While films by American directors came up empty-handed, three European entries took top honors at the end of festival awards ceremony, led by UK director Ken Loach with "The Wind That Shakes The Barley."
It was a surprising set of winners this year, as the high profile, widely lauded films in competition ("Babel," "Volver") got overlooked in favor of two smaller, intense, character-driven war dramas and a Dogme 95 thriller. With a jury of international stars — Samuel L. Jackson, Monica Bellucci, Helena Bonham Carter, Tim Roth, Zhang Ziyi, and the President, Wong Kar-Wai among them — the critical buzz was by no means an accurate predictor of winners.
First-place winner "Wind" follows a young doctor (Cillian Murphy) who joins a growing rebellion in 1920s Ireland to fight British rule in a bloody civil war. Loach, an eight-time Cannes participant, has won five previous prizes at Cannes; the Palme d’Or is the festival’s (and his) highest placing thus far.
Jury president Wong Kar-Wai confirmed that his jury awarded Loach the first-place honor in a unanimous decision. Few early betters had their money on "Wind," however, which enjoyed a lukewarm and certainly not overwhelming response from festival viewers and critics (click here to see a sampling of critics’ reviews).
Taking second place with the Grand Prix award was Bruno Dumont with "Flandres," another war-themed film that only enjoyed a moderate reception at Cannes. "Flandres" tells the story of young enlisted men sent off to fight an unidentified war, and the changes they undergo from the effects of military life.
The third-place Jury Prize award went to another UK production, "Red Road." Andrea Arnold‘s first feature-length directorial effort, "Red Road" unravels a mystery as a television surveillance operator catches a glimpse of a man from her past — perhaps most interesting, the project is the first of a three-part Dogme 95 experiment to use the same characters and actors in three different films. Surprisingly, critics at Cannes seemed to take to this one a bit more than the top two winners, with The Hollywood Reporter’s Kirk Honeycutt calling "Red Road" "tense and provocative…"Rear Window" Times 100."
Other awards of the festival included the Best Director honor, bestowed upon Mexican DJ-turned-directorial darling Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, whose "Babel" was screened to great acclaim in competition. "Babel," a three-story drama about the tragic repercussions of a single gunshot, and the disconnectedness of humanity, had generated a lot of Palme d’Or buzz following its debut at Cannes; film critic Emanuel Levy calls it "more compelling than "21 Grams"" and "more involving than "Syriana.""
Also receiving a consolation prize was perennial director célèbre Pedro Almodovar, whose "Volver" was a widespread favorite throughout the festival, and seemed the popular favorite for top honors. Almodovar, who throughout his illustrious career has won just about every cinematic award there is (Oscar, Palme d’Or, Cesar, you name it), was awarded the Best Screenplay honor for his darkly comic multigenerational tale of women, tragedy, life, and death.
Adding more emphasis to the merits of "Volver," the jury awarded the Best Performance of an Actress honor to pretty much the entire female cast of the film: Penelope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Duenas, Blanca Portillo, Yohana Cobo, and Chus Lampreave.
Similar honors were bestowed on the male stars of Algerian war tale "Indigenes," whose actors Jamel Debbouze, Samy Naceri, Roschdy Zem, Sami Bouajila, and Bernard Blancan collectively accepted Best Performance by an Actor.
The Un Certain Regard category also awarded its honors:
Prix Un Certain Regard — "Luxury Car," director Wang Chao
Prix Special Du Jury Un Certain Regard — "Ten Canoes," director Rolf De Heer
Acting Award — Dorothea Petre, "The Way I Spent The End Of The World"
Acting Award — Don Angel Tavira, "El Violin"
Prix du President du Jury — "Meurtrieres," director Patrick Grandperret
And lastly, the Camera d’Or (Golden Camera) awarded in the Director’s Fortnight sidebar, went to Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu for "A Fost Sau N-A Fost?"