Apichatpong wins Palme d'Or



Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives , directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, won the Palme d'Or - an equivalent to Best Picture, at the Cannes Film Festival last night.

The film was described as a lyrically beautiful and often surreal Thai movie.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives , already had the best title of the 19 films in competition. Jury chairman Tim Burton named it best film, seeing off films from an impressive roster of film makers that included Mike Leigh, Ken Loach and Abbas Kiarostami.

It is the first Asian Palme d'Or winner since Kiarostami shared it with Japanese film maker Shohei Imamura in 1997.

And it came after the veteran South Korean director Hong Sangsoo on Saturday won the prestigious Un Certain Regard sidebar prize for Hahaha.

The Asian clean sweep took most Cannes watchers by surprise. Just as surprising was that there were no prizes at all for Loach and Leigh.

Burton said deciding the Palme d'Or had felt like an easy choice. The jury saw the film early and it stayed in their heads throughout the festival, he said. "The world is getting smaller and more westernised, more Hollywood-ised and this is a film where I felt I was watching from another country. It was using fantasy elements but in a way I'd never seen before so I just felt it was like a beautiful, strange dream."

Accepting the award, Weerasethakul - the first Thai winner of the Palme d'Or - said: "I would like to thank all the spirits and all the ghosts in Thailand who made it possible for me to be here."

The grand prix prize - effectively the runner-up - went to Xavier Beauvois' Of Men and Gods, his surprisingly gripping dramatisation of a true story: the 1996 deaths of French Cistercian monks kidnapped by Islamic fundamentalists.

There was little surprise that Juliette Binoche was named best actress for her role as the enigmatically named She in Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy. By general consent it was a stunning performance, although she told journalists this week that one of the trickiest parts of the role had been filming on Tuscan cobbles wearing heels.

The best actor prize was shared by Spaniard Javier Bardem for his memorable portrayal of an underworld businessman dieing of cancer in Alejandro González Iñárritu Biutiful; and Italian Elio Germano for Daniele Luchetti's Our Life.

Other awards given out at the ceremony included the jury prize to Chad film maker Mahamat-Saleh Haroun and his third film, A Screaming Man.

US actor Kirsten Dunst presented the best director prize to Mathieu Amalric for On Tour. The Frenchman is better known as an actor - the Bond villain in Quantum of Solace, for example, or The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - and On Tour, about Parisien burlesque performers, is his fourth film.

South Korea's Lee Chang-dong won best screenplay for Poetry.

There was only one US movie in this year's competition - Doug Liman's Iraq drama Fair Game - but there was plenty of Hollywood glamour out of competition. Russell Crowe was in town for Robin Hood, Woody Allen for You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger and Michael Douglas for Wall Street - Money Never Sleeps.

And there was, bien sûr, as much red carpet glitz as usual. Cannes is still the only place on earth that a smiling Cheryl Cole - wearing a thigh tattoo revealing Versace frock would ever be seen walking the red carpet for a controversial drama addressing French atrocities against Algerians.

Tonight's awards ceremony, hosted by Kristin Scott Thomas, came after a Cannes festival that has been judged by most observers as lacking wow factor. There has been hardly any shock and few surprises.

Perhaps the downbeat feel is appropriate given the story which was never very far away from the Croisette this year: the continued detention of one of the competition judges, the Iranian director Jafar Panahi.

He has been in jail since 1 March, allegedly because he was planning a film around the disputed elections of last year.

It emerged over the course of the festival that Panahi has begun a hunger strike, demanding the right to see his family and access to a lawyer.

Panahi's communiqué was posted on www.laregledujeu.org and makes for chilling reading. He writes: "Finally, I swear upon what I believe in, the cinema: I will not cease my hunger strike until my wishes are satisfied.

"My final wish is that my remains be returned to my family, so that they may bury me in the place they choose."

Yesterday there were more optimistic signs. A letter from Iran's ministry of culture and guidance to Cannes president Gilles Jacob said "legal procedures in his case have been almost completed and there is much hope that he will be released soon."

Given the Panahi situation, it seems almost appropriate that this year's festival has been quite downbeat with films mining the darker seams of the human condition.

After watching eight mostly bleak short films competing for a separate sidebar prize one first-time American journalist was heard asking: "Is Cannes always this depressing?"

Certainly in the main competition, from the Hungarian Frankenstein movie to a mindlessly violent Yakuza movie there has been a fair amount of bleakness.

It was also a year in which Cannes selectors failed to include in the main contest a single film made by a woman. There were 19 films, by 19 men.

The festival did, though, close with The Tree, a French-Australian film by Julie Bertuccelli starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, a well-received movie considerably better than some of the films screened in the competition.

Among the other awards Frenchman Serge Avedikian won the short film competition for Barking Island. 






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