Out filmmaker Gus Van Sant won the Cannes film festival's coveted Palme d'Or award Sunday for Elephant, a film that enters the lives of U.S. students to see how they cope with shootings and violence at school. The prize was a long-awaited triumph for the U.S. director who has won plaudits in Hollywood with films like Good Will Hunting and To Die For but had yet to win over the critics of the French Riviera. Van Sant was also awarded the prize for Best Direction.
"I thought I was finished," an emotional Van Sant told the star-studded awards ceremony audience as he was called back up to the stage a second time to receive the top prize. "I've been trying to get my films to Cannes for years, and this time it's wonderful to receive such a prize. To win is miraculous and fortunate and lucky."
The gay-inclusive Elephant uses nonactor teens from Van Sant's hometown of Portland, Ore., to paint an impressionistic picture of everyday high school life that turns suddenly to tragedy. It comes a year after Michael Moore was lauded at Cannes for his probing documentary Bowling for Columbine, which also examined America's gun culture and high school shootings.
Festival watchers, who had their money on Lars von Trier's film Dogville winning the top award, were surprised when the maverick Dane and his leading lady, Nicole Kidman, won nothing. The news had to have been a blow to Von Trier's production team, which reportedly spent half a million dollars on Kidman's trip to Cannes, where she stayed in the priciest hotel around. Another film touted as a top winner was French-Canadian The Barbarian Invasions, which ended up winning Best Screenplay and Best Actress for Marie-Josée Croze, who plays a heroin addict.
With so many awards going to North America, Cannes retained its reputation for favoring intellectual world cinema by giving two awards to Turkish film Uzak (Distant), a moving study of how a man's home life is upset when a jobless cousin moves in. Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan won the runner-up Grand Prix, and Uzak's two main actors, Muzaffer Ozdemir and Mehmet Emin Toprak, jointly won Best Actor, an honor that went posthumously to Toprak, Ceylan's cousin, after he died in a car accident the day after learning Uzak had been selected for Cannes.
Openly gay jury head Patrice Chereau said the nine-member panel managed to remain on good terms during 10 days of lengthy discussion. French actress Isabelle Huppert, awarding the Palme d'Or, remarked that it was important to keep things in perspective given "all the unhappiness going on in the world," particularly the devastating earthquake in Algeria. Young Iranian director Samira Makhmalbaf received the Jury Award for her film about life in Afghanistan since the Taliban.