This was an excellent year for British filmmakers at Cannes, since Andrea Arnold won the Jury Prize for Red Road.

hannah brown 88 (photo credit: )
hannah brown 88
(photo credit: )
Although Spanish-language films, particularly Pedro Almodovar's Volver, were favored to win the Palme d'Or at Cannes this year, the prize instead went to the much less heralded The Wind that Shakes the Barley by Ken Loach. This drama of the Irish Civil War is the latest political film from Loach, 69, the oldest director in the competition this year, who is best known for gritty dramas of working-class and underclass British life, such as Sweet 16 and Ladybird, Ladybird. Loach's films are so authentic, down to the accents, that they are often released with English subtitles for English-speaking audiences. British critics noted that the Irish Republican Army had never been given such favorable treatment in a film. And, in keeping with Cannes tradition, Loach lashed out at Tony Blair for his Iraq policy in his acceptance speech. This was an excellent year for British filmmakers at Cannes, since Andrea Arnold won the Jury Prize, another important award, for Red Road, a psychological thriller about a woman who monitors security cameras at a housing project in Glasgow. Arnold rubbed shoulders with actress Penelope Cruz, one of the stars of the Almodovar film, who shared the Best Actress prize with the rest of the Volver cast, including Carmen Maura. Arnold admitted she was intimidated by the Spanish star's glamour, reportedly quipping, "The [dry] cleaner gave me the wrong thing . . . I'm unhappy. I'm like a rabbit in the headlights." Another movie from an English-speaking country, in this case, Australia, won an important prize. Ten Canoes, directed by Rolf de Heer, took the Special Jury Prize and is the first full-length feature in an indigenous language, Ramingining, which is spoken by the Yolngu people, who appear in the film. It's part of a new wave of movies about Australia's indigenous people. In addition to the win for the female ensemble cast of Volver, writer/director Almodovar won the Best Screenplay Award, which many saw as a consolation prize for his not winning the Palme d'Or. He reportedly sat alone as his cast headed up to the stage to receive their award. By contrast, French director Rachid Bouchareb seemed ecstatic as the cast of his film, Indigenes, shared the Best Actor Award. The film tells the story of North African Muslims who chose to fight for France in World War II. Babel, a film many predicted would win the Palme d'Or, took home the director's prize for Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, the Mexican filmmaker best known for 21 Grams and Amores Perros. Like the director's previous two films, Babel tells multiple stories about people whose lives intertwine. These stories are set in Morocco, California and Japan. Stars in the cast include Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Gael Garcia Bernal. Although the prizes appear to have been parceled out with great fairness - films from many countries and in many languages took home awards - the most disappointing choice was Bruno Dumont's Flandres, which won the Grand Prize, the runner up to the Palme d'Or. Flandres concerns a French farmhand sent to fight a war in an unnamed country. It has been panned by several critics, who said it was similar to his earlier films, particularly the supremely muddled L'Humanite, which won the Grand Jury Prize in 1999. For anyone who thinks non-professional actors are more engaging than pros, I suggest they check out some Bruno Dumont films. Watching one of his stark, portentous and confusing movies will make you want to run out and rent the glitziest and most contrived Hollywood musical. But at Cannes, Dumont is a star. VALLEY OF THE WOLVES: IRAQ is the anti-Semitic, anti-American film from Turkey that was a blockbuster in that country and became a critical and commercial success in Germany during the winter. In the latest issue of Film Comment, columnist Olaf Moller examines it and finds it "absolutely indefensible." The ostensible story of the film (based on a true incident), the mistaken capture of Turkish troops by the US military in northern Iraq in 2003, becomes a pretext for some anti-Semitic storylines. While Moller can understand some of the anti-American sentiment voiced in the film, he asks: "What exactly are the Jews doing there?" He describes a "Mengele-like, seemingly Jewish doctor (Gary Busey)" who is in Abu Ghraib, "harvesting organs from dead prisoners and sending them off to London, New York and Tel Aviv." The film, Moller concludes, "merely provokes belligerence in a world that could do without it."