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ROUND UP VII: Sony Classics Showdown For The Palme d'Or?

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire May 21, 2009 at 11:32AM

It was announced today that Sony Pictures Classics acquired Jacques Audiard's Cannes Film Festival competition entry "A Prophet", which received stellar reviews when it premiered earlier this week. The film is a strong contender for the festival's top Palme d'Or prize, perhaps finding its biggest rival in another Sony Classics pickup that debuted to raves on the Croisette today: Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon". Haneke won the festival's Grand Prix in 2001 for “The Piano Teacher” and Best Director in 2005 for “Caché,” but has never won the Palme d'Or. It can’t hurt that Isabelle Huppert, who won a Best Actress prize in Cannes for Haneke's "Teacher," is heading up the jury.
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It was announced today that Sony Pictures Classics acquired Jacques Audiard's Cannes Film Festival competition entry "A Prophet", which received stellar reviews when it premiered earlier this week. The film is a strong contender for the festival's top Palme d'Or prize, perhaps finding its biggest rival in another Sony Classics pickup that debuted to raves on the Croisette today: Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon". Haneke won the festival's Grand Prix in 2001 for “The Piano Teacher” and Best Director in 2005 for “Caché,” but has never won the Palme d'Or. It can’t hurt that Isabelle Huppert, who won a Best Actress prize in Cannes for Haneke's "Teacher," is heading up the jury.

"The White Ribbon" is "a Bergmanesque black-and-white portrait of enigmas and familial discord in a Protestant German village at the beginning of the twentieth century peddles in the art of downbeat expressionism," said indieWIRE's Eric Kohn. "Pairing visual mastery with a quietly immersive story, 'The White Ribbon' plays like a morbid version of 'Our Town,' patiently revealing the inward discord beneath the surface of a settled community. It’s a frightening depiction of mortality."

Kohn was not alone in his admiration. "More than ever, the playful, challenging, sometimes shocking director of ‘Hidden’, ‘Funny Games’ and ‘Time of the Wolf’ solidly resists answering the ‘what’s it all about?’ question and makes you work hard to make sense of what you’re seeing," wrote Time Out's Dave Calhoun. "As in ‘Code Unknown’, he resists focusing on one story or a limited number of characters and instead offers a wide, rich canvas of people and experiences linked only by the fact that they are neighbours and increasingly all subject to a burgeoning threat from within."

A scene from Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon." Image courtesy of the Cannes Film Festival.

Screen's Mike Goodridge continued the applause noting that "when he is on top form Michael Haneke’s artistry and unerring control of his material is hard to beat. And he is on top form in The White Ribbon, a meticulously constructed, precisely modulated tapestry of malice and intrigue in a rural village in pre-World War I northern Germany." While Movieline's David Bourgeois called the film "brilliant" and "a serious Palme d'Or contender."

Though some of the film's few mixed reviews came from pretty major voices. The New York Times Manohla Dargis noted that "there’s much to admire, notably the finely etched, meticulous compositions," yet "while Mr. Haneke’s critique of systems of domination is certainly persuasive — the fathers who beat their children will soon march to war on behalf of the Fatherland — it lacks the intellectual and emotional nuance that would make this largely joyless world come to life." While Variety's Todd McCarthy said it's "a difficult film to entirely embrace."

The film remains atop Neil Young's updated Palme d'Or odds, with 15/8 odds versus second place "Prophet"'s 7/2.

The other competition film that screened today - Xavier Giannoli's "In The Beginning" - has odds sitting at 33/1. The film tells the true story of a small-time conman whose latest scheme brings hope to a depressed community. Time Out's Geoff Andrew certainly wasn't a fan, noting that "it would be hard not to make an interesting movie from such material, but Giannolli has almost succeeded in doing so... There are good moments along the way, but as the film finally embarks upon its last half-hour, it goes spectacularly off the rails."

Neither was Screen's Mike Goodridge, who said the film "is crippled" by "an extreme running time of 155 minutes which dilutes rather than strengthens the message of the story and will have even the most patient cinephiles shifting in their seats."

The U.S. trades were much more impressed. Variety's Boyd Van Hoeij said the film "blends social critique, character drama and crime into one smooth, good-looking package," while The Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt strongly disagrees with Goodridge in particular saying the film "whisks by in no time," and comparing it to "The Music Man" and "Being There."

Four films are left to screen in competition - "The Time That Remains", directed by Elia Suleiman, "Enter The Void", directed by Gasper Noe, "Face" (Visage), directed by Tsai Ming-liang, and "Map of the Sounds of Tokyo", directed by Isabel Coixet. Though perhaps the festival's most highly anticipated remaining film screens out of competition tomorrow - Terry Gilliam's "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus."

Be sure to check back here at indieWIRE for ongoing coverage of the Cannes Film Festival. You can also track any of the competition titles on indieWIRE's freshly launched Cannes film pages, which have now been updated in respect to the films that screened today.