Film Scouts Diaries

1996 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Diary #4 - Cannes Winners

by Harlan Jacobson

May 20, 1996

No surprises, just solid movies marked the awarding of the Palmes d'Or at the 49th Cannes Film Festival.

Everybody's favorite, Mike Leigh's "Secrets & Lies" won the Palme d'Or both for best picture and best actress Brenda Blethyn, acing out Emily Watson in Danish director Lars Von Trier's "Breaking the Waves, " which took the runner-up Grand Jury Prize. Both films will be released by October Films in the US, and both were financed with French Francs.

US director Joel Coen was honored as best director for "Fargo," the second time Coen has won in Cannes, the last time besting Von Trier with "Barton Fink" in 1991.

In a year in which the male performances were unremarkable, Daniel Auteuil shared the Palme for best actor with Pascal Duquenne in Jaco Van Dormael's "The Eighth Day," a saccharine story reminiscent of "Rain Man," this one about a young man with Down's Syndrome who sneaks out of a nursing home and reorders the priorities of a too-busy banker. The film had its partisans, those who liked Van Dormael's earlier "Toto the Hero," win which Duquenne had a role.

There was one surprise: the jury, headed by Francis Ford Coppola, awarded Canadian director David Cronenberg's "Crash" with a special jury prize along novel grounds, for "audacity, originality and daring." Based on JG Ballard's 1973 cult novel of the same name, "Crash" is a sex and death on the highways psychodrama in which its cast (James Spader, Deborah Unger, Holly Hunter and Elias Koteas), and its cars (Lincoln Continentals, Mazda Miatas, and various other beasts of the road) collide into each other's rear bumpers at a furious rate of destruction.

Several unnamed jury members abstained from the "Crash" citation, and the film was greeted here by many film critics as a piece of auto-eroticism that went off the cliff. The film hails from "a long tradition of taking chances to find new truth in the human condition, even though it offended," said Coppola, who looked like he wanted to flee the stage after several onstage mishaps.

French director Jacques Audiard, son of French screenwriter Michael Audiard, won the best screenplay for his "A Self-Made Hero" which traces the strange career of a post WWII do nothing who exploits the French need to deny collaboration with the Nazis by posing as a great Resistance fighter. A bit quirky in parts, nevertheless the film serves a s a kind of primer for the current crop of 20-somethings in breaking into the workplace and world dominated by the WW II generation.

The best first film went to "Love Serenade" by Australian director Shirley Barrett, something of a radio talk show relationship film, and the technical award went to "Microcosmos," by French scientists Claude Nuridsany and Marie Perennou, who shot their story in the insect world.

And, as Bugs would say, "Th-th-th-that's all, folkths!!!"

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