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Cannes '11 Day 12: The end

Posted by Wesley Morris  May 22, 2011 05:47 PM

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Jean Dujardin bows to jury.jpgThis is a long film festival with a short awards ceremony. Just under two weeks of moviegoing culminates in less than an hour of tears, laughter, and shortness of breath. And that was just the aftermath of the Lars von Trier press conference on Wednesday. For now, the 64th Cannes is known as the year a great director became an ideological "Die Hard" villain. But who can say how history will frame it: The year nobody agreed, the sequel?

Which is not to say there were no popular favorites. On the last Sunday, the festival re-screens the 20 movies in the main competition. It's like a market day, where you -- the general public and assorted badge-holders -- can see what that the trades, your friends, and whomever you follow on Twitter have been talking about. It's the most fun day of the 12. All you're really doing is going to the movies. This morning, several hours before the closing ceremonies, hundreds of people and I went a little mad for seats to "The Artist," a comedy set in Hollywood that the director Michel Hazanavicius has done as a silent movie about a prideful actor facing obsolescence with the advent of talkies. He discovers an actress, falls in love, and has the most adorable terrier.

Jean Dujardin.jpgI arrived early enough to get a seat, which failed to stop anyone from crawling over me to snag one of their own. There were sprints and musical chairs, 4x100-style, all over the Debussy Theater. That lasted a good 10 minutes. Once the movie started, the mood changed. You could hear the sound of rapt attention -- and not only because no one speaks. (There were far more silent movies in and around the main competition.) The audience seemed to love this charming but severely overlong movie (100 minutes!). Beforehand, over-the-top things were said about the French funny man Jean Dujardin (pictured above; all the photos are Agence France Presse) who plays the movie's star -- or is it "star within a star"? I'd just like to know why no one's talking about the dog.

For serious and professional festivalgoers, some of the scramble is to prevent being left out. No one likes a Palme d'Or winner they didn't see. As the schedules wind down, people wanted to talk about what Robert De Niro's jury would do. More non-American journalists wanted my opinion on that than on von Trier, who was banned from the festival for his comments about Nazis and Jews at the press conference for his film "Melancholia." That meant no Lars this evening on le tapis rouge. There was, however, Rosario Dawson. Maiwenn.jpgShe was scheduled to present the screenwriting award. (It went to the Israeli Joseph Cedar for his drama about discoursing academics, "Footnote"; his wife accepted for him and wanted the world to know that Cedar dedicated the prize to Donald Krim, the founder of the peerless, priceless art-film distributor Kino, who died of cancer on May 20. Not knowing who Jospeh Cedar is and never having heard of Donald Krim shouldn't preclude anyone from being touched by that.)

Where were we? Right: Rosario Dawson. She wore what appeared to be the pelt of a Na'vi tribesman and was as happy as a clam. In the bustling, yet surreally mellow lobby of the Lumière Theater, she shared a laugh with Harvey Weinstein and Ryan Gosling, the star of a very entertaining, very well made, very derivative thriller here called "Drive." She then shared a laugh with two very tall women, then disappeared inside the main house, where, presumably, she laughed her way down the aisle. The only moment she stopped smiling or cracking up was when she presented the actual award, which, in turn, cracked me up. (Her English sounds funny in France.)

The two very tall women were apparently Hollywood totems of some kind. Not long after Dawson left, Weinstein made his way over to them and proceeded to ply them with compliments and soft-ball queries. "What is that, Versace?" (It was not.) "Well, it's beautiful." Weinstein isn't a small man, but he's trim now and captivating. In a movie theater lobby, a parking lot, or a restroom, there are far-from-handsome men (Weinstein isn't that far) whom you just notice. They reek of confidence and power. Even when he's in awe of a pretty lady, Weinstein is one of those men.

Nicolas Winding Refn.jpgNot long after Weinstein took his seat, the jury arrived. The president, Robert De Niro, whizzed in. He appeared to have deposited a woman in a short dress whose red fabric was tiled like a Southwestern roof. It was unclear who she was. De Niro's charges followed close behind him. They were a classy, snazzy bunch: the French filmmaker Olivier Assayas; the English actor Jude Law; the American actress Uma Thurman; the Chinese producer Nansun Shi; the Hong Kong director Johnnie To; the Chadian director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun; the Swedish critic Linn Ullman; and the Argentine actress and producer Martina Gusman. They seemed to trickle by. Law wore a white bow-tie and a look of weariness. Thurman said to one of the totems: "You look beautiful!" It was the sort of compliment paid only to a woman who knows that her staggeringly formfitting ultramarine dress could be worn by almost no one else, certainly not the object of her compliment.

