British Film Captures Top Award at Cannes

CANNES, France -- "Secrets and Lies," English filmmaker Mike Leigh's emotionally draining film about a white woman discovering her black daughter, won the Golden Palm at the 49th Cannes Film Festival on Monday night.

Actress Brenda Blethyn, who plays the working class mother, was named best actress.

The acting prize went to co-stars Daniel Auteuil and Pascal Duquenne for Belgian filmmaker Jaco Van Dormael's "The Eighth Day," the moving story of one man's developing friendship with another who has Downs Syndrome.

Duquenne, a Belgian actor who in real life has Downs Syndrome, shared the evening's sole standing ovation with Auteuil, as many in the audience wiped away tears.

Best director went to Joel Coen for "Fargo," the droll comedy about a homicide investigation which has already been released in the United States. Coen's film "Barton Fink" won the top prize at Cannes in 1991. The prize was accepted by his wife, Frances McDormand, who stars in "Fargo."

The Grand Prize -- considered the evening's runner up -- went to Danish filmmaker Lars Von Trier for his spiritual odyssey "Breaking the Waves." His first film in English, the movie was considered the other main competitor for the Golden Palm.

Amid a strong year for French cinema, the sole French film to win a major prize was "Un Heros Tres Discret," (A Self-Made Hero) which was named for best screenplay. The film touches on a sensitive issue in France, of a young man who falsely claims he was a hero in the French Resistance to further his ambitions after the war.

Announcing the award, jury president Francis Coppola told the black tie audience, "We debated this all day."

Strong debate also attended the special jury prize, the specifics of which vary from year to year. The 1996 jury gave an award for "originality, daring and audacity" to Canadian director David Cronenberg, whose film "Crash" unflinchingly links sexual arousal and car wrecks.

Coppola said several members of the jury abstained from this award. Joining Coppola on the jury were actresses Nathalie Baye and Greta Scacchi and director Atom Egoyan, among others.

The Golden Camera, given in a parallel competition to the top film by a first-time director, went to Australia's Shirley Barrett for "Love Serenade." Barrett's competition included Al Pacino and Anjelica Huston, actors who doubled as directors this time.

"Love Serenade" has been acquired by Miramax and will open in the United States late this year or early in 1997.

A technical prize, in another separate competition, went to Claude Nuridsany and Marie Perennou's "Microcosmos, le Peuple de l'Herbe," (Microcosmos, The Grass People), a documentary about the insect world. The victors contained no great surprises, and no widely admired film was blanked, as was Krzysztof Kieslowski's "Red" two years ago.