Thai film surprise winner in Cannes

CANNES, France Sun May 23, 2010 6:41pm EDT

Director Apichatpong Weerasethakul (2nd R) and cast member Wallapa Mongkolprasert arrive for the screening of ''Lung Boonmee Raluek Chat'' (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall his Past Lives) in competition at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival May 21, 2010. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Director Apichatpong Weerasethakul (2nd R) and cast member Wallapa Mongkolprasert arrive for the screening of ''Lung Boonmee Raluek Chat'' (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall his Past Lives) in competition at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival May 21, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Yves Herman

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CANNES, France (Reuters) - A mystical Thai movie exploring reincarnation won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes film festival on Sunday, beating out pre-award favorites including Britain's Mike Leigh who left empty-handed.

"Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" was directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who nearly did not make it to Cannes to present his film due to political unrest at home.

"I think Thailand needs some kind of hope in other ways because we ... are very depressed about the confrontation of different ideologies," he told reporters after receiving the Golden Palm for best picture at a glitzy closing ceremony.

Uncle Boonmee, eagerly anticipated by highbrow cinephiles, was shot in a flat, naturalistic style and featured conversations with hair-covered spirits and talking catfish.

U.S. filmmaker Tim Burton, head of the jury, described Uncle Boonmee as "a beautiful strange dream.

"The world is getting smaller and films get more Westernized or Hollywood-ized and this is a film for me that I felt I was watching from another country, from another perspective."

Weerasethakul, an Asian favorite in Cannes who won lesser awards with previous entries, beat frontrunner Leigh, whose critical hit "Another Year" was overlooked. Leigh won the Palme d'Or in 1996 with "Secrets and Lies."

"Of Gods and Men," French director Xavier Beauvois's meditative re-telling of the true story of seven monks murdered in Algeria during civil turmoil in the 1990s, took the Grand Prix runner-up award.

Along with Leigh, Beauvois had been tipped for the big prize for a picture that focuses on the rhythms of monastic life and tackles universal themes of faith and religious tolerance.

The awards brought to an end 12 hectic days of screenings and parties on the French Riviera, where economic uncertainty, a lack of star power and too few movies generating genuine buzz sapped the festival of excitement.

Last year Lars von Trier's "Antichrist," French prison drama "A Prophet" and Michael Haneke's Palme d'Or winner "The White Ribbon" made for a vintage Cannes.

POLITICAL CONTROVERSY

France's Juliette Binoche was named best actress for her performance in Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami's "Certified Copy." She used her speech to attack the Iranian government for imprisoning another filmmaker, Jafar Panahi.

"There is a man who is in Iran today. His fault is to be an artist, to be independent and I'm thinking of him specially this evening," she told the packed Grand Theater Lumiere, holding a piece of card with Panahi's name written on it.

Panahi is on hunger strike in a Tehran prison, but comments in Cannes about his treatment drew criticism from an Iranian government official who complained to festival organizers.

The best actor category was shared between Spanish Oscar winner Javier Bardem, for "Biutiful," and Italy's Elio Germano for "Our Life." Both play troubled men struggling to cope with the pressures of fatherhood, one of this year's main themes.

"As our governments in Italy always accuse cinema of talking badly about our country, I want to dedicate this prize to Italy and to Italians who do everything to make the country better in spite of the governing class," Germano said.

France's Mathieu Amalric won best director for "On Tour," while "A Screaming Man," by Chad's Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, won the jury (third) prize. Korean entry "Poetry," directed and written by Lee Chang-dong, was named best screenplay.

Outside the main competition, blockbuster "Robin Hood" rode into town with Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett, and Oliver Stone presented "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," his topical picture starring Michael Douglas about the financial crisis.

Woody Allen brought "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger," but critical reaction to all three among Cannes' famously picky audiences was muted.

(Editing by Michael Roddy)

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Comments (1)
desik wrote:
Is Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s
Cannes win really such a surprise?

Well, the frightful accumulation of real world uncertainties and traumatic events like the political upheaval in Thailand and Iran , say, and the wider economic , environmental and spiritual problems we face , particularly in the West,certainly helps explain why religious themed films films  did so well at the festival. Combine this pressing need for super earthly and mystical distraction ( Avatar did it for the multiplex and DVD crowd) with the growing interest in Buddhism and Buddhist themes in the West , think of the celebritization of the Twittering Dalai Llama and impact of ‘Mindfulness’ meditation on standard stress management practice, and Weerasethakul’s film was
always going to be perceived as the most exotic and safely illuminating  cinematic essay on death to european sensibilities as it focuses on reincarnation  which to Westerners , bless them, seems  positive – life at any cost! – and avoids  the thoroughly depressing  downside of fanatically held religious beliefs – Hell is a place where people of european origin are beheaded, it’s a Class thing taken to extremes – and in that sense “Uncle Boomee Who Can Recall His Past Lives ” was the most likely religious film on offer to provide some form of instant redemption – if only until the final credits rolled – and , of course , a tenderer human bet against the future as Cinema will be with us a while yet.

May 24, 2010 7:39am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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