Cannes win thrusts shy US film-maker into spotlight

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For Terrence Malick, who won the Palme d'Or Sunday at the Cannes film festival, the triumph comes at a price: the painfully shy film-maker will find it hard to avoid the spotlight for a while.

With "The Tree of Life" the enigmatic 67-year-old -- who also writes and produces -- scored a second Cannes honour more than three decades after he won best director here for "Days of Heaven."

True to form, Malick skipped a press conference after the screening of his movie half-way through the festival's 12-day run this year, leaving producer Sarah Green to explain to frustrated reporters: "Mr Malick is very shy."

He was also a no-show on awards night, with co-producer Bill Pohlad accepting the award on behalf

"The Tree of Life," which stars Brad Pitt as the tyrannical father of a Texas family in the 1950s, and also features Sean Penn, got mixed plaudits from critics, but clearly won over the Cannes jury chaired by Robert De Niro.

Details of Malick's personal life are hard to come by, but by all accounts he studied philosophy at Harvard and was a Rhodes scholar to Britain's Oxford University.

After returning to the US, Malick, whose name comes from his Lebanese immigrant father, worked as a freelance journalist before getting into the film business via writing, including working on "Dirty Harry" in 1971.

Deciding to direct his own scripts, his first feature was "Badlands" in 1973 starring Martin Sheen, before he scored a hit with his second movie "Days of Heaven."

Malick won best director at Cannes in 1979 for "Days of Heaven," starring Richard Gere and which was also nominated for best picture. In 1999 he was nominated for two Oscars for "The Thin Red Line," as director and writer.

During this year's Cannes festival Malick's shyness -- he is intensely private, reportedly stipulating in contracts that pictures of him cannot be used to promote his work -- caused repeated headaches for organizers.

Festival director Thierry Fremaux, who knows the enigmatic US director well, told AFP that Malick arrived Sunday but opted to stay away from the red-carpet premiere as well as the press conference.

"I convinced him to enter the theatre at the conclusion of the gala evening screening by promising him that there would not be press cameras," Fremaux said.

Spanish actor Javier Bardem, who is in Malick's latest as-yet-untitled movie, said: "Here's the great thing about Terry: to my surprise, because I didn't know him, he is as funny as hell. He has a great, great sense of humor.

"He made me laugh a lot. He is a great man, a philosopher. I've always been very grateful for his work, so when he gave me a call I said, yes, of course. It's like with Woody Allen: He calls you and you go, Where? When?"

© 2011 AFP

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