CANNES, France — Joe and Ethan Coen's offbeat comedy "Barton Fink" dominated this year's Cannes Film Festival like nothing in recent memory, winning not only the Golden Palm for best picture, but also the director's prize for the Coens and the best actor prize for John Turturro.
It was the third year in a row that an American won the Golden Palm and second in the last three years that Spike Lee has been sent away empty handed. Lee's "Jungle Fever" did win one award, a curious second acting award to Samuel L. Jackson. Normally, the jury presents the awards only for lead actors.
Lee's "Do the Right Thing" lost two years ago to Steven Soderbergh's "sex, lies, and videotape." David Lynch's "Wild at Heart" won the Golden Palm last year.
In "Jungle Fever," Jackson plays the drug-addicted brother of a successful Harlem architect played by Wesley Snipes. His award, apparently the equivalent of a best supporting actor award, will be seen as little more than a sop to Lee and the large contingent of critics who will feel he has been short-changed again.
When Lee was shut out in 1989, he responded to a jury member's comment that his character in "Do the Right Thing" wasn't heroic enough by asking at a press conference, "What's heroic about a guy who sits in front of a VCR and masturbates?"
This year, Lee may be wondering what the jury found so special about a 1940s Broadway playwright named Barton Fink who moves to Hollywood and gets tangled up with an organic hotel and a serial killer.
"Barton Fink's " selection did not seem to disappoint the international press, who are given to whistling, jeering and stomping their feet when they disagree with the jury.
The French critics may have been somewhat appeased by the two major awards given to French films: Jacques Rivett's "La Belle Noiseuse" won the jury's grand prize and French actress Irene Jacob was named best actress for her double role of a French woman and a Polish woman mysteriously linked in Polish director Krzyszpof Kieslowski's "The Double Life of Veronique."
The three awards to "Barton Fink" will give 20th Century Fox a needed promotional hand when it opens the film.