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‘White Ribbon’ village drama wins top prize at Cannes

Cannes – Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon, a chilling study of malice in a German village on the eve of WWI, snatched top honours at the Cannes film festival on Sunday.

The Austrian director’s austere black-and-white work overcame stiff competition from films by heavyweight auteurs like Quentin Tarantino and Jane Campion to win the coveted Palme d’Or at the world’s greatest cinema showcase.

"Today is a moment in my life when I can say I am very happy," said Haneke, whose often harrowing films – such as Funny Ganes and Code Unknown – have shown modern middle-class lives disrupted by malevolent forces.

He was handed the award at a star-studded red carpet gala by the Cannes jury president, French star Isabelle Huppert, who played a sadomasochistic musician in his 2001 film The Piano Teacher.

Huppert said The White Ribbon, hailed by critics here and seen by many as a parable on the roots of Nazi savagery, was an "extraordinary film" that "doesn’t deliver any messages, but says important things".

The notoriously extravagant festival toned down the glitz for this year’s recession-era bash and was lighter than usual in star power, but it still saw celebs like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie sashay up the fabled red carpet.

Billed as a battle of auteur titans, it mostly lived up to expectations, with Britain’s Independent on Sunday newspaper calling it "a superior vintage" and France’s Journal du Dimanche declaring "the return of great cinema".

A range of other prizes were dished out on Sunday to the 20 films in competition, with French director Jacques Audiard – who had been a frontrunner for the Palme – taking the Grand Prix for his bleak prison drama A Prophet.

Cult South Korean director Park Chan-Wook and Britain’s Andrea Arnold jointly took the jury prize for Thirst, a vampire romance, and Fish Tank, a coming-of-age drama set in a grim London suburb.

Austrian television star Christoph Waltz clinched the best actor award for his role as a multilingual Nazi nicknamed the Jew Hunter in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds.

France’s Charlotte Gainsbourg took the best actress award for her taboo-defying role as a woman driven insane by grief in the shock Danish thriller Antichrist by Lars Von Trier.

Alain Resnais, 86, the grand old man of French cinema and erstwhile New Wave icon, was awarded a special prize for his half-century career.

Brillante Mendoza of the Philippines picked up the best director prize for Kinatay, while Australian Aboriginal director Warwick Thornton’s Samson and Delilah was awarded the Camera d’Or prize for a first film.

Penelope Cruz was among the A-list celebrities at the 12-day annual French Riviera bash, who also included Martin Scorsese and Jim Carrey.

Tarantino’s march up the red carpet – flanked by Pitt and his wife Jolie – for the world premiere of his long-awaited Basterds on Wednesday provided the biggest celebrity buzz of the 12-day festival.

Scandal came in the form of Von Trier’s Antichrist, which provoked fainting, gasps and walk-outs and received an "anti-prize" for misogyny that the festival director angrily denounced as an attempt at censorship.

The late Heath Ledger’s unfinished stint in Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was screened out of competition, while Spider-Man director Sam Raimi returned to horror with his new flick Drag Me To Hell.

AFP / Expatica