There is justice in the world. It may come late, and it may not really mean much, but it’s justice nonetheless. That’s what the jury of the Cannes film festival this year, led by laconic, taciturn and a super star in his own right, Robert De Niro, proved.
The Cannes film festival is perhaps the biggest cinema show on earth, it’s like the Olympics of the film fraternity, and an award here is like receiving a Nobel prize. This small seaside resort in France may not necessarily decide the future of cinema in the world, but it does show the way.
Therefore, nobody should be surprised that Terrence Malick’s epic-in-the-making for a long, long time, The Tree of Life, starring Brad Pitt as a stern dad in 1950s small town America, and Sean Penn as his grown up son decades later, took home the Palme D’Or, the biggest prize of the festival. Characteristically, a reclusive Malick wasn’t there, neither during the premier of the film nor during the award ceremony. After J D Saligner, he is perhaps the last myth-maker hiding from the media glare in a world increasing obsessed with breaking news and red carpet appearances, their two seconds of fame.
Malick is more famous not for the films he made but for the films he did not. In a career spanning 40 years, he has made just five features — Badlands (),Days of Heaven (1978), The Thin Red Line (1998), The New World (2005) and The Tree of Life — and all of them are masterpieces. It’s still early to decide whether The Tree of Life is a great film, but it’s certainly one of the most important films of the year. You can argue whether the film deserved the award, but you cannot argue that Malick did not deserve it. I mean, this guy is certifiably great, and we are not sure whether he would make another movie in recent years, and he deserves the top honour any which way.
After the awards were announced, I was thinking about which Malick movie I like best, and I realised, there’s not a single one I’m really fond of. But if you ask me to choose, I guess, I would choose The Thin Red Line. It was the first Malick film I saw, and that too in theatre, twice. I found the film long, but a compelling watch. The film came in the same year as Saving Private Ryan, and if you ask me, Malick’s film is far, far superior than Spielberg’s, when you are talking about the futility of war. I am absolutely in love with the first half-an-hour of the film, especially those sequences involving Jim Caviezel. I can watch those scenes forever. The second I would say is Days of Heaven, for the painting-like photography, especially the sequence involving the train. A train never looked so beautiful!
The second prize was shared by two films, three filmmakers, the Coen Brothers of Europe, the Dardennes (The Kid With A Bike) and Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Once Upon A Time In Anatolia) — different kinds filmmakers whose characters always come from the working class or middle class.
Jean Pierre and Luc Dardenne, the Belgian filmmaker duo has a sort of record at the Cannes, all of their films presented here have taken home some or other awards. They are one of the few directors who has won the Palme D’Or twice, first time with Rosetta in 1999, and second time with L’Enfant (The Child) in 2005. Their previous Le silence de Lorna (Lorna's Silence), won the best screenplay award in the 2008. Lorna is the only film by the filmmakers I have seen. The film deals with Lorna, a young Albanian woman in Belgium, who must go through a series of marriage and divorce and much more to get the citizenship. Compared to the Dardennes’ penchant for bleak subjects dealt bleakly, the current film is a rather sweet one, which involves a boy’s search for his father, who finds an unlikely alley in a woman played by Cecile de France (last seen in Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter; she has come a long way from her days of horror heroine in High Tension.)
Nuri Bilge Ceylan is something else altogether. Like the Dardennes, each of Ceylan’s films (including his debut short) have premiered at the Cannes and have won awards, including the second prize for Three Monkeys (2008).
Besides Taiwanese Tsai Ming-liang, Ceylan is perhaps the only other auteur whose films are made of enormously long static shots. But unlike Ming-liang, whose static shots are mostly within closed spaces, Ceylan goes for sweeping panorama of Turkish countryside and cityscape, where seen against vast nature, his characters appear to be tiny dots trying to make sense of their lives and their surroundings.
The first shot of Ceylan’s 2002 film Uzak (Distant) should explain the style. The film opens with the shot of a valley and a mountain range beyond. As the camera steadily gazes at the scene, we see someone approaching, first a tiny, moving dot, then it gets bigger and bigger, until we see a man with an airbag in his shoulders. We keep staring at him till his fills the camera and goes beyond it. Then, finally the camera pans and we see the road. The man is waiting for the bus to go to the city. The entire scene takes place in real time and we actually see the man walking the distance of a kilometre or so. It may sound very boring, but Ceylan’s camera has a hypnotic gaze, it mesmerises you. That Ceylan was a photographer helps.
