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.
Stars including Jane Fonda, Catherine Deneuve and Kirsten Dunst streamed up the red carpet into the Palais des Festivals in this French Riviera resort town for the twilight awards ceremony, cheered by a big crowd of onlookers.
The ever-provocative von Trier's apocalyptic psychodrama "Melancholia" remained a strong contender for the top honour, despite his ouster by festival organisers for saying he sympathised "a little bit" with the Nazi dictator.
Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, who also arrived at the ceremony, 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 coming-of-age tale "The Tree of Life", set in Texas in the 1950s and starring for the first time together Brad Pitt and Sean Penn.
"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.
Picking the winner was 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.
"I think we did the best that we could do," said a bleary-eyed De Niro on the way into the awards ceremony. "It's difficult when there are so many choices... We had to think our way through them."
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 during the 12-day event, 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.
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, "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.
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.
Last year saw the Palme d'Or go to Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul for "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives".
© 2011 AFP