A film that decisively split critics still took home the Palme d’Or, the biggest honor given at the Cannes International Film Festival. The jury included Robert De Niro, Jude Law, Uma Thurman, Linn Ullman (daughter of film director Ingmar Bergman and Liv Ullman) as well as directors Olivier Assayas and Johnny To. The Tree of Life stars Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and Jessica Chastian and was directed by Academy Award nominee, Terrence Malick (nominated for both writing AND directing 1998’s The Thin Red Line). The plot is something of a cryptic garble, best explained by the official synopsis:
We trace the evolution of an eleven-year-old boy in the Midwest, Jack, one of three brothers. At first all seems marvelous to the child. He sees as his mother does with the eyes of his soul. She represents the way of love and mercy, where the father tries to teach his son the world’s way of putting oneself first. Each parent contends for his allegiance, and Jack must reconcile their claims. The picture darkens as he has his first glimpses of sickness, suffering and death. The world, once a thing of glory, becomes a labyrinth.
From this story is that of adult Jack, a lost soul in a modern world, seeking to discover amid the changing scenes of time that which does not change: the eternal scheme of which we are a part. When he sees all that has gone into our world’s preparation, each thing appears a miracle—precious, incomparable. Jack, with his new understanding, is able to forgive his father and take his first steps on the path of life.
The story ends in hope, acknowledging the beauty and joy in all things, in the everyday and above all in the family—our first school—the only place that most of us learn the truth about the world and ourselves, or discover life’s single most important lesson, of unselfish love.
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This wasn’t the only controversial decision at the festival, rival director Lars Von Trier whose Melancholia, was pitted against The Tree of Life, at one point jokingly claimed he was a Nazi. The festival didn’t take it so well, and he officially became a person non grata by the Board for the festival, and effectively put his film out of running for any awards, except lead actress Kirsten Dunst, who somehow still won top actress accolades.
Other award winners included best actor Jean Dujardin, who won for his role in The Artist, a nod to black and white, and silent, films. The Grand Prix went to two films (the Prix is given to Palme d’Or runners-up) Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, as well as The Kid With A Bike.
All in all it’s been a record breaking year at Cannes! Four female directors sat on the board this year, none had last year. Danish and Eastern European films won big as opposed to the usual French haul and most of the films in competition aren’t even in America yet! As always, we the audience will just have to wait and see what other hoops and hurdles the film industry saunters through, next year.