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Cannes Report

'Son's Room' Wins Palme

Director/co-star Nanni Moretti's tragic film gives Italy its first top award at the festival in 20 years. France's 'Piano Teacher' is a triple winner.


CANNES, France — Seconds before the Palme d'Or winner was announced Sunday night, a TV camera caught popular favorite Nanni Moretti anxiously rubbing his brow. He needn't have worried. His "La Stanza del Figlio" (The Son's Room) became the first Italian film in more than 20 years to win the top prize at the Festival International du Film.

Not well-known in the U.S. but a Cannes veteran whose "Dear Diary" took the best director prize here in 1994, Moretti's film had already won the Davide di Donatello, the Italian Oscar. Looking both exultant and overwhelmed, Moretti doled out specific thanks in rapid Italian and then appeared to exhaust his French with a fervent "Merci, merci, merci."

"The Son's Room" is similar to Moretti's earlier films in that he not only directed but starred in and co-wrote it, but it is very different in tone. While the others are personal comedies, this is a wrenching, engrossing drama about how a convincingly happy family (Moretti plays the psychoanalyst father) is torn apart by the accidental death of a son.

(Also the winner of the international critics organization Fipresci prize, "The Son's Room" will have its Los Angeles debut May 31 as the opening night of an American Cinematheque tribute to Moretti at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood.)

If this film's triumph was anticipated, the triple victory of Michael Haneke's "The Piano Teacher," which left several well-liked efforts out in the cold, definitely was not. Except possibly by those who know how important the taste of the jury chairman (in this case, Ingmar Bergman veteran Liv Ullmann) is to the final decision.

Shot in French but directed by an Austrian and set in Vienna, "The Piano Teacher" took the male and female acting awards as well as the Grand Prix, considered the festival's runner-up prize. Even director Haneke said he was "actually a little bit ashamed to be here" after picking up his film's third prize.

A severe, lacerating drama that graphically details the tortured and tortuous sadomasochistic relationship between a teacher and her young, handsome student, "Piano" did seem likely to win the actress award for Isabelle Huppert's intense, uncompromising performance. Said Ullmann on announcing the award: "We all agreed on this one."

"Some films scare you, you think they're going to take everything from you, but they give you everything," Huppert said in accepting. At "The Piano Teacher's" screening, the actress wore a backless gown that revealed lettering on her back and shoulders that read, in French: "God should thank Bach because Bach proves the existence of God."

The biggest surprise of the night was the best actor victory for Huppert's young co-star, Benoit Magimel. The favorite had been the veteran Michel Piccoli in "I'm Going Home," 92-year-old Portugese director Manoel de Oliveira's charming meditation on life, death and aging, an inside look at what it means to get old.

The best director prize was shared by two Americans--Joel Coen and David Lynch--who won consecutive Palme d'Ors here a decade ago. Coen's "The Man Who Wasn't There" is a completely amusing film noir spoof, while Lynch's beautifully made but purposefully illogical "Mulholland Drive" is the latest example of the director's fascination with the connections between dream states and reality. Another successful American director was Los Angeles filmmaker David Greenspan whose Japanese short film "Bean Cake" won the Palme d'Or for short films.

The prize for best script went to Bosnian writer-director Danis Tanovic for the quite funny "No Man's Land," a typically Balkan comedy-with-a-body-count about two soldiers during the 1993 war, a Bosnian and a Serb, who get trapped between their two lines. The film had one of the festival's best proverbs: "A pessimist thinks things can't get worse. An optimist knows they can."

The Camera d'Or, for the best debut film, went to "Atanarjuat The Fast Runner," the movie version of one of the classic folk legends of Canada's Inuit people, which led to the festival's first acceptance speech in the Inuit language, by director Zacharias Kunuk. If there was one work it was sad to see leave the festival without a prize, it was New Wave veteran Jacques Rivette's "Va Savoir" (Who Knows), a droll romantic comedy with the grace and elegance of Shakespeare combined with Eric Rohmer. In a more poetic world, this adult exploration of love, jealousy and infatuation would have split the Palme with another another work by a 70-something New Wave veteran, Jean-Luc Godard's "Eloge de l'amour."


Clearly troubled by what it saw as a lack of quality in many of the competition films, the jury, with Ullmann as its spokesperson, said at the beginning of the night that it "wanted to commend and thank Francis Ford Coppola and 'Apocalypse Now.' Thirty years later, his masterpiece is still there and growing."

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