Friends: Coming at the end of the festival "The Class" caught everyone by surprise. It was considered just another token French entry rounding out the field of the 22 films in Competition. But no one could quibble with its choice as the knockout winner of the festival. Sean Penn said it was a unanimous choice among the nine jurors. The jury did remain faithful to the unwritten rule to parcel out just one award per film, so its brilliant lead couldn't be acknowledged with an award. But Benico Del Toro as Che was equally brilliant, and another unanimous choice of the jury for best actor. Rare is it that any winner is a unanimous one, so that speaks volumes.
Generally the jury's second favorite film receives the best director award. Last year Julian Schnabel won the award for "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly." The year before it was the director of "Babel,' and the year before that Michael Haneke for "Hidden." This year's best director went to Nuri Bilge Ceylon for "Three Monkeys." I was in full accord with these first three choices. But their four other official awards and two honorary awards were rather mystifying. The Italian actor/director Sergio Castellitto must have been a dominant force on the jury, may be with some mafia clout, as the Italian mafia films "Gomorra" and "Il Divo" won the awards for second and third place. That had to violate an unwritten rule about spreading the awards among countries. Even more senseless was the Dardennes winning best screenplay for "Lorna's Silence." Best actress went to the Brazilian mother in "Linha de Passe." That was more an endorsement of the film than her performance, good as it was. Speculation was Penn's jury would be dominated by political motivations, thus awarding "Che" best picture. That may have happened if "The Class" hadn't come along. But the best actress award bore such undertones. There must have been strong support for Catherine Denueve for best actress dividing the jury, so she was given a token lifetime achievement award as was Clint Eastwood. Eastwood didn't bother to return to the festival to accept, though Denueve did.
The awards ceremony was followed by Barry Levinson's "What Just Happened?" starring Robert DeNiro as a big-time Hollywood producer. DeNiro was there to present the best picture award. He got to walk up the red carpet, such as he does in his movie, as a movie he is behind is selected for the festival, though the person putting up the money for the film, Catherine Keener, threatens to withdraw it if the director doesn't change the ending. It is a fierce battle to get the director to make the change, which concludes with the death of a dog and Sean Penn. It is just one of several wars DeNiro is fighting in the movie. Another is to get Bruce Willis to shave his beard for a role he is paying him $20 million for. DeNiro genuinely seemed to be enjoying himself in this fun, light-hearted movie on the rampant egos in the movie industry and what it takes to get a movie made. I declined to stay to the end, as I wanted to see the Argentinian film "Woman Without a Head" by Lucretia Mortel, her third film after "The Swamp" and "Holy Girl," neither of which I cared for though the high-brow critics love her.
I had been joined by Charles of Facets for the awards ceremony and the following film and we both were a little reluctant to leave it prematurely, but we felt duty-bound to pay our respects to Mortel's film. As with Ceylon's "Three Monkeys," the plot is triggered by a car accident. A middle-aged woman hits an object. It seems to be a dog, but she fears it was a person. The movie is her torment that she may have left someone dead. This was much less obtuse than her previous films, but this too has more snob-appeal than anything.
And that wrapped up the festival. As Charles and I were lingering outside the Palais along came Michael Phillips of the "Tribune" and Patrick McGavin of "Screen" magazine. They had just finished filing their final stories of the festival. They echoed our sentiments about the jury's selections. Phillips was particularly incensed about the award to the Dardennes, calling it the worst of their scripts, the last half a travesty. Ceylon's previous film "Climates" had been his favorite film two years ago. He didn't like "Three Monkeys" as much, but was still pleased with the award. He too had had no forewarning of the greatness of "The Class." We were all puzzled why the jury overlooked the Israeli film "Waltz with Bashir." Phillips said someone asked the jury about it in the post-awards ceremony press conference. Three of the jurors spoke up saying that it was in consideration. As we lingered Phillips took a call on his cell and stepped aside. When he returned he said, "It was the BW--beautiful wife. That's how Irv Kupcinet used to refer to his wife."
I had begun my day at nine a.m. for the marathon four plus hours of "Che." It had been so talked up I arrived at the theater before eight a.m. to make sure I got in. There were about 20 people before me, but not too many more showed up by the time they let us in. Del Toro thoroughly captured the charisma of Che. There is very little of Castro and none of Che's amours, not even his wife. Rather the movie concentrates on Che the idealist and why he was so beloved. The first half of the movie ends abruptly as Che is on his way to Havana, the revolution complete. There is one last scene of him reprimanding a soldier for having made off with someone's luxury car. He orders him to turn around and return it. The second half of the movie, or part two, as speculation is the movie will be released as two separate movies, was Che's year in the jungles of Bolivia trying to foment a revolution there. This straight chronological tale, in contrast to the first half, which hops backward and forward in time and place, was particularly riveting knowing the end that awaited Che. What will become of this movie is anyone's guess. There is great clamor for it to be cut and reduced to a single movie. There is also talk that Soderbergh could lengthen it with a third full length movie of the several year gap between the time period of these two movies. Che as a frustrated bureaucrat, driven to escape the office and be out doing what his heart demanded, could be as important as these two bookends.
After twelve days of non-stop cinema I am happy to have two months on the bike ahead of me. Its on to the Pyrenees.