“Third World” Takes Over at the Cannes Film Festival

Uncle Boonmee

‘Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives’ (dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul)

You would think a festival jury headed by Tim Burton would result in genre films and other mainstream fare copping the lion’s share of awards, typically hailing from Hollywood or Europe. But noooo… the director of Alice in Wonderland and his colleagues have awarded the three top prizes of the Cannes Film Festival to films that hail from Thailand, Nigeria and Chad. Apparently the natives weren’t happy, as boos hailed the jury as the winners were announced. But as a lover of world cinema, I couldn’t be more excited to have such a prestigious spotlight be shown on pockets of the world not normally associated with great films.

The Palme d’Or, Cannes’ most coveted prize, went to Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand’s most celebrated filmmaker. Drawing on Buddhist themes, the film explores a dying man’s pursuit of spirituality in nature. In his final hours, an ailing farmer looks back over his many lives, and is visited by the ghost of his dead wife and the spirit of his lost son, who romps out of the forest in the guise of an ape. Come to think of it, the description of the film may bear a few things in common with Burton’s Big Fish. Coincidence?

The Grand Prix went to Of Gods and Men by Xavier Beauvois, set in Nigeria, about the actions taken by eight French monks in a remote monastery when Islamist violence sweeps through their region. Interesting that religion and spirituality are themes shared by the two top prizewinners.

The Jury Prize was awarded to A Screaming Man, by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun. In the backdrop of the civil war in Chad, a sixtysomething former swimming champion who has lost his job as a pool attendant is pressured to contribute to the war effort.

Great films coming from Africa or Southeast Asia may be news to some, but here, we pride ourselves in making available some of the best films that have come from those parts of the world. We’ll be paying more attention to highlighting these films in the weeks to come. In the meantime, check out some of them: Children of God (filmed in Nepal), Giumba the Tyrant (from Mali) and Karmen Gei (Senegal).

Here is the full list of winners from this year’s Cannes Film Festival:

Palme d’Or (Golden Palm): “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” by Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Thailand)
Grand Prize: “Of Gods and Men” by Xavier Beauvois (France)
Jury Prize: “A Screaming Man” by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun (Chad)
Best Director: Mathieu Amalric for “On Tour” (France)
Best Actor: Javier Bardem, “Biutiful” (Mexico) and Elio Germano, “La Nostra Vita” (Italy)
Best Actress: Juliette Binoche, “Certified Copy” (Iran)
Best Screenplay: Lee Chang-Dong, “Poetry” (Korea)
Un Certain Regard: “Ha Ha Ha” by Hong Sang-soo (Korea)
Camera d’Or (first-time director): “Ano Bisiesto” by Michael Rowe (Mexico)
Best short film: “Chienne d’Histoire,” by Serge Avedikian (France)

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