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by Eric Kohn
May 23, 2011 10:00 AM
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Cannes '11 | Robert De Niro and His Jury Explain Themselves at the Press Conference

Robert De Niro at the Cannes jury press conference. Photo by Eric Kohn.

Moments after handing out the Palme d'Or to "The Tree of Life," the main competition jury for the Cannes Film Festival was issued into the nearby press conference area to explain themselves. The nine-person team was a mixture of actors, filmmakers and writers. Headed by Robert De Niro as its president, the group also included Uma Thurman, Jude Law, Olivier Assayas and Johnnie To, all of whom had something to say after De Niro announced the final verdict. Here are a few highlights.

De Niro on whether the experience was easy…

It was actually very civil. I feel like I've made some new friends. For me, during a movie, when there's a lot of drama, it should be on the screen and not behind the scenes. It should be the same way with this process.

De Niro on choosing "The Tree of Life" for the top prize…

It's very difficult to make these decisions because there are other movies that are very good also and they too have great qualities. It's never perfect. You have to make some sort of compromise. This wasn't a compromise, but the process is never 100%. Most of us felt it was the movie with the size, importance, intention…whatever you want to call it, that seemed to fit the prize. Most of us felt the movie was terrific.

De Niro on why Lars von Trier's controversial Nazi remarks didn't affect his opinion of "Melancholia"…

My feeling was that it was what it was. The festival accepted the movie and they had some little punishment for the director, but I felt that if that was what everybody decided upon - if that was the consensus - that's where it would go. But it wasn't the consensus.

Assayas, addressing the same issue…

As far as I'm concerned, it's one of [von Trier's] best films. I think it's great. I think we all agreed to condemn the press conference, but if you ask me about the film, I love it. It has great acting, it's beautiful, and it's an accomplished work of art.

Jude Law and Uma Thurman on some of the contenders who received no prizes…

Jude Law: We would all like to mention three others that were discussed but because of the number of awards we couldn't find room: We all discussed "Pater," "Sleeping Beauty" and "Le Havre." And the pope film, "Habemus Papam." It's a complicated process.

Uma Thurman: And the Almodovar movie, "The Skin I Live In."

Assayas on why the jury gave out the Grand Prix to two films, Nuri Bilge Ceylan's "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" and the Dardenne brothers' "The Kid with a Bike"...

These were two major films and both of them impressed the jury. We thought both of them deserved to be right at the top of the list of the honors. It's our duty to fight for placing these films at the top.

The two Hong Kong members of the jury, Johnnie To and Nansun Shi, on their experiences and why none of the Asian films in competition won anything…

Nansun Shi: Unfortunately, there are only seven prizes. I wish there were 20, but it just doesn't work that way.

Johnnie To: From now on, I think I will try once a year to leave Hong Kong and become a juror somewhere.

Jury members Linn (daughter of Liv) Ullman and De Niro on seeing two movies a day…

Linn Ullman: There are many things in life that are difficult. Seeing two films a day is not one of them.

De Niro: I thought two films a day was really not that difficult. I admire people who see six to eight films a day.

Assayas on the overall experience...

It's wonderful to be a part of a jury where you have a whole panorama of international films in 10 days. It stimulates your imagination. This gives you a lively image of contemporary cinema.

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