Cannes Festival Rewards Thai Film ‘Boonmee,’ Binoche, Bardem

`Uncle Boonmee' Movie
An image of Cannes Film Festival's Palme d'Or winner ''Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives'' by Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Source: Festival de Cannes via Bloomberg News.

Filmmakers from Chad, Iran, Mexico and Thailand scooped most of the main prizes at the Cannes Film Festival last night, beating seasoned European rivals Mike Leigh, Bertrand Tavernier and Ken Loach.

A Thai movie, “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives,” by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, took the top Palme d’Or award from a jury led by U.S. director Tim Burton. Iran’s Abbas Kiarostami and Mexico’s Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu scored thanks to their respective actors, Juliette Binoche and Javier Bardem.

Though none of the winning works was overtly political, current affairs took center stage. Binoche hailed the Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who was jailed in March, and who was a member, in absentia, of this year’s Cannes jury.

“He is here in our thoughts, and I hope he will be here, physically, next year,” said Binoche, dressed in a strapless white gown, after shedding tears for Panahi at a news briefing last week. “It’s a tough battle to be an artist and an intellectual, and a country needs us.”

Voted best director was Mathieu Amalric -- star of Julian Schnabel’s 2007 “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” -- for his story of a team of neo-burlesque stripper-dancers on a journey around France. The all-American troupe from “Tournee” (“On Tour”) joined him on stage as he collected his trophy.

Pool Attendant

The Jury Prize, a secondary Cannes award, went to Chad’s Mahamat-Saleh Haroun for “A Screaming Man,” about a pool attendant who is forced to give up his job to his son.

Binoche won the best-actress prize for her role in Kiarostami’s romantically themed “Certified Copy,” shot in Italy. Bardem was the male lead in Inarritu’s bleak “Biutiful,” about a single dad in Barcelona who lives off migrant street vendors and helplessly watches the odds stack up against him. Sharing the best-actor award with Bardem was Italy’s Elio Germano for his role in Daniele Luchetti’s ’’La Nostra Vita’’ (’’Our Life’’).

A strong sub-theme at this year’s festival was the financial crisis. Three out-of-competition films, including Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” were inspired by the Sept. 2008 failure of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and the tax-funded $700 billion bank bailout. They came on the heels of Michael Moore’s 2009 satire “Capitalism: A Love Story.”

Jailbird Gekko

Stone revived his 1987 “Wall Street” and its much-admired protagonist Gordon Gekko, played again by Michael Douglas. In the sequel, Gekko emerges from jail to write books, get back at the man who got him canned, and reconnect with his daughter Winnie (played by Carey Mulligan). Gekko’s partner in the adventure is the young proprietary trader Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf).

“Inside Job,” a hard-hitting documentary narrated by Matt Damon, offers a blow-by-blow account of the subprime mess. Director Charles Ferguson interviewed a battery of players including financier George Soros and French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde. In Cannes, he said the heads of all Wall Street institutions that had a role in the crisis ought to leave.

The third crisis movie was “Cleveland Versus Wall Street.” Swiss director Jean-Stephane Bron took on the City of Cleveland’s real-life 2008 lawsuit against 21 banks for their role in causing property foreclosures. As the real-life lawsuit was dismissed, Bron, in his movie, imagined how it might have gone.

Red Carpet

For the many stargazers who positioned their step ladders near the red carpet each day, this year’s edition was light on glamour. Sean Penn, star of the competition’s only U.S. movie (Doug Liman’s “Fair Game”) was a no-show, as was Sharon Stone, who comes every year for an AIDS charity. Director Ridley Scott, recovering from a knee injury, missed the premiere of his “Robin Hood,” which opened the festival.

To be sure, “Robin Hood” stars Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett showed up, as did the cast of Stone’s sequel, and of Woody Allen’s “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,” starring Naomi Watts, Anthony Hopkins and Josh Brolin. None of these films was in the festival competition.

Once they had come and gone, though, Hollywood talent was scarce. Celebrity watchers were reduced to gaping at supermodels and soap-opera stars. The headline makers this year were hotel heiress Paris Hilton and actress Lindsay Lohan.

Movie Lovers

Still, movie lovers staked out the bunker-like festival building, and badgered journalists for black-tie premiere tickets. One imaginative bidder got dressed in a turquoise cocktail dress, ready for the red carpet just in case, and held up a sign that read, “Young woman desperately seeks invitation to ‘Biutiful’ at 7 p.m.”

Nineteen movies competed this year in the festival, which started on May 12. The nine-member jury included actors Benicio Del Toro and Kate Beckinsale.

The first Cannes film festival took place in 1946, a year after World War II ended. Among the event’s earliest award winners were directors Orson Welles, Luis Bunuel, Ingmar Bergman and Satyajit Ray.

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