Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life, 2011, still from a color film in 35 mm.

IN 2005, the first year I covered the Cannes Film Festival, there was a store in an alley near the studio apartment I shared in the Suquet—the old part of town—called the Crazy Shop. The establishment no longer exists, but its name provides the aptest tagline imaginable for the two-week period in mid-May when thousands of journalists, film stars and directors, movie marketers and executives, paparazzi, D-listers, louche heiresses, hustlers, and swindlers all descend on this beautiful Mediterranean city that transforms into a shrine of international auteurist cinema.

The press corps, many of whom had already unraveled from deadline stress and sleep crimes by the festival’s midpoint, are perhaps the Crazy Shop’s most loyal customers. The past two days have been dominated by a particular kind of film-professional lunacy: trying to predict the winner of the Palme d’Or. “The Sorrentino”—This Must Be the Place, with Sean Penn—“is so bad and so mawkish, it’ll definitely win the top prize,” two esteemed colleagues (and longtime Cannes veterans) assured me yesterday.

Fortunately, the nine-member jury led by Robert De Niro, who received a standing ovation from the crowd assembled at the Lumière Theater for the awards ceremony, proved them wrong: Sorrentino’s movie received none of the seven prizes handed out just moments ago. Rewards went to eight different (out of twenty) titles in Competition; the Grand Prize (the runner-up award) was split between the Dardenne brothers’ The Kid with a Bike and Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Once upon a Time in Anatolia, a nearly three-hour-long procedural about a search for a corpse. Most astonishingly (or maybe not: “it’s so bad and so mawkish . . . ”), Maïwenn’s Polisse won the Jury Prize (third place, essentially), the first category to be announced in the forty-five-minute ceremony. The long-maned, equine director panted throughout her excessively long acceptance speech (during which presenter Chiara Mastroianni looked up at the ceiling more than once), re-creating the de trop quality of her film.

When De Niro announced Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life as the winner of the Palme d’Or, I realized how completely disjointed my sense of time had become in the Crazy Shop: A film I had seen only six days ago now seemed thousands of years old, eclipsed as it had been just forty-eight hours later by the Lars von Trier hoo-ha. Despite the Danish troublemaker’s exile status, he brought good luck once again to his female lead: Kirsten Dunst, one of the main performers in Melancholia, won the Best Actress prize (the other, Charlotte Gainsbourg, had taken home the award in 2009 for her performance in Antichrist; Björk received the prize in 2000 for Dancer in the Dark). Dunst, visibly nervous, smiled and said, “Wow. What a week it’s been.” The Crazy Shop shutters once again—but we’re already counting the days until it reopens for business.

Melissa Anderson