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Cannes in 60 Seconds: Awards and the Von Trier Fiasco

The Cannes Film Festival concluded its 64th edition on Sunday by awarding its prestigious Palme D'or award to Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life. The choice wasn't shocking, though the film's somewhat mixed response at screenings called into question its chances for the top prize. Malick's film opens this Friday in limited release, and though Fox Searchlight will undoubtedly milk this accolade for all its worth, word is The Tree of Life is far too obtuse to appeal to mainstream audiences. If seemingly plotless philosophy doesn't sound like your thing, you'd be best advised to skip this one.

Despite the buzz surrouding "Tree," however, the talk of the festival was controversial Danish director Lars von Trier. The acclaimed director—and former Palme D'or winner for Dancer in the Dark—was declared "persona non grata" at Cannes after some controversial comments to the press after a screening of his film, Melancholia. Von Trier spoke about how he "sympathized with Hitler" and claimed to "understand where he was coming from," and though he went on to say he was for the Jews and thought Hitler also did some very bad things, what he said was enough for the festival bosses to end their working relationship with von Trier. Whether the ban is permanent is still unclear.

Melancholia did not go home empty handed, though. In typical Von Trier fashion, his leading lady (Kirsten Dunst) took home the festival's Best Actress award. Bjork and Charlotte Gainsbourg have both won this prize for performances in Von Trier films. The festival's Best Actor award went to Jean Dujardin for the black-and-white silent film The Artist, and Nicolas Winding Refn won Best Director for Drive, a thriller starring Ryan Gosling as a stuntman who moonlights as a getaway car driver.

One surprising omission on awards day was We Need to Talk about Kevin, a very well-received film starring Tilda Swinton as the mother of a boy who commits a Columbine-like crime. The film was picked up, however, by Oscilloscope with an Oscar campaign in mind. The Artist was also picked up, pre-festival, by The Weinstein Company, and Oscar buzz is already strong for this film, which is reportedly a real crowd-pleaser. The Skin I Live In, the latest Pedro Almodovar film, and Gus Van Sant's Restless were already slated for fall 2011 releases, though Oscar buzz will be significantly more muted than expected after their mixed debuts at Cannes.

That's the festival. As with most years, every film went in with high expectations. Some came out okay, while others crashed and burned. Many will go on to successful art-house runs in America, while others won't see the light of day on this side of the pond. Will any film continue on to Oscar glory like former Cannes alumni No Country for Old Men and Inglourious Basterds? We'll just have to wait and see, but there's no denying it was an interesting festival this year.


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