Cannes Diary X: Palmed Off

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My head says Auteuil, Mortensen or Murray — whichever of this trio is in a film that doesn't get another top prize. (The Jury, remember, is discouraged from duplicating.) I might seem long-shot smart to suggest that Matteo Gadola, the boy in Once You're Born, has a chance — because last year's winner in this category was 14-year-old Yuuya Yagira in the Japanese drama Nobody Knows. But that's my heart speaking, not my smart. I think the boy is utterly beguiling. And I know the film doesn't stand a chance. (See below.)

Best Actress? What Actress? Women, good ones, stood off to the side: Maria Bello in A History of Violence, Juliet Binoche in Charlotte Gainsbourg in Lemming, Jessica Lange in Don't Come Knocking. It's true that Natalie Portman cried for the first nine mins. of Free Zone; that Fusako Urabe survived an emotional thrashing in Bashing; that Manderlay star Bryce Dallas Howard had to put up with Von Trier's Svengalise personality; that Taiwanese beauty Hsu Chi (aka Shu Qi) was quite decorative watching guys shoot pool in Three Times; and that Alison Lohmann carried the story, while sinking the plausibility, of Where the Truth Lies. These performances merit sympathy at best, not a commendation.

It'd make more sense to declare an ensemble award (it's happened before) for supporting actresses: to the Broken Flowers brigade of Lange, Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Tilda Swinton, Alexis Dziena, Chloe Sevigny and Pell James; or to the Sin City sorority that includes Jessica Alba, Carlo Gugino, Rosario Dawson, Brittany Murphy and Jaime King. Our choice is the Three Burials tandem of Melissa Leo and January Jones: one strong and maternally sexy, the other brutalized but unbowed, each so arresting, the source of so much of the film's wayward life, that The Three Burials inevitably sags when they disappear about an hour into it.

Open the envelope, Richard. Cannes is an art showcase that turns into a horse race. And like the Kentucky Derby, the overwhelming favorite can be outrun by a 50-to-1 shot. My long shot, also my favorite film, is Once You're Born, which juggles sentiment and cynicism about the great unknown — other people — without ever losing poise or focus. And it made me cry. So shoot me. Some would: Once You're Born was also the critical consensus for worst film of the festival. Earlier today, when Jury member Jacquot asked critics which film they would hate to see win, my friend John Powers trumpeted: "the Italian film." Jacquot gave John a reassuring smile. "Don't worry," he said. (Jacquot confided that he thought the competition contained only one great film: the Cronenberg.)

The handicapper in me says that Hidden would be a worthy Palme winner, and Violence an honorable runner-up. These are also the critics' choices. But it's risky for the press to project its preferences onto the Jury. In 1994, most critics we knew were sure the winner would be Red, the imposing climax to Krzysztof Kieslowki's "Three Colors" trilogy. Well, the critics may have seen all three films, but the Jury members hadn't. They and their President, Clint Eastwood, shut out Red and handed the Palme to a film the press savants hadn't even considered: Pulp Fiction. Proving again, that in Cannes, the more you know, the more you don't know.

All right. We've canvassed the precincts, taken the exit polls, read the entrails. Now we need only the election results. Check back with us Saturday: 9 p.m. Cannes time, 3 p.m. in New York.

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