Palms Up for Michael Moore, Thumbs Down for Bush

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He won’t be welcome at the Republican National Convention this summer. Even some Democrats are made nervous by his cheerfully inflammatory rhetoric. But last night, at world’s largest annual get-together, Michael Moore could have been nominated, and elected, President for Life.

Moore’s documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11,” a passionate, well-constructed indictment of the Bush Administration’s foreign and domestic policies, won the Palme d’Or, or top prize, at the 57th Cannes Film Festival. When the award was announced, the huge crowd erupted in cheers and applause. As he mounted the stage, this self-described outsider seemed nonplussed by his new status as Minister of Film Information. In mock outrage he turned to Quentin Tarantino, the President of the Cannes Jury, to demand, “What have you done?” and “You just did this to mess me up.”

In his acceptance speech, Moore exhibited his usual showmanship. He joked about the Walt Disney Co.’s decision to forbid its subsidiary, Miramax Films, from releasing the film in the U.S.: “I’m happy to announce we have a distributor in Albania. So you can now see this film in every country but one.” He quoted “a great Republican President” — Abraham Lincoln — on how important it is to “give the people the truth.” As for the current Republican President, Moore said at a subsequent press conference, “I would love to have a White House screening of this film” and quipped that he bore no grudge against Bush: “He’s got the funniest lines in the film. I’m eternally grateful.”

The entire ceremony had the theme of a “Fahrenheit” love-fest. The evening’s first winner, Short Film runner-up Jonas Geirnaert, had a message about Moore for viewers of the Independent Film Channel back in the States, which was broadcasting the show: “In case he shouldn’t win, if anyone is watching this from the United States, please don’t vote Bush.” Then Tim Roth, announcing another prize, declared, “I’d like to compliment the young man for his comments, which I thought were extraordinarily brave.”

Perhaps not so brave in Cannes, which is left-wing by European standards and, for the Bush Administration, no more politically acceptable than North Korea. The fact is that Cannes’ prizes, and the declarations made during the ceremony, have little impact on the mass of U.S. moviegoers, let alone on the supporters of an incumbent President. Moore acknowledges this when he was asked what the effect of the Palme d’Or might be on Bush. The winner’s reply: “He won’t know it exists.”



UPSETS

But for ten days, Cannes is the center of the serious movie world. And part of the fun of the festival is predicting which films, from among the 19 in competition, will be chosen as best by the Jury. This involves much second-hand psychoanalyzing of the ten Jury members: Who will impose his or her will? Tarantino? The strong-minded British actress Tilda Swinton? The American doyenne Kathlene Turner? Or Hong Kong maestro Tsui Hark?

Today, in a press conference with the Jury, we got some answers. Turner said that, in the long discussions, “we adjusted to each other’s thoughts.” Explaining the Prix du Jury (typically given to a film, not a performer) that went to Irma P. Hall, lead actress of the Coen brothers’ comedy “The Ladykillers,” Tarantino said, “Tilda wanted to give her a Force of Nature prize.” The Prix du Scenario (screenplay) prize to the French drama “Comme une image” was, Quentin said, “one of the easier awards to give.” As for “Fahrenheit,” he stressed that the prize was given for film artistry, not politics. He added that all the entries had adherents: “No film was far away.”

Before the fact, the critics had guessed. And, mostly, the critics were wrong. Leave it to Tarantino and his Riviera Band Apart to offer prizes that surprised, delighted and outraged.

One favorite on the early betting line was the Argentinean film “The Motorcycle Diaries,” directed by Walter Salles (an Oscar-winner for “Central Station”) and starring the current hot boy of international cinema, Gael Garcia Bernal. It is the story of a northbound trip the young Ernesto Guevara (Garcia Bernal) and his friend Alberto Grenado (Rodrigo de la Serna) took from Argentina through Latin America on an old Norton 500 motorbike in 1952. The film was meant to show the burgeoning social awareness of the two men, one of whom became Che the guerrilla, the other a doctor in Havana. But all it proved was that a couple of upper-middle-class boys, who were too stubborn to wire their parents for money, met a lot of downtrodden but good-looking women.

The Tarantino Jury did give a prize to a politically correct road movie, but not this one. Instead, the Mise-en-Scene (Best Director) award went to Tony Gatlif, the Algerian-born French auteur of “Exiles,” about the southbound trip two young people take from France through Spain to return to their parents’ birthplace in Algeria. You could canvass critics from Sweden to the Sahara and not find one who liked the movie — but that’s juries for you.



