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‘Eternity’ cops Cannes Palme D’Or

Benigni's 'Life is Beautiful' awarded Grand Prix

CANNES – “Eternity and a Day,” Greek director Theo Angelopoulos’ poetic meditation on mortality and politics, won the Palme d’Or at the 51st Cannes Film Festival. The Grand Prix, or second prize, went to Italian comic Roberto Benigni’s comic Holocaust heart-tugger “Life Is Beautiful,” while John Boorman snared the best director award for his Irish crime drama, “The General.”

Heading into the Sunday night closing ceremony, no film was judged to have emerged from the pack as a clear front-runner, and jury president Martin Scorsese acknowledged the wide spread of entries in his brief opening remarks: “It’s a varied group,” he said.

The eventual winner had the support of the highbrow art film aficionados, while Benigni’s picture, which Miramax will release in the U.S., was more the crowd pleaser. Indeed, there could scarcely have been a greater contrast between the demeanors of the two big award recipients: The rambunctious Benigni sprang to the stage, picked up the petite master of ceremonies, Isabelle Huppert, and spun her around, lay prostrate at the feet of Scorsese, then proceeded to kiss every member of the jury while shouting with glee. The dour Angelopoulos, by contrast, couldn’t even crack a smile when he mounted the stage and formally shook the hands of the presenters.

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One of the best-liked films of the competition, first-time French helmer Erick Zonca’s “The Dreamlife of Angels,” saw its young leading players, Elodie Bouchez and Natacha Regnier, share the best actress award. Best actor nod was also well received, going to Peter Mullan for Ken Loach’s Scottish-lensed “My Name Is Joe.” Mullan wowed the audience by striding to the stage in a formal kilt, which prompted some hilariously askance looks from Scorsese that were shown via closeup on TV.Indie Yank director Hal Hartley won the best screenplay prize, while the jury prize was split between Claude Miller’s French suspenser “The Class Trip” and Thomas Vinterberg’s drama “The Celebration” from Denmark. Jury created a special award, “best artistic achievement,” for Todd Haynes’ glam rock musical drama “Velvet Goldmine.”

The technical prize was bestowed upon cinematographer Vittorio Storaro for Spanish director Carlos Saura’s dance film “Tango,” while the Camera d’Or for best first film shown anywhere in the festival was voted to Marc Levin’s inner-city drama “Slam,” the Sundance Grand Prize winner which was shown here in the Directors Fortnight. Word was that the prize committee was split 4-3, with the four French members voting for “Slam” and the three others supporting “The Dreamlife of Angels.”

The Palme d’Or for short film was awarded to Xavier Giannoli’s “The Interview” from France, and the jury prize was shared by David Lodge’s “Horseshoe” and Lynne Ramsay’s “Gasman,” both from the U.K.

The Intl. Critics Prize (Fipresci) for a film in the competition was voted to Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-liang’s “The Hole,” for “its daring combination of realism and apocalyptic vision, desperation and joy, austerity and glamour.” Fipresci prize for a film not in competition within all other sections of the festival went to Todd Solondz’s “Happiness,” for “its bold tackling of controversial contemporary themes, richly layered subtext, and remarkable fluidity of visual style.”

The Ecumenical Jury Award was given to “Eternity and a Day.” Same jury cited Ingmar Bergman, whose new TV pic “In the Presence of a Clown” appeared in Un Certain Regard, “for his life’s work which reveals the mysteries of the human heart throughout history.”

The Prix de la Jeunesse, or Youth Prize, went to Don McKellar’s end-of-the-world drama “Last Night” from Canada.

Among the big winners, Angelopoulos had virtually nothing to say other than a formal thank-you, while Benigni went on for minutes, thanking everyone onstage and singling out his American distributor, Harvey Weinstein, who had suggested cuts in “Life Is Beautiful” for the version shown in Cannes, which will now become the official international version of the film, and who was seen beaming in the audience.

Boorman noted how he received the same award for direction at Cannes 28 years ago, for “Leo the Last.” Scorsese made the unusual but not unprecedented announcement that the award for Angelopoulos was unanimous.

Among U.S. distribs, Sony Pictures Classics snared the most awards with three – for “Henry Fool,” “The Dreamlife of Angels” and “Tango.” Miramax was on the board not only for “Life Is Beautiful” but also for “Velvet Goldmine.” October will release “The Celebration” domestically.

Serving on the jury this year with Scorsese were Chen Kaige, Alain Corneau, Sigourney Weaver, Lena Olin, Winona Ryder, Chiara Mastroianni, Michael Winterbottom, MC Solaar and Zoe Valdes.