As the title suggests, Uzak is about alienation, especially in the context of urban cityscape. Three Monkeys, on the other hand, borrows the title from Gandhi’s three monkeys, to tell a story of lies and deceit. A man while driving in the night, kills someone on the road. He then asks his driver to stand in for him as the offender, in return the man promises to take care of his family of wife and son. The driver, a devoted worker, agrees. Once he is back from the jail however, things are not the same. Climates (2006), his first film to shot in HD features the director himself and his wife as an Istanbul couple, struggling with their personal and professional lives. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is a murder mystery, told almost in real time, in the countryside mentioned in the title, and follows a group of bureaucrats who follows a murder convict to find the body of the man he had killed in an impulse and now cannot remember where he had buried it.
While one Danish director was banished from the festival as persona non grata (Lars von Trier, whose comment on Hitler blows over, in politically correct France), another took home the best director award: Nicolas Winding Refn for US neo-noir Drive, starring last year’s Blue Valentine’s Ryan Gosling. Drive was apparently the most popular film in the festival. That apart, Winding Refn is an awesome talent that needs some serious marketing. The award should help. Last year, he did the bloody epic Valhalla Rising which apparently no one saw (It was one of my favourite films); before that he did another kinetically-violent operatic drama about Britain’s most notorious criminal Charles Bronson, Bronson, with Tom Hardy in his breakout role; that was before he acquired the cult status with the Danish Pusher trilogy.
Kristen Dunst won the best actress award for her role as depressed Justine who finds her strength as the world comes to an end in von Trier’s Melancholia. According to critics, it is von Trier’s best film in years, unlike the provocative Anti-Christ which premiered in Cannes two years ago. The film itself could have won some other award if there was no controversy. What Trier did was silly, but most people found the punishment meted out to him equally silly. Hence, the jury perhaps wanted to honour the film without hurting anyone. In all this, Dunst (you would remember her as Spider Man’s girlfriend) got lucky.
Here’s the complete list of winners:
Palme d'Or: "The Tree of Life" (Terrence Malick, U.S.)
Grand Prix (tie): ''Once Upon a Time in Anatolia'' (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey) and ''The Kid With a Bike'' (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, France)
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn (''Drive,'' U.S.)
Jury prize: ''Polisse'' (Maiwenn, France)
Actor: Jean Dujardin ("The Artist," France)
Actress: Kirsten Dunst ("Melancholia," Denmark-Sweden-France-Germany)
Screenplay: Joseph Cedar ("Footnote," Israel)
UN CERTAIN REGARD JURY AWARDS
Main prize (tie): "Arirang" (Kim Ki-duk, South Korea) and "Stopped on Track" (Andreas Dresen, Germany)
Special jury prize: "Elena" (Andrey Zvyagintsev, Russia)
Directing prize: Mohammad Rasoulof ("Goodbye,'' Iran)
OTHER MAIN JURY AWARDS
Camera d'Or: "Las acacias" (Pablo Giorgelli, Argentina-Spain)
Critics' Week Grand Prix: "Take Shelter" (Jeff Nichols, U.S.)
SHORT FILMS JURY PRIZES
Palme d'Or: "Cross" (Maryna Vroda)
Jury prize: "Swimsuit 46" (Wannes Destoop)
Competition: "Le Havre" (Aki Kaurismaki, Finland-France)
Un Certain Regard: "The Minister" (Pierre Schoeller, France)
Directors' Fortnight: "Take Shelter" (Jeff Nichols, U.S.)
First Prize: "Der Brief" (Doroteya Droumeva)
Second Prize: "Drari" (Kamal Lazraq)
Third Prize: "Fly by Night" (Son Tae-gyum)
ECUMENICAL PRIZE: "This Must Be the Place" (Paolo Sorrentino, Italy-France-Ireland)
PRIX VULCAIN TECHNICAL AWARDS
Winner: Jose Luis Alcaine ("The Skin I Live In," Spain)
Special mention: Joe Bini and Paul Davies ("We Need to Talk About Kevin," U.K.-U.S.)