- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 24, 2009

CANNES, France — Austrian director Michael Haneke’s somber drama “The White Ribbon” claimed the top prize Sunday at the Cannes Film Festival, where Quentin Tarantino and Lars von Trier entries earned the acting honors.

It was a big night for Austria, whose triumphs included Christoph Waltz as best actor for Tarantino’s World War II epic “Inglourious Basterds.” Charlotte Gainsbourg won the best-actress honor for von Trier’s “Antichrist,” a film that riled and repelled many Cannes viewers with its explicit images of physical abuse involving a grieving couple.

Haneke addressed his wife as he accepted his award, noting that “happiness is very rare.”

“This is one moment in my life in which I’m very happy, and so are you, I believe,” said Haneke, who received the festival’s Palme d’Or for his gorgeously photographed black-and-white tale. “The White Ribbon” examines themes of communal guilt, distrust and punishment among residents of a small German town besieged by tragedies and strange occurrences as World War I approaches.

The second-place grand prize went to French director Jacques Audiard’s prison drama “A Prophet,” about an illiterate inmate who educates himself and becomes a player in drug and smuggling circles.

Gainsbourg delivers a terrifying performance as a psychotic woman torturing her husband (Willem Dafoe) and mutilating herself during a trip to the woods intended as a healing sojourn after the death of their child.

Waltz earned the best-actor award for his gleefully homicidal role as Nazi Col. Hans Landa, renowned in Germany as an ace “Jew hunter” in “Inglourious Basterds,” Tarantino’s rewrite of the history books that follows the exploits of a band of Jewish Allied commandos led by Brad Pitt. Tarantino spins a wildly different take on how the war ended as Pitt’s crew plots to take out top Nazi leaders at a film premiere in Paris.

“Above all I owe this to Hans Landa and his unique and inimitable creator, Quentin Tarantino,” Waltz said. “You gave me my vocation back.”

Gainsbourg thanked Dafoe and von Trier, “who allowed me to live what I believe to be the strongest, most painful and most exciting experience of my whole life.” She also thanked her father, the late singer and actor Serge Gainsbourg, who would have been “proud and shocked, I hope.”

The nine-member Cannes jury headed by French actress Isabelle Huppert, which included actresses Robin Wright Penn and Asia Argento and director James Gray, presented a special award to beloved French filmmaker Alain Resnais, who was in the competition with the offbeat tale “Wild Grass.” The film follows the odd relationships that spring up after a married man forges a relationship with a woman whose stolen wallet he recovers.

Several well-received entries among the 20 Cannes competition films were shut out for prizes, including two from past Palme d’Or winners — Jane Campion’s historical pageant “Bright Star” and Ken Loach’s soccer-themed comedy “Looking for Eric.”

Also snubbed were Academy Award winners Ang Lee for his rock ‘n’ roll comedy “Taking Woodstock” and Pedro Almodovar for his tragic romance “Broken Embraces.”

British director Andrea Arnold’s teen drama “Fish Tank” and South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook’s vampire romance “Thirst” shared the festival’s jury prize, the third-place award. Arnold won the same prize with her first film, “Red Road,” in 2006, while Park won the festival’s second-place honor with “Old Boy” in 2004.

The directing award went to Filipino filmmaker Brillante Mendoza for “Kinatay,” a harsh story centered on police inflicting bloody retribution on a prostitute who crossed them.

Chinese director Lou Ye’s “Spring Fever,” a tale of forbidden romance involving homosexual relationships, won the screenplay award for writer Feng Mei.

The prize for best first film went to Australian writer-director Warwick Thornton for “Samson and Delilah,” his love story about two teens living in an isolated aboriginal community.

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