Cannes Report: Day 12

Left: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, A Screaming Man, 2010, color film in 35 mm, 92 minutes. Right: Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, 2010, color film in 35 mm, 113 minutes.

“I WOULD LIKE to thank all the spirits and all the ghosts in Thailand. They made it possible for me to be here,” beamed Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the winner of the Palme d’Or for his animist tale Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. The international press, gathered in the Salle Debussy to watch a live transmission of the awards ceremony, may have been even more elated than the director: After jury president Tim Burton announced Uncle Boonmee as the winner, many journalists cheered and raised their fists, thrilled that their own clear favorite had been selected (a stark contrast to last year’s shrugs when Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon took home Cannes’s top prize).
Over the past twelve days, several critics groused that a jury led by the man who made Mars Attacks! would be predisposed to honor the safer, more middlebrow titles in the Competition roster, like Another Year, Mike Leigh’s study of a happily married couple and their dysfunctional social set. That the nine-person committee singled out a film in which an ancient Thai princess is sexually pleasured by a talking catfish proves that what many were calling “the most boring jury ever” was actually the most daring—and generous—in its choices. The seven major prizes were spread out over as many films, with Mathieu Almaric a surprise winner for best director for his burlesque tribute, Tournée, and Mahamet-Saleh Haroun taking home the jury prize for A Screaming Man, about a father’s selfish sacrifice in war-torn Chad.
Gathered to meet the press immediately after the awards ceremony, the jurors uttered platitudes and remained deliberately vague about their selections. One reporter became fed up with the niceties, insisting, “You’re very quiet and not very talkative and we need you to talk about the festival”—a demand that led only to more banal evasions from the jurors. Director Victor Erice, best known for The Spirit of the Beehive (1973), stated the obvious: “The list of winners is always the result of a vote. Perhaps we haven’t given sufficient justice to all the films. And for this I apologize.” But it was actress Kate Beckinsale, who had remained silent for nearly the entire thirty-minute press conference, who spoke most concretely: “There’s a slight nausea at the ones that were left behind. We tried to invent more prizes.”