Gautaman Bhaskaran
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Cannes Film Festival 2006: Ken Loach bags the Palm

The number 13 proved to be lucky for the respected British director, Ken Loach. His movie, “The Wind that Shakes the Barley”, got the Palm d’Or at the recently concluded Cannes Film Festival. Loach has been presenting his movies at the Festival, which ended on May 28 2006, with amazing regularity, and had garnered several prizes, but never the top, the most prestigious Palm d’ Or.

Wong Kar-wai, the first-ever Chinese President of the nine-member jury, said that it was a unanimous decision to honour Loach.

Loach, at 69 clearly the oldest director at this year’s Cannes Competition with 20 entries, said his film might well represent “a little step in the British confronting their imperial history…Maybe, if we tell the truth about the past, we can tell the truth about the present”.

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“The Wind that Shakes the Barley”, undoubtedly deserving the great prize, picturises with unflinching honesty the barbarity of the British occupation forces in the Ireland of the 1920s. Telling the tale through a young doctor, Loach examines how Ireland’s subsequent civil war ravages and divides families, in this case the man’s brother.

Bruno Dumont’s “Flanders” was the runner-up, taking the Grand Prize. One of the most controversial French directors (remember his “29 Palms”?), Dumont focuses in this latest movie of his on an unspecified war – but with obvious reference to Iraq and Afghanistan – to underline relationships between young people.

In 1999, when Dumont’s “Humanite” won the Grand Prize, it caused a minor scandal, and this year too, many were not too happy, given the director’s “dehumanising” view of the world.

If this verdict of the jury – which included such glamour as Italian actress Monica Bellucci, English actress Helena Bonham Carter and Chinese star Zhang Ziyi – seemed out of place, so too the decisions to award the Best Actor and Best Actress trophies to an ensemble of artistes rather than to one or, at best, two.

The five male actors in Rachid Bouchareb’s “Days of Glory” (Algeria) collectively got the Best Actor Prize in a film that also deals with war: Algerian and Moroccan soldiers fighting to drive away the Nazis during World War II in what seemed like a clear indication that the artist fraternity was worried about the state of the world today.

The five women in Spanish master Pedro Almodovar’s “Volver” (To Return), including the alluring Penelope Cruz – who was just brilliant in the movie – were given the Best Actress Award.

Almodovar, who received the trophy for the Best Screenplay – which many felt was nothing more than a consolation prize – beautifully portrays the relationship among his five women, including a ghost, in a small Spanish town. The power of motherhood and friendship forms the central theme, although there is a strong undercurrent of death and abuse that is brought out dramatically in the opening sequence, where we see a platoon of widows and daughters cleaning the tombstones of those departed. The film is a delightful fantasy, a masterly effort.

Mexico’s Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu was presented with the Best Director’s Honour for his “Babel”. Starring Japanese actor Koji Yakusho and Hollywood stars Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt, the movie weaves together five incidents – in as far apart as Morocco, Japan and Southern California -- dealing with characters as diverse as a Japanese deaf-mute girl, American tourists, a Mexican nanny and two Muslim goatherds, to produce a single dramatic conclusion.

British newcomer Andrea Arnold’s “Red Road” won the Jury Prize, equivalent to the third place after Palm d’Or and Grand Prize. This work centres on a woman working in a surveillance centre, and the suspense of her life is revealed right at the end. Arnold does not even give away a hint, and the viewer remains mystified till the last sequence. A bright work.

In all, this year seemed like a good one for British cinema, both from the viewer perspective and the awards angle.

(Posted on this website on May 29 2006)