Huppert hands Haneke the Palme d’Or

The Cannes jury favours dark, challenging, transgressive fare

by Brian D. Johnson

A scene from Michael Haneke's 'The White Ribbon'

A scene from Michael Haneke's 'The White Ribbon'

The verdict is in. The White Ribbon won the Palme d’Or and jury president Isabelle Huppert handed the Palme d’Or to Michael Haneke personally. That’s not usually done. In the odd rigmarole of the Cannes awards ceremony, the jury president usually announces the decision, but the award gets handed out by an attending celebrity. Apparently Huppert wanted to break tradition and give it Haneke directly, which seems to underscore the fact that she may have had a certain bias towards him in the jury’s deliberations: she was, after all, the star of Haneke’s 2001 film, The Piano Teacher. Set on the eve of the First World War, The White Ribbon is the story of German village beset by a contagion of mysterious crimes. Shot in black-and-white, it’s a strong drama, though not my favorite of the festival. (For my thoughts on it, go to a previous BDJ Unscreened entry, The German Question.) By awarding the Palme to The White Ribbon, the jury chose an uncommercial film with high-art ambition and moral gravity, relegating the most critically acclaimed film of the festival, A Prophet, the second-place Grand Jury Prize. It was handicapped, no doubt, by the fact that it’s a genre movie, a prison drama. Huppert’s jury certainly saw fit to award some of the most trangressive films in the competition. Best Director went to Brillante Mendoza for Kinatay, which features a graphic real-time rape and dismemberment of a woman named Madonna. Inexplicably, best screenplay went to Spring Fever, Chinese director Lou Ye’s soggy, underwritten drama about a long-suffering woman whose husband betrays her for a gay lover. And best actress went to Charlotte Gainsbourg for expanding the frontiers of brutal torture in Lars Von Trier’s outrageous Antichrist. Personally I would have given that prize to Katie Jarvis, the 17-year-old British newcomer who starred in Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank, which was my favorite film of the festival, and received a minor nod with an ex-aqueo jury prize, whatever that is. No one, however, could dispute the decison to award Best Actor to Christoph Waltz for his trilingual tour-de-force as a Nazi “Jew Hunter” in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds.

Michael Haneke wins the Palme d'Or

Michael Haneke wins the Palme d'Or

The awards were quite evenly spread around, with no film getting more than one. But the jury seemed to have an allergy to anything that smacked of straight romance. Alain Renais, 86, received a lifetime achievement award, a shoddy consolation prize considering that his Wild Grass came as such an exhilirating tonic, Jane Campion’s acclaimed comeback, Bright Star, a pure love story, was snubbed, perhaps because it was a pure love story. And Pedro Almodovar’s Broken Embraces was also snubbed, perhaps because, for all its scattershot brilliance, has proven that he can do better. Meanwhile, the Camera d’Or, awarded by a separate jury for best feature debut in all the Cannes programs, went to went to Australian Aboriginal director Warwick Thornton for Samson and Delilah, edging out Quebec wunderkind Xavier Dolan, 20, who had been touted as a contender for his much buzzed feature debut in the Directors’ Fortnight, I Killed My Mother. But Dolan won a trio of honours given out in the non-competitive Fortnight program: the Art Cinema Award, given by an international jury of independent cinema programmers, the SACD screenwriters’ prize for best French-language film, and the Regards Jeunes 2009 Prize, presented by a jury of young cinephiles to an outstanding first-time director. Earlier FIPRESCI’s International Critics’ Prize went to the Canadian co-production Amreeka, a bittersweet tale of a Palestinian single mum emigrating to Illinois with her teenage boy. (For more on that, see my previous blog.)

Here’s the complete list of Cannes prizes for the films in the main competition:
Feature films

Short films




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