Gold for the shy favorite

It is the culmination of a career that is probably unparalleled in the film world. With just five feature films in 40 years, American director Terrence Malick has always made himself very scarce at major festivals. Now he won the competition of the 64 with "Tree of Life". Cannes Film Festival.

The festival came to a close Sunday night with the awarding of the Palme d'Or. Malick's first film, "Badlands," was awarded the Golden Shell in San Sebastian in 1974. In 1978 he was represented in Cannes with "In the Embers of the South" and received the prize for Best Director. A good 20 years later, in 1999, he won the Golden Bear at the Berlinale for "The Thin Red Line".

When it was announced that his latest film, "The Tree of Life," would be shown at Cannes this year, it was immediately awarded favorite status. Although the film was greeted with some boos and rather mixed reviews during the festival, the jury, chaired by Hollywood star Robert De Niro, honored it with the highest award.

The 67-year-old Malick, who is said to be very shy and even pathologically publicity-shy, did not show up at the award ceremony either. Producer Bill Pohlad accepted the award in his place, but he ared that Malick was extremely happy about the honor.

With so few films in so many years, it's no wonder that Malick wanted to pack a whole life and more into "Tree of Life" so to speak. The film is a work of great ambition, combining the story of a childhood in the 1950s with spectacular images of becoming and passing on Earth and in space. More philosophical speculation than gripping narrative, the film impresses with its courage to touch on the very big questions of life. It was this obvious ambition that won over the jury, as De Niro indicated.

Lars von Trier causes a scandal
Great ambitions also characterized the film by Danish director Lars von Trier, "Melancholia", which was ultimately about nothing less than the end of the world. The only difference is that von Trier almost lost his film any chance of winning through his own fault. He caused a scandal in Cannes with remarks about Hitler. The festival saw fit to declare him "persona non grata". "Melancholia", however, remained as an entry in the competition.

With the award for Best Actress to Kirsten Dunst, the jury then brought the affair to a close in a way that was initially surprising for the audience, but also very successful: In "Melancholia," Dunst plays a manic-depressive young bride in a haunting manner, but who demonstrates great strength of nerve in the face of the impending apocalypse – a well-deserved award for the American actress.

The jury's sense of balance, this time between "old hands" and newcomers, between arthouse and genre cinema, was also evident in the rest of the awards. The Grand Prix, the festival's silver medal, awarded in equal parts to Nuri Bilge Ceylan's "Once Upon A Time in Anatolia" and "Le gamin au velo" by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, honored two different, equally great varieties of European auteur cinema. Ceylan's crime drama about men conquers the audience with its quiet wit and the great calm of its images. The Dardenne brothers, in their own unique style that always maintains great closeness to their characters, tell the poignant story of a home-bound child in search of a new home. Its child protagonist Thomas Doret was given a small standing ovation at the ceremony.

Two big losers
Another kind of intimacy with the characters is created by director Maiwenn Le Besco in her film "Polisse", which tells the story of a police unit specializing in sexual abuse. The French director received the Jury Prize for her work, which was very well received by the audience. The director's award to the Dane Nicolas Winding Refn can be interpreted as an unusual concession to popular cinema. His "Drive" is a bloody, straightforward action drama rarely seen at an "arts festival" like Cannes. At the same time, Refn's references to European auteur cinema are unmistakable.

There were two big losers of the evening: On the one hand Aki Kaurismaki, whose whimsical social fairy tale "Le Havre" was much loved by the critics and had been considered a hot favorite for the Palme d'Or. On the other hand, Pedro Almodovar, who has not yet been able to win one of the three main prizes with any of his films. Many had therefore believed that his hour had finally come with the thriller "The Skin I Live In".

German cinema, not represented in the competition, had a nice triumph this time in the side section "Un certain regard". Andreas Dresen won the main prize with "Halt auf freier Strecke," a moving and extremely realistic film about the death of a cancer-stricken family man. However, he had to share the prize with the Korean Kim Ki-duk and his experimental self-portrait "Arirang," which is hardly likely to dampen his joy.

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