Von Trier’s ‘Dancer’ feat: Palme d’Or
Written by: Cathy Dunkley and Stephen Galloway
Published in: The Hollywood Reporter on May 21, 2000
CANNES (The Hollywood Reporter) — Danish director Lars von Trier’s musical “Dancer in the Dark” was the big winner Sunday at the 53rd Cannes International Film Festival, where it walked away with both the top prize, the Palme d’Or, and the best actress award for singer-actress Bjork.
“In the Mood for Love,” the latest film from Hong Kong’s widely admired Wong Kar-wai, was another multiple award winner, with Tony Leung named best actor and the editing-cinematography team of Christopher Doyle, Mark Li Ping Bing and William Chang Suk-ping sharing the technical prize.
Both films had been considered top candidates for awards, although audiences were radically polarized over “Dancer,” with critics loving and hating it in equal measure. The song-and-dance melodrama centers on a Czech immigrant who copes with her encroaching blindness By escaping into musical fantasies. Fine Line has domestic rights to the film.
“Mood,” a lowish-budget film set in Hong Kong in 1962, follows two neighbors who gradually come to discover that their spouses are having an affair. Leung co-stars with Maggie Chung, who may have been shut out of awards contention because of a new rule instituted this year that forbids the jury from awarding any picture more than two prizes. USA Films has domestic rights to “Mood.”
As so often in recent years, American films were effectively shut out of most major awards. USA Films’ “Nurse Betty,” Neil LaBute’s comical satire, took away only the screenplay nod for John C. Richards and James Flamberg.
“Betty,” which follows a young woman who believes she is the ex-fiancee of a character in her favorite soap opera, had been considered one of the leading contenders for the Palme d’Or. Among general audiences, it received perhaps the best response of any festival film — at least until “Mood” screened as the very last competition entry on Saturday.
The major runner-up award, the Grand Prix, went to Chinese helmer Jiang Wen for his war drama “Devils on the Doorstep” — a film that the Chinese government made a half-hearted attempt to pull at the beginning of the festival. At that time, a fax sent to the festival requesting that the film be withdrawn from competition was all but dismissed.
In a year that has been particularly strong for Asia, another Asian, Edward Yang, was named best director for “Yi-Yi.”
The awards for “Mood,” “Devils” and “Yi-Yi” made it a triumphant Cannes for Asian countries, which fielded six of the 22 competition films this year — a year in which some of the world’s strongest filmmaking communities such as Germany and Italy had no films competing at all.
But, if any part of the world had cause to celebrate, it was Iran, which had two films share the Camera d’Or, given to the best film from a first-time feature director (the films were Hassan Yektapanah’s “Djomeh” and Bahman Ghobadi’s “Zamani Baraye Masti Asbha/A Time for Drunken Horses “).
More significant, Iranian female director Samira Makhmalbaf’s “Blackboard” (her second feature after the acclaimed “The Apple”) shared another runner-up award, the Jury Prize, with Roy Andersson’s “Songs From the Second Floor.”
Fighting back tears amid audience applause, Makhmalbaf spoke of a “young generation of hope” and its “struggle for democracy … and the promise of a better life in Iran.” Those were bold, fighting words for the director, who made clear her passion for change in the Islamic country.
Makhmalbaf drew warm applause from the chic, black-tie audience, but it was dwarfed by the applause for Bjork, the press-shy singer-turned-actress who was greeted by a standing ovation when her name was announced among the winners.
Bjork was as laconic and low-key in accepting the prize as she had been throughout Cannes.
So press-shy has Bjork been here that she avoided the obligatory press conference after the initial screening of “Dancer” last week, when von Trier and his cast — including French leading lady Catherine Deneuve — tiptoed around questions about the difficulties they had encountered working with the singing sensation.
Von Trier made an oblique reference to his difficult relationship with Bjork when he picked up the Palme d’Or and said, “If you meet (Bjork), tell her that I love her very much, though I know she doesn’t believe me.”
Von Trier was equally quotable at the Sunday awards when he spun off a dubious compliment in the direction of festival director Gilles Jacob. “I’ve been here six times because (of) Mr. Jacob,” he said. “I don’t know if he knows very much about film, but he’s a very nice man.” Jacob has come increasingly under fire both for programming weak films and for failing to lock in a successor.
Luckily for Cannes, these ripples of hostility were very much in a minor key compared with previous years when audiences reacted with boos and catcalls at some of the jury’s choices. Last year, especially, winners “Rosetta” and “L’Humanite” were roundly condemned by audiences.
This year’s jury, led by French director Luc Besson, seemed as close to being in sync with the mood at the fest as a 10-person jury can be. In a festival that had no movie clearly dominate the field, nobody seemed to mind the spread of awards at the end.
Nor did they mind the glitz and glamour that accompanied them. Celebrities such as Mira Sorvino, Deneuve, Milla Jovovich, Vincent Perez, Virginie Ledoyen (a hugely popular and elegant master of ceremonies), James Caan (who jokingly referred to this as the “Caan” film festival), Charlize Theron, Joaquin Phoenix, and jury members Kristin Scott Thomas and Jeremy Irons all ascended the fabled red steps of the Palais des Festivals to great audience enthusiasm.
It was just a pity that the same enthusiasm could not greet the closing night film: Denys Arcand’s satire “Stardom,” a fast-paced look at the life of a fashion model that was even less popular — if possible — than the opening night film, “Vatel.”
Special mention for ensemble cast: Pavel Lounguine’s “La Noce” (The Wedding).”
Palme d’Or for best short: “Anino” directed by Raymond Red.
Cinefondation, 1st prize: Peter Sollett’s “Five Feet High and Rising”; 2nd prize: Caran Hartsfield’s “Kiss It Up to God” and Amit Sakomski’s “Kinu’ach” (Dessert). 3rd prize: Fischer Christensen’s “Indien” (India) and Buii Thac Chuyen’s “Cuoc Xe Dem” (Night Race).
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