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The 2011 Palm d’Or Winner at this year’s Cannes Film Festival is
The Tree Of Life by Director Terrance Malick, which was recently
released on DVD. Check out these past Best Film winners. Some you
may have seen, but others you may not have heard of and are well
worth a screening.
2010 – UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES
In a spirit haunted primordial jungle a man is quietly dying. This is minimalist,
ritualized cinema in its purest form from Thailand’s critically acclaimed director
Apitchatpong Weerasethakul. An avant-garde mood-piece, Uncle Boonmee may
not be for general audiences, but for those willing to immerse themselves in the
experience it can be a rewarding one. Boonmee’s final days are spent with his
sister and a nurse and their various supernatural guests. As death approaches,
past lives, human, animal or other appear ever shifting and interconnected. All
modern works are built on ancient ones, all new things have within them older
forms and so it is with this gentle, meditative film.
2009 – THE WHITE RIBBON
Austrian director Michael Haneke’s mysterious, cerebral exploration of the nature
of terrorism and its effect on human societies and psychology. Prior to the outbreak
of World War I a series of inexplicably violent incidents take place in a small German village
unsettling the occupants. Like all Haneke films, things never get neatly tied up, but its
ambiguous vagueness is part of the lesson. We may never know the origins of senseless
acts of violence, but its destructive effects can have lasting consequences. Another plus, the
Oscar nominated black & white cinematography.
2008 – THE CLASS
Real life teacher and novelist Francois Begaudeau plays a version of himself in French director
Laurent Cantet’s documentary-like look at a year in a classroom of racially mixed 14 and 15
year olds. Coming from a tough Parisian neighborhood the kids both challenge and inspire
their teacher, who sometimes succeeds and sometimes fails to get through to his students.
With this film Cantet has created the single most realistic take on teacher-student relations
ever committed to film.
2007 – 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS
From one of the architects of the Romanian new wave, director Cristian Mungiu, comes this
powerful drama about a woman who helps her friend arrange an illegal abortion in 1980’s
Romania. A simple, minimalist approach to story perfectly compliments the extraordinary
hand-held camera work, laying bare the hypocrisy of an oppressive and dangerous communist
2006 – THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY
British director Ken Loach’s politically controversial film about Irish Republican conflict in
early 20th century Ireland and the 2 brothers who are torn apart by the anti-British rebellion.
Loach shows the great brutality of a civil war that sets nation against nation and brother
against brother. Accused of being IRA propaganda the film is actually an historically
accurate account of that particular conflict, not an indictment of British power.
2005 – L’ENFANT
The Dardenne brothers won their 2nd Palm d’Or for this story of Bruno, a young petty thief in
an east Belgium steel town who lives off his girlfriend’s welfare and impulsively spends whatever
he steals. After the birth of their son, Bruno sells the baby on the black market without his
girlfriends knowledge. There’s lots of restless movement in this film, but very little talk. The issues
this film provokes are explored sympathetically, yet with a merciless realism. Adulthood, morality,
love, romance, fatherhood, and survival are all examined here. Actor Jeremie Regnier as Bruno is
the real child, the boy who has not grown up and who must face life as it is in order to become a man.
2004 – FAHRENHEIT 9/11
One of the rare instances of a documentary winning the “Best Film” award at Cannes and
certainly the most well known of this group of films. Also the winner of the Best Documentary
Academy Award, Michael Moore’s politically blistering take on what happened to the United
States after Sept. 11th ; and how the Bush administration used that tragic day to push forward
its’ agenda for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
2003 – ELEPHANT
Rather than tell a conventional story, director Gus Van Sant gives “Elephant” the look and
feel of a documentary. Here is a film in which style becomes substance, where the meaning
lies in the form and shape of the film itself. Set in a sterile suburban high school, it recounts
a typical day for the school – typical, that is, until it ends in a Columbine type massacre. The
slow, deliberate, understated style is mesmerizing, lulling the viewer into the daily repetitions
of high school soon to be shattered by inexplicable, unpredictable violence. This is that special
cinematic experience that becomes more meaningful upon repeated viewings.
2002 – THE PIANIST
Besides winning the Palm d’Or , director Roman Polanski won the Oscar for Best Director and
Adrien Brody won Best Actor for this true story of a Polish, Jewish musician struggling to
survive the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto. It may be the most conventional, Hollywood
type film of the bunch, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful. Brody’s sympathetic, heart-
breaking performance infuses the film with a haunting kind of sorrow that is often conveyed
without words. Polanski’s The Pianist definitely takes its place among the best Holocaust
films ever made.
2001 – THE SON’S ROOM
Italian director Nanni Moretti wrote, directed and stars in this tragic family drama. Best known
for comedy, Moretti here uses his light Italian touch to achieve a real emotional authenticity. He
manages to avoid cliché and sentimentality while deftly exploring the many paths that grief can
take on its way to acceptance. A young son dies and a father, mother, and sister are affected in
very different ways, but in the midst of this turmoil, a secret of their son’s life is revealed in a
way they never anticipated.