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‘Elephant’ trumpeted in Cannes

Van Sant drama, 'Distant,' 'Invasions' take dual nods

CANNES — In a startling admission that there were just three, maybe four, films it liked, the jury of the 56th Cannes Film Festival made the unprecedented gesture of giving three films two awards apiece.

Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant,” a small, HBO-produced poetic drama about a Columbine-like school shooting, was the big winner of the evening, snaring the Palme d’Or as well as the directing prize.

See winners

Also garlanded with two awards was Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s “Distant” (“Uzak”), a moody study of two men’s alienation which won the Grand Prix, the fest’s second prize, and the award for best actor, which was shared between Muzaffer Ozdemir and the late Mehmet Emin Toprak, the director’s cousin, who was killed recently in an auto accident after receiving an acting prize for the film at the Turkish Film Awards and was hoping to celebrate his honeymoon in Cannes.

Third film to score double honors was Denys Arcand’s “The Barbarian Invasions,” the Quebecois filmmaker’s drolly serious follow-up to “The Decline of the American Empire,” which was a big audience favorite here. In what is very much an ensemble piece, pic took nods for best actress for Marie-Josee Croze and for Arcand’s screenplay.

Only other film cited by the jury was Samira Makhmalbaf’s “At Five in the Afternoon,” a drama focusing on women in post-Taliban Afghanistan which copped the Jury Prize.

Most conspicuous absentee on the balmy evening at the Palais du Festival was Lars von Trier, whose “Dogville” was widely considered the front-runner and scored high on the various critics’ polls published during the fest. Von Trier won the Palme d’Or last year for “Dancer in the Dark.”

Also shut out was Clint Eastwood, who was back for a fourth round in the competition with “Mystic River,” which was very well received at its Friday screenings and was viewed as a strong contender, either for Eastwood or thesp Sean Penn.

French films almost always win something in Cannes, so it was something of a surprise when the locals went home empty-handed this time, although, granted, there was French production participation in some of the winners.

At the beginning of the awards ceremony, jury president Patrice Chereau thanked Cannes topper Gilles Jacob for allowing the jury to make an “exception” this year, although it was not clear at the time what that meant. As it turned out, the exception was permitting the jury to give “Elephant” both the Palme d’Or and the directing prize. After “Barton Fink” ran off with three awards a decade back, Cannes instituted a rule that a film could only win two awards if one of them was for acting. It fell within the rules, then, for “Distant” and “The Barbarian Invasions” to have two prizes apiece, but permission was needed for Gus Van Sant’s double victory.

As it was, both Jacob and Chereau wore very sour faces during the entire ceremony, as frequent TV cutaways revealed. Ceremony, presided over by Monica Bellucci, was perfunctory in the extreme, with none of the usual effusiveness about the films or how marvelous everything has been. Brightest spot was a humorous introduction to the best actress prize by vet French actor Philippe Noiret.

Except for thanking their collaborators and the festival, none of the winners had anything special to say except for Makhmalbaf, who said something about George W. Bush that was so incomprehensible that no one knew whether to applaud or boo.

In addition to Chereau, jury was composed of Meg Ryan, Danis Tanovic, Jiang Wen, Aishwarya Rai, Jean Rochefort, Karin Viard, Erri de Luca and Steven Soderbergh.

The Camera d’Or, voted to the best first film in any section of the festival, went to the Danish “Reconstruction,” directed by Christoffer Boe and presented in the Critics Week. A special mention was given to Sedigh Barmak’s “Osama,” the first Afghani production since the Taliban was driven out, which was shown in the Directors Fortnight.

At the press conference immediately after the ceremony, Van Sant was gracious in victory and handled questions about feelings that his film might be considered anti-American by saying that, “I don’t think of it as an anti-

American movie. It’s not criticizing specifically American things, other than some systems I feel it should, plus the urge to conform in a bland way, forgetting diversity such as Canada, say, would encourage.”

Asked how he believes his film will be received Stateside, director said that while Columbine has been dealt with in documentaries, he senses a feeling that, “Drama is an area where we shouldn’t be talking about such things, as it’s perceived as an entertainment form. But I’m glad I did it.”

In the end, the odd distribution of awards capped an unsatisfying, contentious and strangely uneventful year in Cannes that posed the difficult question of whether the selection of films was seriously amiss or was there really nothing else worth showing out there? But there’s no doubt that everyone was more than ready to go home.

And the winners are . . .

Palme d’Or
“Elephant” (Gus Van Sant,U.S.)

Grand Prix
“Distant” (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey)

Gus Van Sant (“Elephant”)

Actor (shared)
Muzaffer Ozdemir, Mehmet Emin Toprak (“Distant”)

Marie-Josee Croze (“The Barbarian Invasions”, Canada-France)

Denys Arcand (“The Barbarian Invasions”)

Jury Prize
“At Five in the Afternoon” (Samira Makhmalbaf, Iran-France)

Camera d’Or (First Feature) Award
“Reconstruction” (Christoffer Boe, Denmark)

Special Mention
“Osama” (Sedigh Barmak, Afghanistan)

Ecumenical Award
“At Five in the Afternoon”

Palme d’Or (Short Film)
“Cracker Bag” (Glendyn Ivin, Australia)

Jury Award (Short Film)
“The Man without a Head” (Juan Solanas, France)

FIPRESCI (Intl. Critics’ Assn.) Awards

Best Film in Competition
“Father and Son” (Alexander Sokurov, Russia-Germany)

Best Film in Un Certain Regard
“American Splendor” (Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini, U.S.)

Best Film in Other Sections
“The Hours of the Day” (Jaime Rosales, Spain)

Prix Un Certain Regard
“The Best of Youth” (Marco Tullio Giordana, Italy)

Le Premier Regard
“A Thousand Months” (Faouzi Bensaidi, Morocco)

Un Certain Regard Jury Award
“Crimson Gold” (Jafar Panahi, Iran)

Critics Week Award
“Since Otar Left” (Julie Bertuccelli, France-Belgium)

Citta di Roma Award (Best film in a Latin language)
“The Best of Youth”

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