CANNES: ‘Tree of Life’ wins Palme d’Or, Dunst takes Best Actress

Posted by · 10:02 am · May 22nd, 2011

And so it came to pass that the pre-festival bookies’ odds were on the money. The most talked-about film at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life,” was handed the Palme d’Or by Robert De Niro’s jury — a major vindication for a film that has been labelled both a masterpiece and a failure by duelling factions of critics on the Croisette.

Malick, to the surprise of precisely nobody, did not pitch up to the ceremony, though I imagine he’s feeling somewhat relieved. However it performs outside the insular festival environment, his film’s cultural landmark status has been sealed: armed with this prestigious bit of hardware, Fox Searchlight can set about readying the film for the US awards season, though approval from more mainstream bodies could yet be an uphill battle.

“The Tree of Life” isn’t the film I would have picked for the Palme by a long shot — as I wrote in my review, I think it’s an intermittently stunning work that ultimately overreaches, never marrying its three disparate sections — but it’s not an unintelligent pick: De Niro and his fellow jurors have opted for the title that looks likely to have the longest shelf-life in popular culture. In that respect, it’s a preferable choice to the film widely viewed as the favorite going into the awards tonight, Aki Kaurismäki’s charming but wafer-thin comedy “Le Havre” — which, in the evening’s most surprising turn, won not a single prize.

Jury support was evidently split across several films, as two critical favorites tied for the runner-up Grand Prix: Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne’s “The Kid With a Bike” and Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia.” This is the second time Ceylan has fallen just short of the Palme: “Distant” took the same prize in 2002. I’d have preferred to see his film, a beautiful, slow-burning police prodecural that has grown on me over the past two days, take the award on its own — the Dardennes’ film didn’t strike me as one of their finest. It’s worth noting, however, that not one of their five Competition entries has left the Croisette without a trophy.

Both awards were broadly well-received in the press room; less so was the Jury Prize for the clearly overwhelmed actress-turned-filmmaker Maïwenn, whose messy but sporadically riveting ensemble police drama “Polisse” was another of the Competition’s more divisive titles.

By far the most enthusiastically greeted winners in the room were also the ones that gave me the most pleasure. Danish genre stylist Nicolas Winding Refn was a very fresh choice for Best Director; his smashing US car-chase thriller “Drive” would have been my personal choice for the Palme d’Or, though it’s enough of a victory that a fizzy commercial film this far outside the festival’s usual arthouse box took a major award. With any luck, the film’s surprise hit status on the Croisette will encourage festival director Thierry Fremaux to promote more quality genre fare to Competition status in future.

The acting awards were also well-judged. I’m thrilled for French actor Jean Dujardin, whose inspired comic turn as a silent film actor in Michel Hazanavicius’ delightful pastiche “The Artist” announced the arrival of a major international movie star. It’ll be interesting to see how The Weinstein Company, who snapped up US rights to the film, build on this success, if at all — eccentric one-off that it is, this is one Cannes title with genuine arthouse-crossover potential.

As I suspected, after the Lars von Trier controversy that dominated conversation in the festival’s final week, the jury indirectly expressed their support for the filmmaker by handing a well-deserved Best Actress award to “Melancholia” star Kirsten Dunst. (It’s the second time in three years the Cannes jury has chosen this method to close the book on a Von Trier scandal: Charlotte Gainsbourg won the same award for “Antichrist” in 2009.) It’s a proud moment for Dunst, who really does career-topping work here, though I’m guarded about the possibility of future awards traction for the performance.

In any event, Dunst’s win ensured that Cannes ended with both its twin lightning rods rewarded; it’s an appropriately flashy conclusion to a festival that handily outdid last year’s, both in terms of conversation points and valuable films. This, however, isn’t the end of my coverage — I’m off to Paris tomorrow morning for a brief unwinding period, but I’ll have a couple more review pieces in the next few days.

Full list of Competition winners:

Palme d’Or: “The Tree of Life,” Terrence Malick
Grand Prix: (tie) “The Kid With a Bike,” Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne; “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia,” Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Best Actor: Jean Dujardin, “The Artist”
Best Director: Nicolas Winding Refn, “Drive”
Best Actress: Kirsten Dunst, “Melancholia”
Best Screenplay: “Footnote,” Joseph Cedar
Prix du Jury: “Polisse,” Maïwenn
Camera d’Or:
“Las Acacias”
Palme d’Or (Short Film): “Cross Country”

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34 responses so far

  • 1 5-22-2011 at 10:07 am

    Gilda said...

    Is this being televised on US tv?

  • 2 5-22-2011 at 10:11 am

    Billyboy said...

    Any live streaming?

    Maybe Dunst is there to pick up the Palme on Von Trier’s behalf.

  • 3 5-22-2011 at 10:12 am

    Andrej said... Here’s a stream, guys!

  • 4 5-22-2011 at 10:12 am

    Bryan C. said...

  • 5 5-22-2011 at 10:16 am

    Billyboy said...

    @Andrej, Bryan C. Thanks a lot!

  • 6 5-22-2011 at 10:40 am

    Andrej said...

    And there we go. The nazigate was promptly put under the rug.

  • 7 5-22-2011 at 10:55 am

    JJ1 said...


  • 8 5-22-2011 at 10:55 am

    Chris138 said...

    Holy shit, The Tree of Life actually won.

  • 9 5-22-2011 at 10:56 am

    Chris138 said...

    Here’s the real question… will Malick show up to accept?

  • 10 5-22-2011 at 10:58 am

    Maxim said...

    Tree of Life it is. Guess one should never underestimate the power of the…

  • 11 5-22-2011 at 10:58 am

    Andrej said...

    Palm or nothing!

  • 12 5-22-2011 at 11:01 am

    Sophie said...

    happy for Jean and Kiki (despite the controversy).

