'Tree of Life' takes top honour at Cannes film festival

22nd May 2011, Comments 0 comments

"The Tree of Life", an epic and ambitious coming-of-age film that took years for enigmatic US director Terrence Malick to bring to the screen, won top honours Sunday at the Cannes festival.

Kirsten Dunst took best actress for her role in Lars von Trier's apocalyptic psychodrama "Melancholia" while France's Jean Dujardin claimed best actor as the leading man in Michel Hazanavicius's silent movie "The Artist".

Malick, 67, notoriously publicity shy, was not present to accept one of the most coveted prizes in cinema, leaving one of his co-producers, Bill Pohlad, to speak on his behalf.

"I know he is thrilled with this award, as are all of us," said Pohlad at the climax of a fast-moving twilight gala awards ceremony that brought down the curtain on the 64th edition of the 12-day film festival.

"'The Tree of Life' was a long road," he said of the richly textured story of a tyrannical father, portrayed by Brad Pitt, and his family of three sons in a Texas town in the 1950s. Sean Penn played the eldest son as an adult.

"About a year ago at this time (when it was expected to screen at Cannes), it seemed even longer, but coming here and having this happen and getting this award tonight has made it all worthwhile."

The verdicts of a nine-member jury led by US acting legend Robert De Niro capped a festival that was overshadowed by the organisers' decision to bar von Trier over remarks he made -- meant in jest, he said -- about Adolf Hitler.

"Well, what a week it's been," said Dunst, 29, who had looked uncomfortable when the Danish director uttered his controversial words at a press conference, but who Sunday was flushed with joy as she accepted her laurel.

She portrayed one of two sisters -- the other played by Charlotte Gainsbourg -- who react differently as Earth is about to be destroyed in a collision with another planet.

Forty-year-old Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn won the best director prize for his high-octane film noir "Drive" about a stuntman who moonlights as a getaway car driver in Los Angeles.

Refn came well-prepared for his moment of glory, reading his list of people to thank from his iPhone -- a list that veered wildly from his mother to "the Russian oligarchy" to his Canadian star Ryan Gosling.

The runner-up Grand Prix award was shared by two-time Palme d'Or winners Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne for "The Kid With a Bike" and Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan for the police drama "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia".

French actress-turned-director Maiwenn, 35, won the jury prize for the third police story to get a Cannes gong, "Poliss".

She was overwhelmed with emotion as she ran breathless onto the stage in an off the shoulder red gown and thanked, among others, the Paris police child protection unit that she had shadowed day and night to develop her story.

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.

Dujardin, 38, collected the best actor prize for his portrayal of a vain Hollywood star of the late 1920s in Hazanavicius's delightful and successful attempt to recreate the magic of silent black-and-white movies.

"I thought it would never be made," Dujardin, one of France's biggest stars but almost unknown abroad, told reporters. "You really had to believe in it."

Israeli director Joseph Cedar, 42, clinched the best screenplay prize for "Footnote", which recounts the decades-long rivalry between a father-son pair of Talmudic scholars.

Picking the winners with De Niro was a jury 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.

De Niro told reporters after the ceremony that "The Tree of Life" had "the size, the importance, the intention, whatever you want to call it, that seemed to fit the prize".

Festival-goers agreed that this year's 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.

But it fell to von Trier, 55, a 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

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