Left: Lars von Trier, Antichrist, 2009, still from a color film in 35 mm, 100 minutes. She (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Right: Brillante Mendoza, Kinatay, 2009, still from a color film, 105 minutes. Peping (Coco Martin).

“THE BRITS THINK THIS HAS BEEN A GREAT CANNES!” a London-based colleague told me when I remarked that I thought 2009 was a so-so year. “The Italians hate Vincere,” said someone else, referring to Marco Bellochio’s well-received, operatic competition entry about Mussolini’s mistress. Every year, Cannes invites sweeping generalizations like these from journalists, who have usually seen between forty and fifty movies in twelve days and are eager, especially in the closing weekend of the festival, to predict what the winning films will be.

Regardless of what one thought of the films in competition, there’s no denying the astonishingly unpredictable choices of this year’s jury, which granted awards to nine different films (out of twenty possible titles), with no film winning more than one prize. Journalists gathered at the Salle Debussy to watch a live transmission of the awards, taking place next door at Grand Théâtre Lumière—which allowed us to boo or cheer as we pleased. Brillante Mendoza won best director for Kinatay—a gruesome recapitulation of a woman being raped and dismembered. Charlotte Gainsbourg (much to this correspondent’s delight) took home the best-actress award for Antichrist, giving her thanks in a buttery, breathy hush. Accepting his prize for best actor, Christoph Waltz of Inglourious Basterds solemnly acknowledged, “I owe this to [his character] Colonel Landa and his unique and inimitable creator, Quentin Tarantino.” When jury president Isabelle Huppert began her presentation of the highest honor of the evening, the Palme d’Or, with “It’s with a certain emotion that I give . . . ” it was clear that The White Ribbon, by Michael Haneke (with whom the formidable actress has worked twice before), would be the winner.

Immediately following the awards ceremony, the jury assembled for the second time to be questioned by reporters. “It’s by intuition—you either like it or you don’t,” succinctly explained Mme Huppert when asked what criteria the winning films followed. Responding to what the deliberation process was like, Asia Argento noted, “It was such a beautiful experience and a sharing of brains”; Robin Wright Penn wanted to dispel rumors that the jury fought and remarked somewhat opaquely on “the beauty of the love.” A more dyspeptic Hanif Kureishi said, “It was a bit like being on Big Brother.” And in his concluding statement, Kureishi summed up the entire Cannes experience: “Sometimes good art is hard.”

Melissa Anderson