Page last updated at 09:37 GMT, Monday, 24 May 2010 10:37 UK

Lacklustre Cannes ends with upset

By Neil Smith
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Unless you happen to hail from his part of the world, Apichatpong Weerasethakul is not a name that trips off the tongue.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Weerasethakul's film Tropical Malady was shown at Cannes in 2004

Yet it is one cineastes will have to learn to pronounce after the Thai director's surprise Palme d'Or victory at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

Considered a dark horse at best, his elliptically titled Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives emerged triumphant on Sunday - a first not only for Weerasethakul, or 'Joe' as he is informally known, but for his country as well.

His win came at the expense of a host of more established and feted film-makers - not least British auteurs Mike Leigh and Ken Loach, who both went home empty-handed.

Leigh's family drama Another Year had been hotly tipped to win the Palme. Of Gods and Men, a film based on the 1996 murder of a group of Cistercian monks in Algeria, was also considered a front-runner.

Ultimately, though, the jury chose to celebrate a rising talent with a distinctive new voice, rather than give more honours to the tried and tested.

Outlandish

When the 63rd Festival du Film began on 12 May, jury president Tim Burton said he was looking for "the element of surprise" in this year's competition entries.

With its fantastical elements, offbeat humour and fascination with reincarnation and the transmigration of souls, Uncle Boonmee certainly fit the bill.

Cheryl Cole
Cheryl Cole brought glamour to the Hors La Loi premiere on Friday

Set amidst the lush vegetation of north-east Thailand, it tells of a man on the verge of death who receives a visitation from his late wife.

He also meets his long-lost son, who appears to him in the form of a 'monkey ghost' with glowing red eyes.

At one point a disfigured princess has a sexual liaison with a talking catfish.

In retrospect, one would be hard pressed to find a film more in tune with Burton's Gothic sensibilities and appetite for the outlandish.

Critics have heaped praise on Weerasethakul's movie, though a number felt it was too esoteric to scoop Cannes' highest honour.

The praise has been far from universal either, with one British reviewer describing it as "unwatchable".

Didactic

Whatever its merits, Uncle Boonmee is sure to benefit from the international exposure a Palme d'Or automatically generates.

It is possible, however, that it may have been the beneficiary of what has by common consent been one of the more lacklustre programmes in recent years.

Kirsten Dunst and James Franco
Dunst and Franco showed short films as part of the Critics' Week sidebar

Though Javier Bardem shared the best actor award for his work in Biutiful, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's intentionally misspelt film - also about a dying man - was considered a disappointment.

So was Loach's Route Irish, a late addition to the line-up whose didactic approach to the war in Iraq left many cold.

Abbas Kiarostami's romantic drama Certified Copy had its admirers and saw Juliette Binoche - the face of this year's festival poster - presented with the best actress prize.

Eyebrows were raised, however, about the inclusion of Takeshi Kitano's Outrage, an excessively violent gangster thriller more suited to a midnight slot than a competition berth.

Hors La Loi (Outside of the Law) was a talking point, though that was more down to the controversy it provoked than to the film itself.

Riot police

Hundreds of protesters took to the streets last Friday to voice their objections to its emotive depiction of Algeria's struggle for independence against France.

The atmosphere was tense that day, with extra security in place around the Palais des Festivals and heavily armed police lining the Croisette.

Sir Mick Jagger
Sir Mick Jagger was in town to promote documentary Stones in Exile

None of the above, though, stopped pop star Cheryl Cole from attending its gala premiere at the behest of one of the festival's corporate sponsors.

Sir Mick Jagger was also in town last week to introduce a screening of Rolling Stones documentary Stones in Exile, ahead of its BBC One broadcast on Sunday.

So were Spider-Man stars Kirsten Dunst and James Franco, whose short films Bastard and The Clerk's Tale - running eight and 13 minutes respectively - formed an amusingly brief finale to the Critics' Week sidebar on Thursday.

Such fleeting cameos, alas, were not enough to dispel the general feeling this has been far from a vintage year.

Indeed, much of the talk towards the end of last week was how much better this year's Venice Film Festival - to be held in September, with Quentin Tarantino heading the jury - was likely to be in comparison.



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