The jury righted some wrongs.
After the 64th annual Cannes Film Festival was fraught with controversy and bad behavior, it concluded Sunday with a distribution of awards that — whether this was the intention or not — helped smooth over some of the trouble spots, with prizes going to The Tree of Life, Melancholia, and The Artist.
Led by president Robert De Niro, the jury (pictured above) awarded the Palme d’Or to writer-director Terrence Malick’s enigmatic The Tree of Life, a meditation of life, death, and the origins of the universe seen through the lens of a 1950s Texas family. It stars Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Hunter McCracken, and Sean Penn. Some critics praised while others mocked its mix of suburban Americana with images of the cosmos and evolution, and the movie was the subject of dueling boos and applause in its debut screening at the festival last Monday.
By granting it the Palme d’Or, the jury tips the balance in favor of the ambitious drama, which debuts in the U.S. May 27. No longer the movie that was booed by some, it is now the best-picture winner of Cannes 2011.
The other major news out of the festival was Danish director Lars Von Trier’s bad-taste jokes about being a Nazi, which cast an ugly light around his otherwise widely praised end-of-the-world saga Melancholia, starring Kirsten Dunst as a new bride growing increasingly distant from her sister (Charlotte Gainsbourg) just as a new planet emerges in the solar system on a collision course with Earth.
Festival organizers declared Von Trier “persona non grata” after his remarks at the press conference for Melancholia, and he later apologized, but it roused division over whether the Antichrist director, who previously won the Palme d’Or for 2000’s Bjork musical Dancer in the Dark, should be so harshly punished for what was obviously not a serious comment. Melancholia didn’t win any major awards that Von Trier, as writer and director, might have been required to pick up. (His banishment meant he was unwelcome at the ceremony, though he remained eligible to win.)
But in what could be a consolation prize to an also-deserving contributor to the film, Dunst picked up the best actress prize — defeating Tilda Swinton, who was considered a front-runner for her performance as the distraught mother of a high-school killer in We Need To Talk About Kevin.
Again, by recognizing the quality of the movie, the Cannes jury helped push aside the outside distractions that had dominated headlines.
Other winners included French star Jean Dujardin as best actor for his charismatic turn as a 1920s silent-film actor facing career oblivion as talkies take over Hollywood in the melodrama The Artist, which was also shot in black and white, silent-film style. The upbeat, song-and-dance crowdpleaser was one of the most beloved of the festival, and is set to open in the U.S. this fall.
Ryan Gosling’s gritty heist drama Drive earned best-director honors for Nicolas Winding Refn (Bronson), while top screenplay went to Joseph Cedar, writer-director of the Israeli film Hearat Shulayim (Footnote), about warring father/son academics.
The French cop saga Polisse won the Jury Prix, and the Grand Prix was split between Le Gamin au vélo (The Kid With a Bike), the story of a neglected boy lashing out after his father abandons him, and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, about life in a small Turkish town.
On Twitter: @Breznican.