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CANNES 2003 – WRAPPED

D’ORS WRONG AND RIGHT
The lacklustre list of films at Cannes this year threw up only a handful of films worth noting, writes David Stratton, with two that should have been acclaimed being ignored, and the best film winning second prize. But at least they got the right d’Or with an Aussie winner in shorts.


The awards announced by the Cannes film festival jury on Sunday evening were unusual for the fact that, out of 20 feature films in competition, only four were recognised with the seven available prizes. Usually, the jury spreads its awards across a larger number of films. That it refrained from doing so this year suggests it was commenting on the unusually poor standard of films in competition. There were some, such as actor Vincent Gallo's interminable road movie The Brown Bunny, that had observers wondering what on earth was wrong with the selection.

"The Palme d'Or"

The Palme d'Or and the award for best director went to Gus Van Sant's Elephant, which unfolds at an American high school on a beautiful autumn day. Van Sant films a wide cross-section of students (played by real students, not actors) as they attend classes, gossip, have lunch; gradually we realise that the day will end with a Columbine-style massacre. It's truly chilling. 

The second prize, or Grand Prix, went to what many felt was the best film in the festival, Uzak (Distant), from Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan. This is Ceylan's third film (his first two have screened on SBS television) and he's a master at understatement. Uzak is about loneliness, about two men who share an apartment and get on each other's nerves. Only when they have gone their separate ways does the older man recognise the companionship he has lost.

Its male leads, the marvellous actors Muzaffer Ozdemir and Mehmet Emin Toprak, shared the best actor award; sadly, Toprak was killed in a car accident a short time before the festival began.

The most popular film in competition, Denys Arcand's sublime Quebec comedy-drama The Barbarian Invasions, is a belated sequel to Arcand's 1986 success, The Decline of the American Empire, with many of the same actors returning to reprise their roles. Remy (Remy Girard), the life-loving roue of the earlier film, is dying of cancer; his friends and family rally round him in a film that is pointedly funny and incredibly moving.

"The jury prize"

Marie-Josee Croze, who plays –the drug-addicted daughter of one of Remy's old girlfriends, won the best actress award; Arcand deservedly won best screenplay.

The jury prize went to Iranian director Samira Makhmalbaf, 23, for her third feature, Five in the Afternoon, which poignantly tells the story of a roung Afghan woman who after the fall of the Taliban, defies her strict rather to attend school and dreams of becoming her country's president. The evocative film confirms Makhmalbaf as an important talent. 

Contentiously, perhaps, two much-discussed films were overlooked in the prize giving. Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River, in which he does not appear, is one of his best movies. It’s a superbly evocative story, set in a working class area of Boston, about three childhood friends whose paths cross in adulthood when the daughter of one is murdered. Superb performances from Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon enhance this intelligent and superior Hollywood film.

More questionable, for many, was the quality of Lars von Trier’s Dogville. Von Trier won the Plame d’Or two years ago for Dancer in the Dark, a film that polarised critics and audiences. His new film has a strong cast headed by Nicole Kidman.

I find von Trier hard to take. His selfimportant philosophising, his supposedly avant-garde experimentation (shooting the entire film on a sound stage in which no attempt at reality is made), his misogyny: all this is far from what I seek in cinema. But he has his passionate supporters, who were doubtless stunned that Dogville, front-runner for the Palme d'Or, went home without a single prize.

"Toni Collette gives perhaps her finest performance"

Australia was represented with Sue Brooks's excellent Japanese Story, shown in the non-competitive Un Certain Regard section; it's a film in which Toni Collette gives perhaps her finest performance.

Less memorable was Georgina Willis's Watermark, shown in the Directors' Fortnight. There was triumph, though, for Australia's Glendyn Ivin, who won the Palme d'Or for best short film in competition with Cracker Bag, about a little girl on cracker night. This was Ivin's first short film and past Aussie winners of this award, including Jane Campion, have gone on to compete with a feature in Cannes. Perhaps the same exciting prospect lies in store for Ivin.

Published May 29, 2003

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David Stratton, a past director of the Sydney Film Festival, reviews films for The Movie Show (SBS), The Australian and Variety. He also lectures on cinema at Sydney University.


Cracker Bag


Elephant


Gus Van Sant


Uzac


Barbarian Invasions


Five in the Afternoon


Japanese Story


Dogville







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