In a decision that surprised many, Gus Van Sant's searing film Elephant picked up the coveted Palme d'Or prize at the festival's awards ceremony Sunday, Reuters reports. Van Sant also won for best director.
The film upset Lars von Trier's Dogville, starring Nicole Kidman, which walked away empty-handed Sunday. Many in the know believe the three-hour saga about a fragile woman trapped in a small-minded town was the frontrunner to win the top prize.
The news will be a blow to von Trier's production team which reportedly spent half a million dollars on Kidman's trip to Cannes, where she stayed in the priciest hotel around, Reuters reports. The film focuses on real-life students from Van Sant's home town of Portland, Oregon, as they discuss and cope with shootings and violence at school.
"I thought I was finished," Reuters reports an emotional Van Sant told the star-studded awards ceremony audience, as he was called back up to the stage for the top prize.
"I've been trying to get my films to Cannes for years, and this time, it's wonderful to receive such a prize. To win is miraculous and fortunate and lucky," he added.
Elephant's theme of exposing America's gun-toting culture also dominated last year at Cannes when Michael Moore's Oscar-winning Bowling for Columbine was critically praised. Other winners included the French-Canadian The Barbarian Invasions, which snagged the award for best screenplay and best actress for Marie-Josee Croze, who plays a heroin addict in a film about a family who comes together at the deathbed of its patriarch.
The Turkish film Uzak, a moving portrait of how one man's home life is upset when a jobless cousin moves in, won the runner-up Grand Prix. As well, its two main actors Muzaffer Ozdemir and Mehmet Emin Toprak jointly won the best actor award, posthumously for Toprak, who died in a car crash the day he learned the film was selected at Cannes.
Young Iranian director Samira Makhmalbaf received the Jury Award for her film about life in Afghanistan since the Taliban.
Jury head Patrice Chereau told Reuters the nine-member panel managed to remain on good terms during 10 days of lengthy discussion, shifting through a selection of films some have called the worst in recent memory.
The complete list of winners is as follows:
Palme d'Or (Golden Palm)
Elephant, Gus Van Sant, United States Grand Prize
Uzak (Distant), Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey
At Five in the Afternoon, Samira Makhmalbaf, Iran
Best Director Gus Van Sant, Elephant
Marie-Josee Croze, The Barbarian Invasions, Canada
The Barbarian Invasions, Denys Arcand, Canada
Golden Camera (first-time director)
Best short film
Cracker Bag, Glendyn Ivin, Australia
Jury Prize for short film
The Man Without a Head, Juan Solanas, France