climax arrived, there was little doubt that Moore, who had left Cannes earlier in the week to join his daughter at her finishing of graduate school, would be getting the big enchilada from presenter Charlize Theron. After having embarrassed himself going on and on in increasingly fractured French when he accepted the special 55th anniversary prize for “Bowling for Columbine” two years ago, Moore wisely stuck to English this time in thanking the jury and stating, “There was a great Republican president who said, ‘If you give the American people the truth, the Republic will be safe.’ ”

Putting a period on the evening, he added, “I have this great hope that things are going to change.”

“Fahrenheit 9/11″ is not the first documentary to have won the Palme d’Or, as the undersea docu “The Silent World” by Louis Malle and Jacques-Yves Cousteau did it first in 1956. Although some locals complained at the presence of four Americans on the jury this year, in retrospect some insiders were speculating that this may have been a shrewd calculated move by fest toppers Gilles Jacob and Thierry Fremaux, who perhaps structured the jury so that, were “Fahrenheit” to win, it wouldn’t look like a nose-thumbing prize bestowed by the French.

Distribution of the awards accurately reflected the overall geographic shaping of the competition, which was heavy on Asian, American and French titles. Asian talent won four of the eight jury awards, while Americans and French split the other four.

Along with Tarantino, other jury members were American author Edwidge Danticat, French thesp Emmanuelle Beart, American actress Kathleen Turner, British thesp Tilda Swinton, Hong Kong helmer Tsui Hark, American director Jerry Schatzberg, Finnish critic Peter von Bagh and Belgian actor-screenwriter Benoit Poelvoorde.

Clear favorite

In the past, festgoers have often disagreed with jury prizes, but inside the Palais Saturday, it was clear that Michael Moore was the fave, as far as audiences were concerned.

Before the ceremonies begin, red-carpet arrivals are shown on the bigscreen; while there were several big-name filmmakers and stars shown, the Palais audience erupted into spontaneous applause only once: at the arrival of Moore.

He also got the only standing ovation of the ceremony, which lasted 90-seconds, as well as an enthusiastic reaction to his three-minute speech.

After the 40-minute awards ceremony wrapped, there was a screening of MGM’s “De-Lovely.” The closing-night slot is always a mixed blessing: It’s an honor to be there, but the screening and party can sometimes be anticlimactic after the awards.

However, there was little chance of anyone upstaging MGM on Saturday. After the pic, the studio treated 2,500 guests to a party on the Majestic Beach that was lavish and stylish, even by Cannes and Hollywood standards.

(Timothy M. Gray contributed to this report.)

And the winners are . . .

INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION JURY

Palme d’Or
“Fahrenheit 9/11″ (Michael Moore, U.S.)

Grand Prix
“Old Boy” (Park Chan-wook, South Korea)

Actress
Maggie Cheung (“Clean,” Canada-France-U.K.)

Actor
Yuya Yagira (“Nobody Knows,” Japan)

Director
Tony Gatlif (“Exiles,” France)

Screenplay
Agnes Jaoui, Jean-Pierre Bacri (“Look at Me,” France-Italy)

Jury Prize (shared)
film: “Tropical Malady,” (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, France-Thailand-Italy-Germany)
actress: Irma P. Hall, (“The Ladykillers,” U.S.)

SHORT FILM COMPETITION JURY

Palme d’Or (Short Film)
“Trafic,” (Catalin Mitulescu, Romania)

Jury Prize (Short Film)
“Flatlife,” (Jonas Geirnaert, Belgium)

UN CERTAIN REGARD JURY

Prix Un Certain Regard
“Moolaade” (Ousmane Sembene, Senegal-Burkina Faso-Morocco-Tunisia-Cameroon-France)

Prize of Regard Original
“Whisky” (Juan Pablo Revella, Pablo Stoll, Uruguay)

Regard vers l’Avenir prize
“Khakestar-o-khak (Earth and Ashes)” (Atiq Rahimi, France-Afghanistan)

OTHER JURIES’ AWARDS

Camera d’Or Award
“Or” (Keren Yedaya, France-Israel)

Special Mentions
“Passages” (Yang Chao, China)
“Bitter Dream,” (Khab e talkh) (Mohsen Amiryoussefi, Iran)

Cinefondation Short Film Award
“Happy Now” (Frederikke Aspock, Denmark)
second prize (shared): “A Trip to the City” (Corneliu Porumboiu, Romania), “99 Years of My Life” (Marja Mikkonen, Finland)
third prize: “Nice to See You” (Jan Komasa, Poland)

Prix Vulcain (technical award)
d.p. Eric Gautier (“Clean,” “The Motorcycle Diaries”)

Fipresci (intl. critics’assn.) Awards
“Fahrenheit 9/11″ (Competition)
“Whisky” (Un Certain Regard)
“Thirst” (Tawfik Abu Wael, Palestine-Israel) (Critics’ Week)

Ecumenical prize
“The Motorcycle Diaries” (Walter Salles, U.S.-Argentina-Chile-Peru)

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