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May 26, 1998 2:00 AM
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Jubilation and Reflection on Stage as Cannes Winners Accept Prizes -- A Report On Closing Night

Jubilation and Reflection on Stage as Cannes Winners Accept Prizes -- A Report On Closing Night

by Eugene Hernandez and Anthony Kaufman




The 1998 Festival International du Film, the Cannes Film Festival, ended
on Sunday with the presentation of the coveted Palme d'Or and other Jury
Awards. Jury President Martin Scorsese announced the winners at a
formal black-tie ceremony that was hosted by French actress Isabelle
Huppert.


Theo Angelopoulos whose Greek competition entry, "Mia Eoniotita Ke Mia
Mera
" (Eternity and a Day) screened Saturday and was awarded the Palme
d'Or the following night, proving once again that screening on the final
day of the festival is no handicap. (Last year's Palme "Taste of
Cherry
" had a similar final day time slot.) Accepting the prize from
actors Gong Li and Jean Reno, a subdued Angelopoulos said, "My God I
don't know what to say. . . I am very touched and I thank all of you.
Last night during the screening, I lived an unforgettable moment, and I
thank you." "Eternity and a Day" is a poetic, languishing journey of a
Greek man who helps a young Albanian boy immigrate across the border.
In 1995, Angelopoulos felt snubbed by the Cannes jury when Emir
Kusterica's "Underground" beat him out for the Palme in 1995. After the
second place Grand Jury Prize for his "Ulysses' Gaze", the famed Greek
director has now, it seems, graduated to the top spot. Whether U.S.
audiences will ever get to see the Palme d'Or winning film remains just
as unsure as the fate of those '95 winners which took nearly a year to
finally find stateside exhibition.


Angelopoulos's calm acceptance was in stark contrast to the scene that
played out just a few minutes earlier, when Palme d'Or front-runner
Robert Benigni took the stage to accept the festival's Grand Jury Prize,
for his Italian film "La Vita e Bella" (Life Is Beautiful) about an Italian
Jew who experiences the fascist era with both whimsy and tragedy.
Upon hearing his name, Benigni leapt from his seat and swiftly ascended
the stage steps, hugging Huppert and lifting her off of her feet as he
spun her around. With the audience cheering, the popular comedic
actor dropped to his knees and hugged Scorsese's feet. Jumping back up,
he embraced the visibly emotional American director, lifting him off
of his feet. With the audience now standing and still cheering, Benigni
crossed the stage to hug and kiss the jurors. As he made his way back
to the center stage podium, Benigni waved proudly to the crowd, his
arms above his head. As the extended ovation quieted, the filmmaker
explained, "My heart is bursting. . . I dedicate this award to those who
are not here, who helped us understand what is love and liberty and life,
and I thank those who are here who helped me make the film." "La Vita
e Bella" will be released by Miramax in the U.S. and is already being
touted by some to be a likely candidate for next year's Oscars, and not
just in the Foreign Language Film category.


In another memorable moment, the festival's Award for Best Director went
to John Boorman for his comeback film, "The General," which documents
the rise and fall of Irish hero-criminal, Martin Cahill. "I've had this
before -- twenty-eight years ago, I got the same prize, I am very
grateful for it," Boorman explained alluding to his 1970 Cannes win for
"Leo the Last." He continued, "It was about that time, twenty eight
years ago, that I went to live in Ireland where I've lived ever since,
and this week the Irish nation voted for peace -- we should dedicate
this to the Irish people."


Also visibly thrilled at his win, was the young Danish filmmaker Thomas
Vinterberg, director of "Festen" ("Celebration"). Beaming as he humbly
and excitedly accepted his Jury Prize along with French filmmaker Claude
Miller who won for "La Classe de neige," Vinterberg happily waved his
Cannes "diploma" prize above his head and smiled broadly. "Festen" was the
first film in official selection to be plucked for U.S. distribution;
October Films has the honor. A certified Dogma '95 production, along
with fellow Dane, Lars Von Trier's "The Idiots," "Festen" reveals a
handheld and unnerving, dysfunctional family reunion celebrating a
sexually abusive father's birthday, a theme recurrent in this year's
festival from the perverse patriarch in Todd Solondz's sexually twisted
"Happiness," to Francois Ozon's much touted, S & M family "Sitcom" to
Hal Hartley's broken home and lascivious protagonist "Henry Fool" to
Tamara Jenkins' loser father in "Slums of Beverly Hills."


Top acting awards were presented to Peter Mullan for his work in "My
Name is Joe
" as an unemployed, former alcoholic who falls in love,
directed by the U.K.'s Ken Loach. "I'm a very happy man," the
kilt-wearing Mullan proclaimed on stage, "Martin Scorsese has just said
my name -- should the next time he say my name and then 'Action!', I'll be
an even happier man!" As the crowd roared with laughter, Mullan
continued, "As I am sure any actor will tell you, the best award that
you can get is the part and I got the part of 'Joe' and I worked with
Ken Loach, one of the world's greatest directors -- half of this is Ken
Loach's." Stratosphere Entertainment is rumored to be negotiating
domestic distribution for Ken Loach's latest, but any future trip for
"Joe" to the U.S. is uncertain. Actresses Elodie Bouchez and Natacha
Pegnier received a dual acting prize for their work in "La Vie Revee des
Anges
" ("The Dream Life of Angels"), directed by first-time helmer Erick
Zonca from France, which was picked up by Sony Pictures Classics during
the festival.


American filmmaker Hal Hartley won the Screenwriting Award for "Henry
Fool
" which portrays Simon Grim (James Urbaniak) as a garbageman who
finds literary fame when the title character of "Fool" inspires him to
write. A self-described epic, "Henry Fool"'s over two-hour length
apparently moved the jury with its intricate and emotional story. "It's
really exciting," Hartley declared modestly during his brief on-stage
acceptance speech, "I'd like to thank the jury, the festival, and my cast
for making my script come to life."


Two other American filmmakers were singled out on closing night. Todd
Haynes' "Velvet Goldmine" was given a special jury prize honoring Best
Artistic Contribution for his fluidly moving and psychedelic homage to
glam rock, while documentary filmmaker Marc Levin took the stage to
accept the festival's cherished Camera d'Or, which singles out a
first-film. Levin's dramatic work "Slam," which screened out of
competition at Cannes in the Director's Fortnight sidebar, also won
Grand Jury Prize at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival. "I am sorry I don't
speak French," Levin stated, "But I would like to thank specially the
French film audience -- you love movies so much and you taught us
something, which is that there is a poet in every soul struggling to be
free -- thank you for opening a door to the world for us."


The Festival's Grand Prize for Technical achievement was awarded to
acclaimed Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro for his work on Carlos
Saura's "Tango". Storaro, who also worked with Saura on his recent film
"Flamenco", told the audience, "This is a historic moment for cinema,
'Tango' is the first film to be realized with a new visual system which
allows the same compostion of the image for both cinema and future
television -- this is to respect all the theaters and spectators in the
world."


Meanwhile, the Cinefoundation Jury presided over by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
("Delicatessan") awarded the Palme d'Or for a Short film to French
filmmaker Xavier Giannoli's "L'Interview" (The Interview). Accepting
his prize, Giannoli said, "This is enormous -- I am so incredibly proud
and I thank the jury." The jury also singled out two short films from
the United Kingdom, by bestowing a special Jury prize to David Lodge's
"Horseshoe" and Lynne Ramsay's "Gasman." No American short films were
screened in competition at the 1998 Festival.

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