No clear Palme d'Or favourite as Cannes wraps
The Cannes film festival wraps up on Sunday with no clear favourite to win the Palme d'Or, after weathering a furore over Danish contender Lars von Trier's off-colour remarks about Hitler.
The provocative auteur's apocalyptic psychodrama "Melancholia" remained a strong contender for the top honour, despite getting himself ousted by organisers for saying that he understood the Nazi dictator "a little bit".
Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne were hoping for a record third Palme d'Or for "The Kid With a Bike," an uplifting portrait of an abandoned 11-year-old boy and the woman bent on saving him.
But they faced strong competition from enigmatic US director Terrence Malick's much-anticipated Texas coming-of-age tale "The Tree of Life" starring, for the first time together, Brad Pitt and Sean Penn.
It was the runaway favourite among eight French critics surveyed for Le Film Francais, a trade journal.
Another critics' poll in Screen magazine put Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki's "Le Havre" -- also a tale about a boy, this time an African immigrant in the eponymous French port city -- in the lead.
"We have to acknowledge that this year's selection of films is really excellent," Alain Grasset, film critic for the French newspaper Le Parisien, told AFP.
"There are at least five or six films that are equally good. That means that the outcome is far from certain."
Twenty features vied for top honours at the world's premier film festival, the lion's share of them this year from European directors, with relatively few from Asia-Pacific and none from Latin America.
The prizes are to be announced at a gala ceremony from 7:15 pm (1715 GMT) that concludes with the premiere of "Beloved" by French director Christophe Honore starring Catherine Deneuve and her daughter Chiara Mastroianni.
Picking the winner is a jury led by US actor Robert De Niro that included Hollywood stars Jude Law and Uma Thurman, Hong Kong's Johnny To and Shi Nansun, and Norway's Linn Ullmann, daughter of Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman.
Winning in Cannes -- which takes pride in being at home with both high-brow auteur cinema and high-grossing Hollywood blockbusters -- can give a tremendous publicity boost to a film.
Festival-goers agreed that the 64th edition surpassed last year when foul weather, a weak global economy and an Icelandic volcano that wreaked havoc on European air travel all conspired to put a damper on proceedings.
A-listers were out in force, including Penn, Pitt, his partner Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz, plus Woody Allen who turned up for his festival-opening romantic comedy "Midnight in Paris".
Cruz starred with Depp in "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" in 3-D, shown out of competition, then popped up again in Pedro Almodovar's well-received "The Skin I Live In" which is in the running.
There were some firsts, too, including the first 3-D film in competition, Takashi Miike's "Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai" from Japan, plus a crowd-pleasing silent movie about silent movies, "The Artist" by France's Michel Hazanavicius.
But it fell to von Trier, a Cannes regular and Palme d'Or winner in 2000 with "Dancer in the Dark", to add the missing ingredient of controversy when he was asked about his belated discovery of his German heritage.
"I really wanted to be a Jew and then I found out that I was really a Nazi," said the film-maker notorious for black humour and political incorrectness, adding that he sympathised "a little bit" with Hitler.
Von Trier later apologised, but it failed to stop festival organisers declaring him "persona non grata" -- in effect, telling him to keep away from awards night -- while retaining his film in competition.
"I think he's a great director," Christiana Paterno, film critic for Italy's Cinecitta News, told AFP, "but what he said I find very disturbing, and I think his film is a bit Nazi too."
Last year saw the Palme d'Or go to Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul for "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives".
© 2011 AFP