CANNES, France - In a political climate where the war on terrorism hung like a cloud over even the festivities here on the French Riviera, it was a film about an earlier world war that walked off with top honors at the 55th Cannes Film Festival.
Roman Polanski, a long-time Cannes favorite who, up until yesterday, hadn't won the festival's biggest prize, accepted the Palm D'Or for The Pianist, the story of a musical prodigy who is befriended by a German officer while hiding out in a Warsaw ghetto.
"I'm honored and moved to accept this prize for a film that represents Poland," said Polanski. A native of Poland, he survived World War II in the Krakow ghetto, but his mother died in a concentration camp.
American director David Lynch, who served as jury president, introduced the awards by noting the strains endured throughout the world over the past year. "Even though the world it reflects is in trouble," Lynch said, "the world cinema here at Cannes is alive and well."
The awards took on a political note immediately, however, when American Michael Moore was given a special 55th Anniversary Award for his documentary, Bowling for Columbine. The film, a scathing examination of America and its love of guns and violence, has been a favorite of the largely French crowds for the past 12 days.
Noting that President George W. Bush had just arrived in France, Moore, a frequent and vocal critic of the president, wondered aloud if a special screening could be arranged.
Turning serious, he thanked the jury for honoring a film that tries to come to grips with "our culture of violence and culture of fear in the U.S."
The only other American to win an award was Paul Thomas Anderson, whose Punch-Drunk Love shared the director's prize with South Korea's Im Kwon-taek, who won for Chihwaseon.
Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki won the Grand Prix (second place) for Mies Vailla Menneiyytta (The Man Without a Past). He also won the unofficial award for the briefest acceptance speech, saying simply, "First of all, I would thank myself. Secondly, the jury. Thanks."
The Jury Prize was given to Palestinian director Elia Suleiman's Yadon Ilaheyya (Divine Intervention), a surprisingly humorous look at a man and a woman living in Jerusalem and Ramallah, respectively, whose love stops at the Israeli checkpoint. The Golden Camera went to first-time director Julie Lopes-Curval of France for Bord de Mer.
Finland's Kati Outinen won Best Actress for Mies Vailla Menneiyytta, while Olivier Gourmet won Best Actor for Le Fils (The Son), from Belgium.
The screenwriting prize went to Paul Laverty, the British screenwriter of Sweet Sixteen.
What would Cannes be without some film that caused as much outrage as praise? This year, the film that set tongues wagging the loudest was probably Argentine director Gaspar Noe's Irreversible, a viciously violent and damningly fatalistic account of a night on the town that leads to all manner of unspeakable horrors.
The film stars Monica Bellucci and her husband, Seymour Cassel.
At Thursday night's premiere screening, probably a third of the crowd walked out before the movie was over; those who were left applauded heartily when it was over (and not, one suspects, simply because it was over; the film actually got much less abrasive as it progressed).
Then again, seeing Irreversible here may have been the quintessential Cannes 2002 experience. The French love a movie that rattles cages, and Cannes frequently bestows its highest honors on films guaranteed to leave most audiences befuddled at best. And if this film ever does open in the states, here's betting it plays one, at most two, weeks at the Charles to mostly outraged audiences.
Among the rich and famous spotted living as-normal-lives-as-possible at the festival:
Moore having a late dinner Friday night at La Pizza. A few fans pointed at him from the sidewalk, but otherwise left him and his family and friends alone.
Sean Penn, ambling slowly down La Croisette, fans' cameras clocking every step of bthe way. Surprisingly, he didn't seem to mind.
Polanski, wolfing down lunch at a restaurant on the beach, then hoofing it up the stars of the Hotel Carlton for a press conference and photo op for his film, The Pianist.
The prize for Most Shameless Panderer at this year's festival goes hands down to director Brian De Palma, who not only set his new film, Femme Fatale, in France, but set his opening scenes at last year's festival.
The movie, starring Antonio Banderas as a Parisian paparazzi and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos as a bad girl with an active imagination, proved pretty popular with audiences. Which proves either that the French don't mind that De Palma keeps stealing from himself, or that the Cannes gambit he uses to open the film really works.
Why wait till it's done?
Your film's not entered in competition at Cannes? Oh, it's not even finished? Why should that make any difference?
It didn't to Martin Scorsese and Miramax, who brought 20 minutes of footage from the oft-delayed Gangs of New York - it proved to be a big hit.
And it didn't to the folks at Warner Bros., who pulled together a Saturday afternoon press briefing for Two Weeks Notice, a romantic comedy starring Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant that just finished shooting last week in New York.
Bullock and Grant both showed up (she was here for her starring role in Murder by Numbers, which was shown in competition)and, after a five-minute clip reel, answered questions of the assembled international media.
Several questions referred to the couple's "unmistakable" chemistry onscreen. . But most of the questions centered on rumors the pair had become romantic offscreen as well as on. Both denied any such thing, but couldn't resist delivering a few good-natured jabs.
"We've been trying to do it for years ... work together, that is," Grant said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.