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Belgian Film Wins Top Cannes Prize

May 23, 1999

CANNES, France (AP) _ ``Rosetta,″ a Belgian film about an unemployed young woman trying desperately to carve out a normal life, won top honors at the 52nd annual Cannes Film Festival Sunday.

The Golden Palm-winning film was the fourth movie by brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. The 18-year-old actress in the film, Emilie Dequenne, also won the best actress award for her portrayal of the jobless woman. It was her very first screen role.

In an awards ceremony full of surprises, not to mention an embarrassing moment for French star Sophie Marceau, Dequenne shared the actress award with Severine Caneele of the French film ``Humanity.″

Caneele won along with her ``Humanity″ co-star, Emmanuel Schotte, who received the best actor prize. Both were not professional actors.

The film, a slow-moving, sexually explicit tale of a small-town cop investigating a sordid murder, also won the Grand Prize as runner-up to ``Rosetta.″ It was directed by Bruno Dumont.

But by far, the most popular award of the night was the best director prize to Pedro Almodovar, the colorful Spanish director, for his ``All About My Mother.″ He was the only winner to receive a standing ovation.

The Spaniard’s 13th film was a big favorite with critics at Cannes. It impressed audiences with its balance of tragedy and humor and its quartet of absorbing female characters: a resilient single mother, a transvestite, an impressionable young nun and a lesbian actress.

In his speech, Almodovar paid tribute to his actresses, and also to three directors who many felt should have been honored in some way for their films: Americans David Lynch for ``The Straight Story,″ Jim Jarmusch for ``Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai,″ and Atom Egoyan, the Canadian director of ``Felicia’s Journey.″

Also shut out of the winners was a crowd favorite, ``Kikujiro,″ a lighthearted road movie by Japanese director Takeshi Kitano.

Each year, the awards contain surprises, and this year was no exception, especially with an eclectic jury headed by ``Crash″ director David Cronenberg.

The surprises weren’t limited to the awards. Marceau took the stage to present the Golden Palm and launched into a rambling, disoriented speech. The audience called for her to stop, and she eventually was interrupted by the hostess of the ceremony, British actress Kristin Scott Thomas.

In other awards, the jury prize went to ``The Letter,″ by veteran director Manoel de Oliveira of Portugal. And in a nod to a film that was widely panned, best screenplay went to ``Moloch,″ a German-Russian production about Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun.

The Golden Camera award for first-time director went to ``Marana Simhasanam,″ by Murali Nair of India.

An award for technical achievement went to Chen Kaige’s sweeping historical epic about the origins of China, ``The Emperor and the Assassin.″

This year’s jury included Jeff Goldblum and Holly Hunter; directors Andre Techine, George Miller, Maurizio Nichetti and Doris Dorrie; playwright Yasmina Reza; classical singer Barbara Hendricks and French actress Dominque Blanc.

Several notable films also premiered at the festival outside the main competition. One of them was Spike Lee’s ``Summer of Sam,″ a powerful look at the summer of 1977, when New York was terrorized by serial killer David Berkowitz.

Also notable was Kevin Smith’s ``Dogma,″ a controversial religious satire featuring Ben Affleck and Matt Damon as two very un-angelic angels trying to make it back to heaven.

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