IN THE MOOD FOR ASIA

An hour before the prizes are announced, scores of celebrities parade up the red-carpeted staircase of the Grand Palais. Among them are the eventual prize-winners. Sharp-eyed viewers thus can figure who will win some award and who, by their absence, will be shut out. We noted that Salles and Garcia Bernal were among the missing, as were the stars of “Shrek 2,” which one trade paper had touted as the big winner. And where, one wondered, was Wong Kar-wai, writer-director of the Festival’s most eagerly awaited film, “2046,” and his luminous cast: Zhang Ziyi, Gong Li, Faye Wong, Carina Lau and Tony Leung Chiu-wai? Could it be that — just as the print of “2046” arrived too late for its first screening — the stars and directors would show up late for their coronation?

They were somewhere else, probably drowning their sorrows in Tsingtao beer. For in a year when the Jury awarded four of its eight prizes to actors and directors from East Asia, “2046” received no prize. None, that is, except the consolation prize of professional movie people. The Screen International committee of film critics had voted it the best of Cannes — and with good reason. Wong’s film is a cool meditation on, and a warm evocation of, the loves of a man’s life. The man (Leung, playing the same character he did in Wong’s 2000 Cannes prize-winner “In the Mood for Love”) has a mysterious woman in his past (Gong Li), a flirtatious woman in his present (Zhang) and a robot woman in his future (Faye Wong). There’s no excuse for ignoring this beautifully made, deeply felt movie. We can only surmise that this Jury was in the mood for politics, not love.

No one could debate the film’s luscious, lucid photography, by Wong’s visual enabler Christopher Doyle. Indeed, Tarantino said that “2046” might have won a cinematography prize, but there was no such category available. But he did announce a Prix du Jury (essentially third place) to another Asian film about the rapture of lost love. Unfortunately, it was a fairly dreadful one: Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Tropical Malady,” in which one man falls in love with another and tracks him through the jungle. This artless, plotless film had, according to Tarantino, “the strongest defenders on the Jury.” And the strongest of those was apparently Tsui Hark.

Three other awards went to Asian artists. The Grand Jury Prize (second place) was given to Park Chan-wook, director of the vigorous, violent Korean melodrama “Old Boy.” This was precisely the sort of genre film the Festival has previously eschewed, and which Tarantino has championed. In announcing the prize, he said with a big smile, “The Jury is DELIGHTED to award....” Yuya Yagira, the 14-year-old star of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s poignant Japanese drama “Nobody Knows,” won the Best Actor prize. Best Actress went to Hong Kong’s Maggie Cheung for her role as a drug addict fighting to reclaim her young son in “Clean,” a Franco-Canadian drama — and a rather laggard, predictable one — directed by Cheung’s ex-husband Olivier Assayas. Ironically, Cheung won over Zhang Ziyi, the star of “2046.” Cheung had shot some scenes for that film, but was not evident in the print shown at Cannes. Success is the best medicine for disappointment.

After all the contentiousness about current politics, a celebration of a grand old style. The closing-night party featured a vivid display of fireworks and a lavish concert of Cole Porter songs rendered by the singing stars — Kevin Kline, Ashley Judd, Natalie Cole, Alanis Morrissette and Sheryl Crow — of the new Porter biography “De-Lovely.” Cannes 2004 went out on a swellegant, elegant high note.



OUR PARALLEL AWARDS

So there you have the official winners. But there is a parallel Cannes competition: it is screened in each viewer’s mind. A critic sees 30 to 50 films in ten days, and as the festival wears on the good ones nudge the bad ones aside to linger a while in the memory. Here, then, are the awards for Cannes 2004 from one critic who, since 1973, has spent 31 lovely fortnights in this dream palace on the Cote d’Azur...

Palme d’Or: “2046”

Grand Jury Prize: “Fahrenheit 9/11”

Jury Prize: “Nobody Knows”

Best Director: (shared) Jean-Luc Godard, Pedro Almodovar, and Zhang Yimou even though their respective films, “Notre Musique,” “Bad Education,” and “House of Flying Daggers” were shown out of competition.

Best Actor: Toni Servillo, who plays a secretive man living in a Swiss hotel in the mordant Italian comedy “Consequences of Love”

Best Actress: the women of “2046”

Prix du Scenario: “Old Boy”

Prix de Booby (shared): “Life Is a Miracle” — an obnoxious romp that trivializes the Bosnian war;

“Mondovino” — a wine documentary sabotaged by jittery camerawork; and

“Woman Is the Future of Man” — but let’s hope this stupefying Korean drama is not the future of cinema.