Monday, May 28, 2007

Time is right for '4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days' at Cannes

Chicago Tribune

CANNES, France — Deploying an ashen visual palette as desolate as his late communist-era characters' circumstances, the Romanian writer-director Cristian Mungiu won the top prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival on Sunday, for "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days."

The film, widely admired from its earliest screenings in the 60th anniversary festival, details a young Bucharest woman's harrowing efforts to obtain an illegal abortion. Mungiu treats the subject with a remarkable mixture of candor and indirection.


"Six months ago we didn't have any money to make it," Mungiu said from the stage of the Grand Lumiere Theatre in this Cote d'Azur resort town, home since 1939 of the Olympics of international film festivals. The director thanked the jury, headed this year by British director Stephen Frears, for ensuring that "this story is going to reach a lot of people now."

Earlier last week the First Take subsidiary of The Independent Film Channel bought the North American distribution rights for "4 Months." The company later this year plans a simultaneous release via theaters and video-on-demand.

The festival jury gave its Grand Prix award to "The Mourning Forest," Naomi Kawase's spare, poetic account of an old man's trek to honor his wife's memory. American writer-director Gus Van Sant picked up a 60th anniversary citation for "Paranoid Park," a drama showcasing non-actors in a story of a disaffected Oregon teenager whose immersion into the Portland skateboarding culture leads to inadvertent manslaughter and various dreamy skateboarding montages.

At the post-ceremony news conference jury member and actress Toni Collette said the jurors wanted a 60th anniversary prize to go someone who had a strong film in competition and "whose body of work was rather incredible. We were all in agreement about Gus."

In the evening's grimmest surprise, Russian actor Konstantin Lavronenko won for his work in "The Banishment," a pretentious allegory based on a William Saroyan short story. Korean actress Jeon Do Yeon won for her indelible characterization of a young widow and mother in "Secret Sunshine." In contrast to the Lavronenko win, hers was cheered by those in the Lumiere and in the adjoining festival venue, the Debussy, where the international press corps watching a closed-circuit broadcast played the role of cinematic bleacher bums.

American director and artist Julian Schnabel was named best director for "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," one of the more divisive competition entries this year. Working in French with a mostly French cast, Schnabel helmed the adaptation of the best-selling memoir by Jean-Dominique Bauby, whose brain trauma left him virtually paralyzed.

For "The Edge of Heaven," a populist melodrama about immigration rights and the romance between a German woman and her Istanbul girlfriend, Fatih Akin took home the screenwriting prize. The Prix du Jury prize split between the graphic novel adaptation "Persepolis" and "Silent Light," a beautiful, sternly paced tale of forbidden Mennonite love in Northern Mexico. With this ravishingly photographed work director Carlos Reygadas pays homage to Carl Dreyer's "Ordet" as well as resurrection themes dating back to Shakespeare and the Bible.

Of the 22 films competing for this year's Palme d'Or, five were American releases. Three of those embodied America's obsession with serial killers. These included David Fincher's "Zodiac," whose screening here followed a disappointing North American release; Quentin Tarantino's extended cut of "Death Proof," also known as the second half of "Grindhouse"; and the evening's primary also-ran, "No Country for Old Men." Many had predicted the Joel and Ethan Coen adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel to win the Palme d'Or or the Grand Prix.

"What can I say?" jury President Frears said after the ceremony. "The competition was stiff," he said, adding that he considers the Coens' violent Texas-set saga to be "very, very good."

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