CANNES — Roman Polanski walked off with the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or Sunday night when his “comeback” picture “The Pianist,” a holocaust drama about a young Jewish man who survives the entirety of WWII in Warsaw, beat out a strong lineup of other pictures at the 55th edition of the world’s most prestigious festival.
Not a particular critical favorite after its Friday screenings, the large-scaled production was widely considered the most, or perhaps the only, conventional picture in the competition. Jury president David Lynch reflected the prevailing sentiments about the quality of this year’s selections when he said at the outset of the awards ceremony that, “There are not enough prizes available to reflect our desires, but we feel very good about our prizes.”
One of the fest’s most popular films, Finnish helmer Aki Kaurismaki’s droll and stylish “The Man Without a Past,” copped two awards, the Grand Prix — the jury’s second-place award — and the actress nod for Kati Outinen.
Two best directors
As it did last year when Lynch and Joel Cohen shared the directing award, the director prize went to two filmmakers, and very diverse ones at that: Im Kwon-Taek from South Korea for the biographical drama about a painter “Chihwaseon,” and Paul Thomas Anderson from the U.S. for the dark romantic comedy “Punch-Drunk Love.” Actor kudos went to Belgian thesp Olivier Gourmet for his role in “The Son,” from Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne.
Palestinian helmer Elia Suleiman took the Jury Prize for his whimsical political feature “Divine Intervention,” while Paul Laverty won screenplay honors for his work on Ken Loach’s much-lauded study of Glasgow youth, “Sweet Sixteen.”
Michael Moore received an award, too — a unanimous special Cannes 55th anniversary prize for the Canadian-produced look at gun violence in America, “Bowling for Columbine,” the first documentary to land in the Cannes competition since the mid-’50s. Playing right into the hands of his detractors who feel that Moore will do anything to stay on camera, political gadfly became the butt of many jokes from subsequent winners by insisting upon speaking French and then mangling it into incomprehensibility for minutes on end.
Televised awards ceremony was relatively perfunctory, although the world press assembled in the Debussy Theater was fit to be tied when the transmission from the adjacent Grand Theatre Lumiere lacked picture for about the first 15 minutes of the presentation. Lynch, who presided over what insiders said all week was a very harmonious jury, spoke briefly. “Even though the world it reflects is in trouble,” he said, “the world of cinema here in Cannes is alive and well.”
Moore gets laughs
Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive” star Naomi Watts presented the award to Michael Moore, who got an automatic laugh by mentioning how President Bush is now in Paris and that Cannes topper Gilles Jacob ought to arrange a special screening of “Bowling for Columbine” for him.
Acting award winner Gourmet, who previously appeared in the Dardenne Brothers’ “La Promesse,” started by saying, in English, “I’m sorry but I’m going to speak French,” then thanked more people than Julia Roberts did when she won her Oscar.
Polanski, who looked poised to win something big when he arrived in the Palais with a huge entourage, made a special point of thanking ousted Canal Plus topper Pierre Lescure, who was sitting with the Polanski party.
The win for “The Pianist,” which was deliberately held back from advance screenings in Paris pending the Cannes premiere, was roundly applauded in the Palais but vigorously booed by some journos and critics in the Debussy, presumably because it seemed like such a safe and middle-ground choice from a jury headed by Lynch and in a competition bejeweled by so many individualistic films.
In his brief remarks at the post-awards press conference, Polanski said he wanted to make “a neutral, low-key movie about events that speak for themselves,” an approach that obviously pleased some but seemed less than galvanizing to others.
Grumbling over ‘Ark’
There was some grumbling, too, about the lack of recognition for Alexander Sokurov’s one-take “Russian Ark,” which certainly would have won the Technical Award, had it not recently been abolished, and for Alexander Payne’s “About Schmidt” and Jack Nicholson’s performance in it.
