Moncrieff's feature wins grand prize

“The Dead Girl,” Karen Moncrieff’s four-chapter tale of how violence contaminates otherwise ordinary lives, took the grand prize at the 33rd Deauville Festival of American Film on Sunday night.

“Never Forever,” Gina Kim’s portrait of a Caucasian housewife who finds a novel solution when her Korean-American husband proves sterile, was awarded the jury prize.

A pleasantly shaken Kim, in the company of her leading lady, Vera Farmiga, described how her pic sold to a French distrib “after its first screening at Sundance but didn’t sell to the United States for a long time.”

A semi-stunned Moncrieff echoed Kim’s experience of Gallic vs. Yank sensibilities: “In my home country, the film came out on Dec. 29, and it was gone two weeks later, and I think about five people saw it, so to be honored in this way and by (jury prexy) Andre Techine is beyond affirmation.”

In a touching nod to slain scripter-helmer Adrienne Shelly, Moncrieff said, “My film is about violence, and one of the filmmakers is not with us because she was a victim of violence.” Shelly’s pic “Waitress” was well received in the 11-title competition.

International critics jury selected James C. Strouse’s loss-permeated “Grace Is Gone.” “When we were making this film, we had no idea whether it would connect with American audiences, let alone foreign ones,” the scripter-helmer said. “Judging from the reception it got here and this prize, it would appear it does.”

Cartier Revelation Jury prexy Gael Morel described his panel’s choice with terms of admiration so florid and poetic that “Rocket Science” scripter-helmer Jeffrey Blitz — whose bittersweet comedy serves up high school debating as a cure for both stuttering and adolescent angst — admitted that “while I was listening to the lead-up to the announcement, I didn’t realize he was talking about my own film.”

The late Jack Valenti — who was instrumental in endorsing the once-fledgling fest and missed only one edition in 32 years — was frequently mentioned in admiring tones at the opening and closing ceremonies.

Valenti had planned to launch a French-language translation of his memoirs at this year’s fest.

World preeming pics with helmers in tow were Sidney Lumet’s “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” Ben Affleck’s “Gone Baby Gone” and the Farrelly brothers’ “The Heartbreak Kid.”

As Bourne-again thesp Matt Damon put it on his third visit, “We like Deauville because it’s not adversarial — we’re not in competition, the setting is great, and it’s just so relaxed.”

Even with the likes of Damon, George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in the neighborhood, the most impressive faces in Deauville theaters may have been the WWII vets interviewed in Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s 14-hour docu “The War,” which unspooled here on the bigscreen ahead of its airing on PBS in the U.S. It won the Coup de Coeur prize for docs sponsored by Gallic paybox Canal Plus.

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