CANNES — Honoring a favorite veteran auteur rather than one of the numerous young turks on the scene, the Cannes Film Festival awarded the Palme d’Or to British director Ken Loach for “The Wind That Shakes the Barley,” an incisive look at strife in Ireland circa 1920.
The jury for the 59th Cannes fest, headed by helmer Wong Kar Wai, struck a relatively safe and conventional note in its distribution of prizes, veering off only with the bounty of acting awards to two ensembles, male and female, and in giving two nods to “Volver” while leaving its director, Pedro Almodovar, with a screenplay prize for the melodrama but still without a Palme d’Or of his own.
War was the dominant subject among several of the winners, including Bruno Dumont’s “Flanders,” which copped the Grand Prix, and Rachid Bouchareb’s “Indigenes” (Days of Glory), which drew the male acting prize for its five leads, as well as the Loach pic.
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu took home the director nod for “Babel,” his study of miscommunication and generational angst filmed in three countries.
Jury prize went to British first-time director Andrea Arnold for her intense, Scottish-set drama “Red Road.”
Perhaps Almodovar can take consolation in the fact that Loach has been a frequent bridesmaid at Cannes. The English vet was in the competition for the eighth time this year and has received assorted awards for “Looks and Smiles,” “Hidden Agenda” and “Raining Stones.” Wong made a point of saying the Palme d’Or was the first award the jury voted on and that the choice was unanimous.
Ever the political animal, Loach noted in his acceptance speech, which he delivered in both English and French, that the film was designed to make the British confront their colonial history. “If we tell the truth about the past, maybe we can tell the truth about the present,” he concluded.
A total of 11 thesps were honored in the acting categories. The femme ensemble from “Volver” comprised Penelope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Duenas, Blanca Portillo, Yohana Cobo and Chus Lampreave. The actors playing North African soldiers in the French Army during WWII were Jamel Debbouze, Samy Naceri, Roschdy Zem, Sami Bouajila and Bernard Blancan. Latter group carried on onstage at the Lumiere for quite a while, breaking into one of the film’s army songs at the end to a rousing reception.
The films honored were among the more mainstream and accessible in the competition, with the exception of Dumont’s “Flanders.” With that pic the helmer returns to something close to the style of his previous Cannes-honored pic “L’humanite” as it links some blunt male-female sexuality in France to shocking violence on an unnamed Middle Eastern battlefront.
The Palme d’Or for short films went to Norway’s “Sniffer,” directed by Bobbie Peers, and “First Snow,” directed by Pablo Augero, from France and Argentina; a special mention was made of Florence Miailhe’s “Conte de quartier,” from France and Canada.
The top Un Certain Regard prize was presented to Wang Chao’s contempo Chinese drama “Luxury Car.” Special jury prize for the Official Selection sidebar went to Aussie helmer Rolf De Heer’s Aboriginal tale “Ten Canoes,” while acting prizes in the section were given to Dorotheea Petre for the Romanian-French coming-of-age drama “How I Spent the End of the World” and to Don Angel Tavira for Mexican drama ‘The Violin.” The president of the jury’s prize, presumably repping the choice of jury topper Monte Hellman, was Patrick Grandperret’s “Murderers.”
The Camera d’Or, given to a first feature from across all sections (there were many this year), went to Romanian helmer Corneliu Porumboiu’s droll political comedy “12:08 East of Bucharest,” which unspooled in the Directors Fortnight.
At the jury press conference following the ceremony, Helena Bonham Carter made the most telling remark, stating, “You’d think, two films a day, what a pleasure. But there’s been lots of violence, lots of brutality, and we’ve had to enter very bleak landscapes, and it’s taken a real toll on all of us. The Loach, which was one of five films about war — I can’t explain our mass reaction. I think we were just profoundly moved.”
Palestinian director Elia Suleiman echoed these comments. “What is very interesting about the films in competition is that a lot of them are engaged with issues of the world today,” he said. “We live in a very troubled global atmosphere. There was no specific attention to what a film was about but how it told the story.”
Striking a different note, Wong couldn’t help but point out the obvious, that this was “the most hot-looking jury I’ve ever seen,” what with the beauty of Monica Bellucci, Ziyi Zhang and Bonham Carter balanced by the cool of Samuel L. Jackson and the friskiness of Tim Roth, whose chumminess with Bellucci during the red carpet entrances had viewers in stitches. Bellucci’s husband, Vincent Cassel, hosted the ceremony. Other jurors were Patrice Leconte and Lucrecia Martel.
(Justin Chang contributed to this report.)
INTL.COMPETITION JURY AWARDS
“The Wind That Shakes the Barley” (dir. Ken Loach, Ireland-U.K.-Germany-Italy-Spain).
“Flanders” (Bruno Dumont, France).
Pedro Almodovar (“Volver,” Spain).
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“Babel,” U.S.).
“the brotherhood of actors of ‘Days of Glory'” — Jamel Debbouze, Samy Naceri, Roschdy Zem, Sami Bouajila, Bernard Blancan (Rachid Bouchareb, France-Morocco-Algeria-Belgium).
“the family of actresses of ‘Volver'” — Penelope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Duenas, Blanca Portillo, Yohana Cobo, Chus Lampreave.
“Red Road” (Andrea Arnold, U.K.-Denmark).
SHORT FILM JURY AWARDS
“Sniffer” (Bobbie Peers, Norway).
“First Snow” (Pablo Aguero, France-Argentina).
“Conte de quartier” (Florence Miailhe, France-Canada).
UN CERTAIN REGARD JURY AWARDS
“Luxury Car” (Wang Chao, China-France).
SPECIAL JURY PRIZE
“Ten Canoes” (Rolf de Heer, Australia).
Dorotheea Petre (“How I Spent the End of the World,” Romania-France).
Don Angel Tavira (“The Violin,” Mexico).
JURY PRESIDENT’S AWARD
“Murderers” (Patrick Grandperret, France)
CAMERA D’OR JURY AWARD
“12:08 East of Bucharest” (Corneliu Porumboiu, Romania).
CINEFONDATION JURY AWARDS
“Ge & Zeta” (Gustavo Riet, Argentina).
“Mr. Schwartz, Mr. Hazen & Mr. Horlocker” (Stefan Mueller, Germany).
THIRD PRIZE (ex aequo)
“Mother” (Sian Heder, U.S.), “The Virus” (Agnes Kocsis, Hungary).
OTHER JURY AWARDS
Fipresci (intl. critics’ assn.) Awards
Competition — “Climates” (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey-France)
Un Certain Regard — “Paraguayan Hammock” (Paz Encina, France-Argentina-Netherlands-Paraguay-Spain)
Directors’ Fortnight — “Bug” (William Friedkin, U.S.).
Commission Superieure Technique de l’Image et du Son Award
Stephen Mirrione (editor, “Babel,” U.S.).