Cannes 2011 Winners

The 64th Festival de Cannes wrapped up this past weekend with its annual awards ceremony. The highest honor a film can receive is the Palme d’Or (Golden Palm). Acclaimed films such as ‘Taxi Driver‘, ‘Apocalypse Now‘, ‘The Mission’, ‘Sex, Lies and Videotape’ and ‘Pulp Fiction’ are past Palme d’Or winners. Much like we see at Sundance and other stateside film festivals, earning a Cannes accolade does not necessarily ensure success. For better or worse, here’s a hopeful look at this year’s winners that we just might be seeing around these parts in the very near future.

Palme d’Or: ‘The Tree of Life’ by Terrence Malick

Starring Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and brilliant little-known Jessica Chastain, ‘The Tree of Life’ revolves around an average struggling suburban family-of-five in the 1950s. Already locked for distribution under the Fox Searchlight banner, ‘The Tree of ‘Life’ will receive a limited domestic theatrical release this weekend with platform regional releases in the weekends that follow.

Despite winning the highest honor, ‘The Tree of Life’ premiered with mixed reviews. Some praised it as an instant masterpiece, while others panned it as nothing more than an overindulgent underachiever. The positive reviews call it “sweeping and robust,” “cinematic poetry.” The negative reviews portray it as “a pretty crushing disappointment” that knows “how to spin a good yarn.” But such is the case with most of Malick’s work. You either enjoy the look, tone and slow pacing of a Terrence Malick film or you don’t.

Grand Prix: ‘Once Upon A Time in Anatolia’ by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, ‘The Kid With a Bike’ by Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne

Turkish film ‘Once Upon A Time in Anatolia’ (‘Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da’) tells a slow-moving story of three men living on the Anatolia steppe. Eventually (supposedly after 90 minutes of chit chat), one man murders another and the third helps bury the body. The murderer takes the police into the hills to find the body. With every hillside looking just like the other, the task seems impossible. Maybe this is where the 150-minute runtime comes from.

Being “beautifully crafted, ultra-rarefied” and a “long, slow, hypnotic film that explores the human condition,” who knows how long it will take for us to get this in the U.S.?

Co-winner of the Grand Prix is French-language ‘The Kid With a Bike’ (‘Le Gamin Au Vélo’), which is about an abandoned 11-year-old who sets out to find his father. Along the way, he’s befriended by a hairdresser (Cécile De France from ‘Hereafter‘) and a drug dealer.

Unlike the similarly mixed reviews of the previously listed winners, ‘The Kid With a Bike’ sounds like it’s more a focused, story-driven narrative. It’s being called “an emotionally compelling, ultra-realistic coming-of-age morality tale” where “not a shot seems unnecessary.”
(An English subtitled trailer has yet to be released.)

Best Director: Nicolas Winding Refn for ‘Drive’

Ryan Gosling is said to give the best performance of his career in ‘Drive’. Gosling plays a Hollywood stunt driver who works as a hired getaway driver in the off-hours. When a job goes sour and the most dangerous criminal of Los Angeles is after him, he literally drives for his life.

After reading reviews and seeing the clip below, ‘Drive’ cannot hit theaters quick enough. One review makes it sound like ‘Hanna’ by calling it “an unapologetically commercial picture that defies all the current trends in mainstream action filmmaking.” I’m hooked.

Jury Prize: ‘Poliss’ by Maiwenn

French film ‘Poliss’ (‘Polisse’) blends comedy and drama by telling the story of a Juvenile Protection Unit that is trying to rescue a child kidnapped by his junkie mother.

Although reviews call ‘Poliss’ a “socially-minded film … packed with raw, visceral performances,” the trailer (clip) gives off the impression that it’s an unfocused, less funny French version of Edgar Wright’s ‘Hot Fuzz‘.

(The trailer for this one can’t be embedded, so you’ll need to watch it on YouTube.)

Best Actor: Jean Dujardin in ‘The Artist’

Set in Hollywood during the 1920s, ‘The Artist’ follows Dujardin’s character, a foreign silent-film actor whose career is about to die with the invention of talkies. French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius decided to film ‘The Artist’ in the same style as the movies of its central character. ‘The Artist’ was shot in black and white and does not feature a single word of dialogue.

Although you’d expect this modern black and white silent film to be nothing more than a gimmick, it’s said to be a “surreal picture” that “brings happiness” and “will charm cinephiles with its affection for one of the movies’ golden ages.”

Best Actress: Kirsten Dunst in ‘Melancholia’

While ‘Melancholia’ was damaged by its director’s Nazi sympathy remarks after its premiere, Dunst’s performance was still strong enough to overcome the negative buzz.

Dunst plays a depressed young newlywed whose family is being ripped apart by madness as a newly discovered planet called Melancholia careens through space in what appears to be a crash-course with Earth. One can only imagine that the odd subplot is supposed to be symbolic of “worlds colliding” after marriage.

My first reaction is to judge ‘Melancholia’ as odd for odd’s sake with pretty visuals just to give you something to look at, but reviews call it “sincere, haunting, powerful cinema” with “an interesting take on the psychology of the apocalypse“.

Best Screenplay: Joseph Cedar for ‘Footnote’

The Israeli black comedy ‘Footnote’ (‘HEARAT SHULAYIM’) tells the confrontational story of competition between a father and his son. A role reversal takes place that causes a major rift between the two and a rivalry that is set to destroy their relationship.

Although most critics claim that ‘Footnote’ is “uneven,” they all agree that it “has something that audiences yearn for … a really good story.”


  1. EM

    Of these, The Artist interests me most. I enjoy silent cinema, and so I could doubly appreciate a film about silent film told through the “gimmick” of silent film.

      • EM

        I haven‘t watched it, as streaming video often doesn’t do very well on my old-fashioned dialup. Maybe I’ll take a look at some of these trailers the next time I’m at my local public library.

      • EM

        Today I finally watched the trailer for The Artist—and yeah, it does look amazing! It really does look like a vintage silent film—not just because of the black-and-white and the lack of diegetic sound—but it because it really appears the recapture the style, the film grammar of 1920s cinema. I really look forward to this one.

  2. TJ Kats

    Gosling giving the best performance of his career is a good way to start a movie description.