Film Scouts on the Riviera 1999

1999 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Day 11: The Awards, or David You'll Have Some Esplainin' to Do

by Henri Béhar

Film Scouts on the Riviera 1999 is brought to you by:

CANNES, Sunday, May 23, late at night

Belgium and France reign supreme. On world cinema, at least. Make that more specific: if one is to believe and agree with the 52nd Cannes Festival jury, presided by David Cronenberg. Everyone expected Cannes' top award, the Golden Palm, to go to Pedro Almodovar's Everything About My Mother, a runaway hit on the Croisette both for the critics and for the audiences. Most also expected maybe the Best Actor Award to go either to Bob Hoskins for Atom Egoyan's Felicia's Journey or to Forest Whitaker for Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog: the Way of the Samurai. And, who knows, perhaps the Best Script to Tim Robbins' wildly intricate and wildly ambitious Cradle Will Rock.

That was not to be. Not by a long shot. Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne's Rosetta (Belgian) got the Golden Palm and Bruno Dumont's L'Humanité (France) the Special Grand Jury Prize. The Best Actor Award went to Emmanuel Schotte (L'Humanité) and the Best Actress Award shared by Séverine Caneele (L'Humanité) and Emilie Dequenne (Rosetta). The gasp in the audience at the Salle Lumière and among the critics at the Salle Debussy (black tie) and at the Salle Bazin (casual) was eminently audible.

It was not the first gasp-slash-giggle to be heard. The arrival of the stars, presenters and winners and their walking up the red-carpeted stairs drew a fair share of whistles, catcalls and cheerful jeers. True, Cannes hasn't sunk as low as the pre-Oscars gauntlet ("Hi, who are you wearing?"), a couple of times, though, it did come close. If Anjelica Huston, whose film, Agnes Browne, closed the Directors' Fortnight the night before, was pure class in a shimmering white, another, mercifully unknown woman wore what could only be described as Jabba-the-Hut's underwear. Mistress of ceremony Kristin Scott-Thomas (English Patient, Horse Whisperer) sported a wonderfully fluid dark number but had around her neck and shoulders what appeared to be a solid gold walker. Only she (and Anjelica) could pull that one off. Throughout the ceremony, Scott Thomas was the epitome of grace under pressure; as she mustered centuries of British diplomacy to cut off a rambling Sophie Marceau, in to hand out the Golden Palm, who seemed to be in a definitely altered state. "I want what she's had in her tea," shouted an Australian female journalist, accent and all.

But on to the serious stuff. On the first day, during the jury's press conference, David Cronenberg said that "it remained to be seen whether the democratic process" (read: jury deliberation, consensus, etc.) "could only lead to the bland middle."

It sure didn't. Cronenberg's palmarès (awards list) is as opinionated, strongly flavored and ultimately troubling as his own cinema. Few who have seen the Dardenne brothers' Rosetta will contest its getting a major award - and there is no denying young Emilie Dequenne, 17, is unforgettable. We'll get back on the film in detail when it comes out Stateside.

The several awards given to Dumont's l'Humanité are a tad more perverse. The director's approach is engrossing, and makes you forget the film is over two and a half hours. But a double acting award to boot? We have a problem here. Both Séverine Caneele and Emmanuel Schotté are non-actors. Caneele is a (right now unemployed) worker in a frozen vegetable factory, and Schotté just got out of the army. He plays a slightly retarded man... until, upon meeting him, you realize he is slightly mentally challenged. So what are we awarding here, exactly? A few years ago, in Jaco Van Dormael's The Eight Day, a young man with the Down syndrome played a young man with the Down syndrome. "Is this becoming a Cannes specialty: 'Send me your retards and we'll give 'em an award'?", grumbled a North-American journalist.

Bit harsh, maybe, but not half as harsh as what may be perceived as a slap in the faces of Guillaume Depardieu, Forest Whitaker, Bob Hoskins, Richard Farnsworth, Marisa Paredes - "professionals" all - who deliver strong, deeply felt, incredibly incisive... not "performances" but creations onto their own, molded in part by such professionals - and definitely not "innocuous mainstream" - as Jim Jarmusch, David Lynch and Takeshi Kitano...

Not to mention Cronenberg's friend and fellow Canadian Atom Egoyan, completely absent from the awardees. Can't wait to hear about his return to Toronto and meeting with the Anglo press there. As Mr. Ricardo once said to Mrs. Ricardo: "Lucy, you'll have some esplainin' to do."

Will the winners' list this year impact on Cannes 2000? You bet. And it may require centuries of Olde Europe diplomacy, savoir-faire and entregent (look it up) to patch things up with both the American and the Asian industries.

Stay tuned

See you next year.

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