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Popular film wins Cannes, but "Antichrist" lingers

 Director Michael Haneke is congratulated by Jury President Isabelle Huppert after receiving the Palme d
Director Michael Haneke is congratulated by Jury President Isabelle Huppert after receiving the Palme d'Or award for the film 'Das Weisse Band' during the award ceremony of the 62nd Cannes Film Festival May 24, 2009. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau
— image credit: Reuters

By Mike Collett-White and James Mackenzie

CANNES, France (Reuters) - The Cannes film festival ended with a popular winner in Austrian director Michael Haneke, but the starkest image at the world's biggest cinema showcase may be Lars von Trier's searing "Antichrist."

Haneke's "The White Ribbon" was awarded the coveted Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) at the closing ceremony late on Sunday, and the jury praised the 67-year-old for his understated, subtle examination of the roots of Nazi terror.

Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper on Monday called the film "the most anomalous, profound and alarming of the festival," while France's Le Figaro described it as "superb."

Shot in black-and-white, and set in a north German village on the eve of World War One, The White Ribbon explores how an oppressive upbringing can shape the way children act and think.

The director, whose last Cannes entry "Hidden" failed to grab the Golden Palm despite being the overwhelming favorite, insisted The White Ribbon was not just about the rise of fascism in Germany but of any kind of violent fanaticism.

There was mild grumbling among festival goers that French competition film "A Prophet" did not win.

Jacques Audiard's powerful prison drama topped critics' polls ahead of the awards ceremony, although it did receive the runner-up Grand Prix prize.

Several commentators noted that the jury president Isabelle Huppert starred in Haneke's 2001 "The Piano Teacher" and picked up the best actress award for it in Cannes.

But the biggest controversy in Cannes, the kind on which a film festival typically thrives, was Antichrist, Von Trier's sexually explicit, graphically violent tale of a grieving couple whose stay in a remote cabin turns into a living hell.

Loud boos at the press screening drowned out a handful of viewers who applauded, and many in the audience said they were offended by what they saw as its gratuitously graphic content.

Von Trier further angered reporters by declaring at a news conference "I haven't done it for you or an audience."

Charlotte Gainsbourg, who stars in the film with Willem Dafoe, picked up the best actress award.

LOW STAR TURNOUT

The award ceremony brought the curtain down on a 12-day festival where the global financial crisis was reflected in a low star turnout on the red carpets and at late-night parties for which Cannes is famous.

The deal-making that is another integral part of the festival was also reported to be affected by the recession, although industry executives said there were still ready buyers for strong films and signs of improvement in the market.

In the competition itself, several well-liked pictures went unrewarded, from Pedro Almodovar's stylish "Broken Embraces" starring Penelope Cruz to Jane Campion's "Bright Star," the story of the poet John Keats and his love Fanny Brawne.

The closing entries to the competition, including Gaspar Noe's drug-fueled "Enter the Void" or Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-Liang's "Visage" also had a generally lukewarm reception.

But overall, the 62nd edition of the festival was widely judged to have been a success, despite critical reservations about some films.

"Maybe not the festival it appeared on paper, but not a bad Cannes either, and one that commendably kept going at full steam all the way to the end," trade paper Variety commented.

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