Cannes Diary X: Palmed Off

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Otto Fuerbringer, TIME's managing editor from 1960 to 1968, famously said of our brand of journalism, "It only has to be true this week." The cool thing about any diary is that it only has to be true today. In many blogs it doesn't have to be true at all.

So in the blithe spirit of instant perishability, I offer some hints on candidates for the top prize, or Palme d'Or, or Golden Palm (as in palm trees, which line the beachfront in this Riviera resort), at the 58th Cannes Film Festival, shortly drawing to a happy, exhausted close.

For those of you who don't follow foreign and art films (eh, to each his own) or haven't consulted's daily Cannes entries (shame on you!), the handicapping of the Palme d'Or may seem no more vital or fascinating than the morning line on a race for alderman in Liechtenstein. But it's fun for us over here. And if all the predictions I list below prove to be false when you read our next blog Saturday, you should get a giggle too. The award show, which can often be endearing in its gaucherie, is broadcast across Europe, and in the U.S. on the Independent Film Channel, beginning at 1 p.m. Eastern.

What are the rules? The ranking goes like this: first place, Palme d'Or; second place, Grand Jury Prize; third place, Jury Prize. The Jury may also bestow awards for Director, Screenplay, Actor and Actress. A separate commission votes a prize for Superior Technique. Yet another group chooses the Camera d'Or for best first feature — one of the few awards with monetary value: about $25,000.

In the wake of the 1991 Palmares, when the Jury voted three top prizes (the Palme, Best Director and Best Actor) to the Coen brothers' Barton Fink, the Festival imposed a rule against awarding the same film the Palme and Director prizes. This flies in the face of Cannes' deep and long-held belief that the director is the author of the film. In this Church of Auteurism, the best film must be the work of the best director. But Cannes is at least as political as it is canonical. It wants to make almost everybody happy, to distribute its party favors to a wide range of participants. This explains the existence of all those thanks-for-coming citations. In some years, nearly half of the films in the competition got a prize.

Who votes? Cannes is the only election I know with a 100% turnover in eligible voters each year. The festival bosses choose nine or 10 distinguished members of the film and literary community to serve. This year's Jury comprises directors Emir Kusturica (President), Fatih Akin, Benoit Jacquot, Agnes Varda and John Woo; actresses Nandita Das and Salma Hayek; actor Javier Bardem; and Nobel Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison.

Earlier today, at a party for French directors, we ran into Varda, who said of the process: you immediately dismiss most of the films, leaving a half-dozen or so to fight over. By then a few strong personalities have emerged in the Jury's debates. In 1996, over the objections of the majority, two or three members, including director Atom Egoyan, pushed through a Jury Prize citing fellow Canadian David Cronenberg's Crash for "audacity." This year, a couple of those Type-A personalities are said to be clashing. A real tug-of-hair may be in progress. When the Jury comes on stage one by one, check for missing tufts.

Palmes up. For the top prize this year, the big money (which is not always the smart money) is on two mystery melodramas about identity: Michael Haneke's Hidden and Cronenberg's A History of Violence. One critic, looking to the past two years, when the Palme winners Elephant and Fahrenheit 9/11 were both critical of American society, suggests that the Palme might go to Lars Von Trier's Manderlay, a parable of freed slaves reluctant to give up their old servitude. Hmmm... we wonder what Toni Morrison thinks of that film!

Then there's the Kusturica theory. This year's Jury President is a forceful fellow — some would translate that as madman — and, reportedly, thisclose to Jim Jarmusch; hence talk that he could persuade the jurors to choose Broken Flowers. He might be looking for the kind of films he makes: big, bustling, manic movies about displaced persons. Two films fitting that description are Marco Tullio Giordano's illegal-immigrant drama Once You're Born and the nutsy-sexy Mexican Battle in Heaven. A third, as Cannes' official announcer Patrick Fabre told me at a swank party where we sat at the same table with Toni Morrison and Morgan Freeman (have I broken the record for name-dropping in a subordinate clause?), is the quasi-Kurdish war epic Kilometre Zero. That movie has an image that is pure Kusturica: of a Kurdish soldier so eager to get out of the Iraqi army that during one trench battle he sticks a foot up into the firing line to get it blown off.

Best Actor? Too Many. In most of the competition films, the central figures of agony or ecstasy were men: Daniel Auteuil in Hidden,Viggo Mortensen in Violence, Bill Murray in Broken Flowers, Jeremie Renier in L'Enfant, Nazmi Kirik in Kilometre Zero, Michael Pitt in Last Days, Sam Shepard in Don't Come Knocking, Mickey Rourke or Bruce Willis in Sin City, Tony Leung Ka-fei or Simon Yam in Election... the list is distinguished, and nearly endless.

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