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Elephant takes Palme d'Or at Cannes



Story by: Jack Foley

A FILM based on the 1999 Columbine school shootings, and directed by Gus Van Sant (of Good Will Hunting/Psycho fame), has taken the prestigious Palme d'Or at Cannes.

The film, which uses high school students rather than actors, beat off stiff competition from the likes of Clint Eastwood's Mystic River (starring Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon) and Nicole Kidman's highly-fancied Dogville.

Van Sant, who has already won an Oscar for the aforementioned Good Will Hunting, thanked the jury from the bottom of his heart, before declaring, 'Vive la France!'

The accolade means that he is the first American director to win the coveted award since Quentin Tarantino, for Pulp Fiction, way back in 1994.

And the award came as much of a surprise to him, as it did to many of the assembled journalists.

He revealed afterwards: "I thought I was finished. I've been trying to get my films to Cannes for years, and this time, it's wonderful to receive such a prize. To win is miraculous and fortunate and lucky."

The Palme d'Or was awarded by a festival jury headed by French director, Patrice Chereau, and including director, Steven Soderbergh, and actresses Meg Ryan and Aishwarya Rai.

In what proved to be an excellent night for Van Sant, he also took best director, and even defended his film against accusations that it was anti-American.

Elephant takes the form of a day in the life of 10 students through the endless hallways of their school, their individual fates slowly but surely interweaving. Tension grows. Something's gotta give.

Using a cast of mostly unknown actors from Portland, Oregon, the director explores the subject of high-school violence, pondering the long-lost era of innocence as well as the hard-line desperation and madness of two cold-blooded killers.

He says he made the film from the viewpoint of his own life in America, before admitting that it did criticise certain things, such as 'the urge to conform in a bland way', and 'forgetting diversity, which is encouraged at Cannes'.

Of the other award winners at the festival, Iranian director Samira Makhmalbaf, 23, won the Jury Prize for At Five in the Afternoon (Panj E Asr), which looks at the plights of surviving post-Taleban Afghanistan.

She also used a cast of amateurs in her movie, which focuses on an Afghan woman, desperate to shake off the constrictions of the old regime in a cash-starved land.

Young Canadian actress, Marie-Josee Croze, won best actress for her portrayal of a drug addict in The Barbarian Invasions, while the best actor award was shared by the stars of Turkish film, Distant (Ukak) - namely, Muzaffer Ozdemir and the late Mehmet Ernin Toprak (who died in a car crash shortly after filming).

The film, which is also directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, also took the Grand Prize.




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