Cannes Prize Jury Bestows Many Palms
An unusually diverse panel of judges seems to have resolved its indecisiveness by handing out the French festival's equivalent of five Oscars for `best picture'
THERE'S no such thing as an unanimous opinion at the Cannes Film Festival, or at any filmfest I've ever heard of. Just when you think you've seen the worst movie of all time, along comes someone who's convinced that it's a gem - and who also has a dismayingly cogent argument to prove that your favorite masterpiece is a piece of junk.Skip to next paragraph
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Critics thrive on such debates, and one of the reasons festivals give prizes is to cut through this contention and take an unambiguous stand on the year's best achievements - even if the main result is to stir up yet another round of argument focusing on the awards and the experts who bestowed them.
Yet the jury at the just-concluded Cannes festival seemed as indecisive as anyone who attended the event. Instead of boldly declaring one winner for the grand prize, it split the coveted Golden Palm between two movies - and handed out a special Jury Prize to two more, as well as a Grand Jury Prize to still another film. It's as if five movies walked off with an Oscar for best picture.
In principle, there's nothing wrong with this outcome. Juries inevitably must choose between celluloid apples and oranges, and recognize a wide range of worthy achievement is a valid way of minimizing the contradictions built into this process.
Complicating the situation at Cannes was the varied nature of this year's jury, which ranged from Italian actress Claudia Cardinale and Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami to French cinematographer William Lubtchansky and American producer Tom Luddy, among others. After the awards ceremony, I spoke with filmmaker Louis Malle, who presided over the jury, and he used the word "bizarre" to describe its extreme diversity. He also stressed the friendliness of their deliberations, though, and seemed generally p leased with the result of their labor.
Most critics and film-industry members seemed content, as well, especially with the two Golden Palms winners: "The Piano," by New Zealand filmmaker Jane Campion, and "Farewell to My Concubine," by Chinese director Chen Kaige, both among the festival's most widely popular offerings. In honoring them together, the jury recognized the great cultural and geographical variety of today's cinema - and broke new ground by awarding the Golden Palm to a woman filmmaker and a Chinese filmmaker for the first time.
Made on a modest budget with an international cast, "The Piano" tells the story of a 19th-century woman who never speaks but expresses her thoughts in sign language and music. When she enters an arranged marriage with a rural landowner, her beloved piano falls into the hands of an illiterate neighbor, who subjects her to sexual blackmail until the two of them recognize each other's higher qualities and fall in love.
The film has a broad emotional range, with surprisingly explicit lovemaking scenes as well as subtly expressive images of sea, sky, and forest. Holly Hunter won the Cannes award for best female performance.