  • 13 5-22-2011 at 11:08 am

    Edward L. said...

    The Dardennes got a prize yet again! This is great. Can’t wait to see it.

    …as well as The Artist, Melancholia, The Tree of Life, le Havre, Drive…This year’s Cannes crop has sounded like a pretty exciting bunch of films.

  • 14 5-22-2011 at 11:09 am

    Nick Davis said...

    Huge thanks to Andrej for that first streaming link!

  • 15 5-22-2011 at 11:11 am

    Michael said...

    great choices from the jury imho (obviously I haven’t seen any of these films yet), but from the reviews from Guy and other critics it seems the awards mostly matched up with where they should have been. Kinda surprised that Le Havre didn’t get anything since it seems the critics were really gunning for that one, but I am excited for Malick, Refn, and Dunst!

    I think that is three actresses (at least) that have won Best Actress at Cannes from a Von Trier film – he may be well known for being a torturous slave driver to the actors but he clearly knows how to pull out incredible performances from the ladies in his films.

  • 16 5-22-2011 at 11:16 am

    JJ1 said...

    Guy, slightly surprised for the Palm?

  • 17 5-22-2011 at 11:27 am

    red_wine said...

    ToL was clearly an unpopular choice.

  • 18 5-22-2011 at 11:29 am

    geha714 said...

    Tilda Swinton. Denied. Bummer.

    Kudos to all the winners, but specially to Nicolas Winding Refn and Terrence Malick.

  • 19 5-22-2011 at 11:32 am

    Maxim said...

    “Tilda Swinton. Denied. Bummer.”


  • 20 5-22-2011 at 11:33 am

    Jake G. said...

    The Tree of Life will move on to the Oscars along with Melancholia, We Need To Talk About Kevin, and Drive. But The Tree of Life will be most successful out of those 4.

  • 21 5-22-2011 at 11:40 am

    Amir said...

    so Le Havre left empty handed.
    that was a surprise given that everybody expected SOME sort of recognition.

  • 22 5-22-2011 at 11:41 am

    denny said...

    Very sorry to see that We Need to Talk About Kevin went empty-handed. Shocked that Tree of Life actually won the Palme. Honestly thought it would be The Artist based on it’s enthusiastic reception and subjec matter. Thrilled for Kirsten Dunst, though. People always seem to forget what a really terrific actress she is. Hopefully this will lead to more difficult roles for her. Melancholia, Drive and The Artist now join Tree of Life, Kevin, and Kid With a Bike as my most anticipated from the fest. Can’t wait until they reach these shores!

  • 23 5-22-2011 at 11:46 am

    Fitz said...

    Kind of surprised Tree of Life won. The booers must have been a very vocal minority. Hopefully that doesn’t vault the film into the realm of unrealistic expectations for some.

  • 24 5-22-2011 at 11:51 am

    Bia said...

    Yay for Kirsten…her “comeback” is off the ground! She has been doing remarkably well since All Good Things came out last year. Slowly but surely moving her way back up the food chain.

  • 25 5-22-2011 at 11:59 am

    yer said...

    So much for Assayas being the lone TTOL supporter. Great sources.

  • 26 5-22-2011 at 12:08 pm

    RichardA said...

    I always liked Dunst.

  • 27 5-22-2011 at 1:57 pm

    Dooby said...

    I’m pleased with these but… sigh… Tilda Swinton…

  • 28 5-22-2011 at 2:46 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Yer: Actually, it was Assayas himself who wrongfooted us, telling Sight & Sound that he loved the film, but that it was “going to be difficult” for it to win the Palme.

    As always, nobody knows anything. But unreliable Croisette gossip is part of the fun.

  • 29 5-22-2011 at 3:03 pm

    Jon said...

    Guy, what is your take on Kristen Dunst’s Oscar chances? I don’t suspect a win, but I’ve been hearing she’s as good as Natalie Portman was in Black Swan last year. Is a nomination in the cards for her? The film comes out in November, and that’s not terribly un-Oscar friendly, so I’m just curious as to what could happen there.

  • 30 5-22-2011 at 3:10 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Jon: As I said in the article, I’m guarded. I think the film is too heavily arthouse for most voters’ liking, and the performance, good as it is, isn’t the kind of flashy tour-de-force beloved of the actors’ branch. (Comparisons to Portman are weightless.) That she’s basically an equally weighted co-lead with an equally strong Charlotte Gainsbourg doesn’t help matters. So I’m saying no for now.

  • 31 5-22-2011 at 6:19 pm

    marco70go said...

    The Dardenne brothers did it again. As much as I love their movies, each time they get rewarded I have the feeling many of the members of the juries in Cannes (I say Cannes because they’ve presented almost all of their movies here) aren’t familiar at all with them and end up overestimating their works.. a Grand Jury Prize for Le gamin au veló really seems too much to me…

  • 32 5-22-2011 at 9:18 pm

    ez6 said...

    Guy, given your track record with festival winners, do you think that your last-minute screening of Le Havre doomed it?

    And on a more serious note, does The Tree of Life compare at all to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button? I noticed similarities in that they both are historical epics with lush visual imagery starring Brad Pitt but wonder if the connection goes any deeper.

  • 33 5-23-2011 at 5:45 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Guy, given your track record with festival winners, do you think that your last-minute screening of Le Havre doomed it?

    Ha! You have a point there — though for once, I did actually see all the eventual Competition winners, so perhaps the curse is wearing off.

    As for Tree of Life/Benjamin Button, they have little in common besides both being (largely) period pieces that feature Brad Pitt. I certainly wouldn’t call The Tree of Life a “historical epic” — the family drama that forms the bulk of the film is intimate in scope. When you see the film, you’ll see that it’s a pretty unique piece.