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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Dancer in the Dark' Wins Top Cannes Prize

CANNES, France -- "Dancer in the Dark," a film whose back story is at least as interesting as what appears on screen, was the predictable winner of the Palme d'Or at the 53rd Festival International du Film awards program Sunday night.

As Danish director Lars von Trier, who won the Grand Jury Prize here for "Breaking the Waves" in 1997, noted in his thank-you speech, this festival has always been good to him, inviting six of his films to participate. "I don't know if Gilles Jacob knows much about film," he said, jokingly referring to the festival's top gun, "but he's a very nice man."

Although "Dancer's" glum recitation - of the endless tragedies that befall a nearly blind factory worker in rural America - had as many disgusted detractors as passionate partisans, it seemed everyone was riveted by the continuing soap-opera dynamics between von Trier and his star, the Icelandic singer Bj?rk, who was a popular choice as the winner of the festival's best-actress award.

Bj?rk made no reference to the controversy in her acceptance speech, only repeating, "I'm very grateful, thank you very much" into two microphones before exiting to great applause.

The European press, however, made much of the ruckus between star and director that took place during the filming. Bj?rk, who refused to do interviews at the festival, reportedly walked off the set during filming and returned days later with a team of lawyers eager to help her get out of her contract.

Von Trier, known to be a demanding director, was asked about the contretemps earlier in the week.

"Bj?rk was not acting anything, she was feeling everything, and that made it extremely hard on herself and everyone else," he said. "It was like being with a dying person all the time, and I worked like a hangman, dragging her there. The work was extremely rewarding but extremely painful. As I see it now, it was the only way it could be done."

Eager to make amends, the director singled Bj?rk out in his acceptance speech. "I know she doesn't believe it," he told the Palais du Festival crowd, "so if you see her, tell her I love her very much."

The most visually ravishing work in the competition, characterized by the extraordinary use (by Wong's regular cinematographer Christopher Doyle and Mark Li Ping Bing) of muted yet vivid colors, "Love is the director's most accessible film in a career that has included such festival favorites as "Happy Together" and "Chungking Express."

Set in Hong Kong in 1962, "Love" illuminates the yearning and regret that characterize the relationship of a man and a woman (Leung and Maggie Cheung) who slowly fall in love after learning that their spouses are having an affair. The only other film to be awarded two awards by a 10-member jury headed by French director Luc Besson was Wong Kar-Wai's swooningly cinematic "In the Mood for Love," which took the best actor award for star Tony Leung and the Grand Prix du Technique for its visual look. Expecting better, both the director and the producer reportedly boycotted the ceremony.

The festival's runner-up award, the Grand Prix, went to one of its many Asian films, Jiang Wen's "Devils on the Doorstep," a two-hour, 44-minute life-and-death comedy about the Japanese occupation of China during the last days of World War II.

The two-hour, 53-minute "Yi Yi," won the directing award for Taiwan's Edward Yang. Unhurried but sharply observed, "Yi Yi" (A One and a Two) is a sensitive and empathetic comedy of manners set in contemporary Taipei, a series of grace notes that follow the members of one Taipei family through crises both personal and professional.

Showing in the noncompetitive Un Certain Regard section was another shimmering Asian film, "A la Verticale de l'?t?," directed by Tran Anh Hung, whose "The Scent of Green Papaya" won the Camera d'Or here in 1993. Gentle, languorous and sensual, the newer film follows the romantic dreams, secrets and conflicts of three sisters in Vietnam while quietly celebrating things like the colors of walls and the textures of food.

Getting a Special Mention award from the jury for its ensemble performances was local director Pavel Lungin "Svadba," or "The Wedding," a rowdy, raucous comedy about an all-night wedding celebration that gets a whole town talking. And the International Critics Award went to the longest work in the competition, Aoyama Shinji's "Eureka" from Japan. Shot in sepia-toned black and white and Cinemascope and clocking in at three hours, 37 minutes, this deliberate and unhurried film ever so gradually tells the story of three people left standing after a fatal bus hijacking and how they deal with survivor guilt over a number of years.


Awards at the 53rd Cannes Film Festival

Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) "Dancer in the Dark," Lars von Trier, Denmark

Grand Prize "Devils on the Doorstep," Jiang Wen, China

Jury Prize "Blackboards," Samira Makhmalbaf, Iran, "Songs From the Second Floor," Roy Andersson, Sweden

Best Director "Yi Yi (A One and a Two)" Edward Yang, Taiwan

Best Actor Tony Leung, "In the Mood for Love," Hong Kong

Best Actress Bj?rk, "Dancer in the Dark," Denmark

Special Mention: "The Wedding," Pavel Lungin, Russia and France

Best Screenplay "Nurse Betty," John C. Richards and James Flamberg, U.S.A.

Golden Camera "Djomeh," Hassan Yektapanah, Iran; and

(first-time director) "A Time for Drunken Horses," Bahman Ghobadi, Iran

- The Associated Press