Back out on the red carpet, Catherine Deneuve was ascending the stairs while talking on a phone. She did this in full view of any cameraman who noticed. Deneuve is 67 and still beautiful enough to trick you into walking into a wall as you check her out. She also has four grandchildren, and hopefully one of them was calling to say, "Granny. Really?" Along with Ludivine Sagnier, Louis Garrel, the American actor Paul Schneider, and her daughter Chiara Mastroianni, Deneuve was starring in the festival's closing-night film, Christophe Honoré's 145-minute musical dramedy "Les Biens-aimés."

The closing night film is usually something French, or something starring a Frenchperson, and it's usually not very good. Sadly, tonight's movie, which screened for the press Saturday, didn't part with tradition. I say this as someone who likes Honoré's previous, similar, shorter movies. With the cast clustered together, the festival's animated director, Thierry Frémaux, led them and Honoré into the main house, where they got a generous standing ovation that will likely repeat after the film screens. I suspect the second ovation won't be as innocent.

Nuri Bilge Ceylan.jpgAfter everyone took a seat, there was a long pause, the house lights dimmed then came up again, and the rather frill-less show was underway, emceed by Mélanie Laurent, who performed the same duties during the opening-night ceremonies. Laurent was a force of nature two Wednesdays ago. By that standard, she was all business tonight. She brought out De Niro, who then brought the house to its feet for about two minutes. He stood beside Laurent then proceeded to do something I think we all feared he would: speak French.

It's funny. I've seen more people killed and more planets destroyed in movies at this year's festival than I have in a lifetime of filmgoing. De Niro's stage patter amounted to the first murdered language. But he understands how to get a laugh. He garbled his opening remarks, basically thanking the other "mushrooms" on the jury for their service. He knew enough to turn his usual stammering into bilingual shtick. He introduced his fellow mushrooms (Nansun did a delightful mock-dance that Thurman, upon hitting the stage, couldn't quite top), said voting was "Très, très intéressante. It's O.K. Merci," and took his throne-like seat off to the side of the stage, where, throughout the evening, he would announce the seven winners. A host -- a severely flirtatious Édgar Ramirez, Nicole Garcia, etc -- tossed the announcement to Laurent who tossed it to De Niro, who had a few surprises in store.

Kirsten Dunst and Edgar Ramirez.jpgKirsten Dunst was shocked to win the actress prize, a reward for her fearlessness in von Trier's emotional disaster movie, and, possibly, for her bravery at the press conference. Before the show, a friend reported that she was spotted in a coffee shop in Portland, Maine a few days after the incident. "Wow, what a week this has been!," she said.

Dunst, who stood next to Ramirez, was earnestly moved. The French actress and director Maïwenn, who won the special jury award for her thrilling kitchen-sink crime drama, "Polisse," was suspensefully convulsed. She wore a risky, shapeless dress the hue of raspberry gelato, galloped toward the jury, shaking each member's hand, then headed to the podium and gave a teary speech with so many moaning pauses that it seemed wrong to have her leave the stage with anyone but a paramedic. The people who hate the movie -- and I feel like I've met them all (they're not quiet) -- think it's a hyperventilating ensemble-acting stunt. They were probably rolling their eyes at this, too.

Dujardin won the actor prize for "The Artist." This seemed preordained. When someone's performance practically begs you to give them something -- the bathroom key, a Milkbone, an award at Cannes -- you have to do it. Even so, he bowed in gratitude at the jury. The directing award went to Nicolas Winding Refn for "Drive," his Los Angeles-stuntman-pulls-a-heist action film. It was both a surprise and a rebuke, of sorts. Refn is a 40-year-old Dane. So giving the prize to him meant not giving it to von Trier. (In a press conference after the ceremony, the jury explained that it had to operate by a one-award-per-film policy.) 

The energy in the Debussy the first night it screened was electric. But not many American critics I spoke to seemed as taken with it as I was. "Where's the driving?" "Where's L.A.?" "Walter Hill" -- who made a very similar 1978 movie called "The Driver" -- "made his car-chase movie with car chases!" That last complaint is the truth. But Refn is a very good director in the Michael Mann mold whose sleekness is a punch in the face. It's actually no surprise that the jury chose to single it out. Albert Brooks plays a gangster in the movie. It's the sort of role De Niro has played at least half a dozen times.

Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne.jpgThe imposing Serbian filmmaker Emir Kusturica announced the Grand Prix, which is the runners-up prize. It was a tie. The Belgian Dardenne brothers -- Luc and Jean-Pierre (at right) -- for "The Boy with the Bike," and Nuri Bilge Ceylan (pictured above in the black shirt, tie, and suit) for "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia," a great police procedural set in the Turkish sticks. It's hardly the Dardennes at their best, though a lot of people here loved it. The movie has a warming simplicity. They're determined to deliver redemption. In their speech, they singled out Thomas Doret who plays the kid. The entire auditorium saluted him, some on their feet. It was nice.

To announce the Palme d'Or, the festival gave us Jane Fonda, who entered to runners-up applause. A standing ovation for the former Mrs. Roger Vadim, the woman once known as Hanoi Jane, someone who's acted for Jean-Luc Godard, and the star of "Barbarella," seemed almost like a national obligation. It didn't happen. Fonda must not have seen how the audience rose and hooted for De Niro or, later, for Dujuardin. She descended the petit staircase and floated to the podium as though the house was on its feet. She then began to speak French so flamboyant that there must be a word for the French she spoke.

Jane Fonda.jpgIt was the sort of French that in a Hollywood movie or television show is spoken by a woman about to step in a pile of dog doo. It was the sort of French that said: "I'm American but, listen! Isn't it lovely?" It was the sort of French that made De Niro's massacre seem all the more charming. In fact, beholding De Niro beholding Fonda, brought back a memory of that illiteracy movie where Fonda tried to make De Niro read. The look on De Niro's face -- it said "indigestion" -- agreed that the moment was "Stanley & Iris" all over again. But Fonda is the sort of American marvel -- an ideological pinup -- whose like we'll never again see. Now, at whatever age she is (it's a very young number), she has never seemed more comfortable being happy. It's a comfort to roast marshmallows by.

The winner was "The Tree of Life," Terrence Malick's 20-ton tone poem about how the universe was born and how he was raised. More standing and clapping and whistling. Malick, naturally, wasn't on hand to accept (he was seen having dinner on the Riviera earlier in the week), so two of the movie's producers did so on his behalf. It seemed inevitable that this victory would happen. Yet, it felt like a big deal anyway. I don't know what kind of new life it gives the American art movie (my guess is none). But I think it was important for an American-led jury to make a statement -- even though its biggest champion appears to have been Assayas. On the street the other night, he seemed eager to share some news. He confirmed only that Thurman was managing her viewing load while dealing with some personal issues but frustratingly maintained his oath of discretion.

Amid all the expected winners, there was, of course, a glaring omission. A lot of people had assumed there'd be a top prize for Aki Kaurismaki's "Le Havre," a comedy that seemed to be the most adored movie at the festival with the least amount of detractors. It's the story of immigrants in the French port city of the title. An African boy boy comes into the life of a shoeshine guy, who happily goes out of his way to help the kid get to his mother in London. 

Quietly but pointedly, the movie is a farce about the heartlessness of immigration laws. Kaurismaki is a witty Finn, whose movies continue to be lit and photographed as though it were 1971. (His was the only movie I'm certain I saw projected from a 35mm print rather than digitally.) He won the Grand Prix, in 2002, for "The Man Without a Past." "Le Havre" is a new direction for him. His wryness and pluck have spilled into the realm of political opinion but in a manner that is gloriously Aki. And yet it received nothing from the jury. This was sad news if you were a Kaurismaki fan. I imagine it was worse if you were a Kaurismaki fan who hated "The Tree of Life."

Robert De Niro.jpgAt the jury's press debriefing, Jude Law and De Niro explained that there were lots of movies they had loved but had had to pass over. Law ran down a list of most of the films in the competition and began to seem like a cat burying something in the garden. Kaurismaki's leaving empty-handed can be chalked up to a good year for the main competition (and he did win the international critics prize). As a dinnermate told me after the ceremony, it probably came down to giving Kaurismaki the big prize or nothing, but the movie is so seemingly tiny that you don't give it the Palme and give a giant work of cinema like the Malick second place. There's the issue of posterity, too, of being on the wrong side of history. You don't want to be on the jury that shut Malick out.

Because of the way the competition is curated, this was another year that other very good movies weren't part of the Palme conversation, either: Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb's "This Is Not a Film"; Gerardo Naranjo's "Miss Bala"; Nadine Labaki's "Now Where Do We Go?"; Na Hong-jin's Korean killing spree, "The Yellow Sea"; Joachim Trier's "Oslo, 31. August." Those are movies that will go home with nothing. Nothing but the love their audiences have for them. Which, of course, is the greatest love of all.

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