Among other prominent neglected films were David Cronenberg’s “Spider,” Abbas Kiarostami’s “Ten,” Marco Bellocchio’s “The Religion Hour” and Gaspar Noe’s controversial “Irreversible,” which the fest hid in a 12:30 a.m. screening slot Friday night.
So even if some of the awards had a funny feel to them, 2002 was a banner year for Cannes, with a host of very good films, some challenging ones and only a handful that fell short of competition quality.
Aside from Lynch, jury consisted of Bille August, Christine Hakim, Claude Miller, Raoul Ruiz, Walter Salles, Michelle Yeoh, Regis Wargnier and Sharon Stone.
Winners of the short film awards seemed particularly thrilled to be receiving their awards from Martin Scorsese. Short film Palme d’Or winner was Peter Meszaros from Hungary for “After the Rain”; co-winners of the Jury Prize were Manish Jha from India for “A Very Very Silent Film” and Jesse Rosensweet from the U.S. for “The Stone of Folly.”
Camera d’Or for first feature in the entire festival was presented to “Seaside,” from French helmer Julie Lopes-Curval. A special mention was awarded to Mexican filmmaker Carlos Reygadas for “Japon.” Both titles were part of the Directors Fortnight.
Fest also had fun presenting a selection of films that were scheduled for its intended first year, 1939, a fest cancelled when Hitler started the invasion that precipitated the events depicted in “The Pianist.” A special jury awarded the Palme d’Or 1939 –63 years after the fact — to Cecil B. De Mille’s “Union Pacific,” with some initial votes also going to Zoltan Korda’s “The Four Feathers” and Sam Wood’s “Goodbye Mr. Chips.”
Jury added that its members also wished “to pay tribute to two young promising actresses to whom they confidently and warmly wish all the best. They promise them a brilliant career: Judy Garland, especially for her singing in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ by Victor Fleming, and Michele Morgan in ‘The Law of the North’ by Jacques Feyder.”
(Derek Elley, David Stratton and Andrea R. Vaucher contributed to this report.)
55TH CANNES FILM FESTIVAL AWARDS
“The Pianist” — (France-Poland-Germany-U.K.), Roman Polanski
“The Man Without a Past” –(Finland-Germany-France), Aki Kaurismaki
Kati Outinen — “The Man Without a Past”
Olivier Gourmet — “The Son” (Belgium-France), Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne
Paul Thomas Anderson — “Punch-Drunk Love” (U.S.)
Im Kwon-Taek — “Chihwaseon” (South Korea)
Paul Laverty — “Sweet Sixteen” (U.K.)
Prix Du Jury
“Divine Intervention” — (France-Morocco-Germany), Elia Suleiman
55th Anniversary Prize
“Bowling for Columbine” — (U.S.-Canada), Michael Moore
“After the Rain” — (Hungary), Peter Meszaros
Prix Du Jury (TIE)
“A Very Very Silent Film” — (India), Manish Jha
“The Stone of Folly” — (U.S.), Jesse Rosensweet
“Seaside” — (France), Julie Lopes-Curval
— (Mexico), Carlos Reygadas
“Four Days” — (Brazil), Eduardo Valente
Second Prize (tie)
“Single Mother With Blue Eyes” –(France), Eric Forestier
“K-G For Best Or Worst” — (Sweden), Jens Jonsson
“Questions of a Dead Worker” –(Israel), Aya Somech
Best Film in Official Competition
Best Film in Un Certain Regard
“Waiting for Happiness” — (Maurtenia-France), Abderrahmane Sissako
Best Film in Critics Week/Director’s Fortnight
“The Clay Bird” — (France-Bangladesh), Tareque Masud
Un Certain Regard Prize
“Blissfully Yours” — (Thailand), Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Intl. Critics Week Awards
“Respiro” — (Italy), Emanuele Crialese
“The Man Without A Past”
Palme D’Or 1939
“Union Pacific” — (U.S.), Cecil B. De Mille
Judy Garland — “The Wizard of Oz” (U.S.), Victor Fleming
Michele Morgan — “The Law of The North” (France), Jacques Feyder