Times Staff Writer

“The Mission,” director Roland Joffe’s first film since “The Killing Fields,” took top prize--the Gold Palm Award--at the 39th Cannes Film Festival, which ended here Monday night.

“The Mission,” a $20-million English production set in 17th-Century Argentina, stars Robert De Niro as a slave-trader who becomes a Jesuit priest and fights to save the Indians he once hunted. It will be released in the United States by Warner Bros. this fall.

Martin Scorsese was the lone American winner, being named best director for “After Hours,” which was released last year in the United States by Warner Bros.

The Cannes jury, headed by American director Sydney Pollack, voted ties for both best actor and best actress.


England’s Bob Hoskins, from “Mona Lisa,” shared the best actor award with France’s Michel Blanc, from Bertrand Blier’s “Tenue de Soiree” (“Evening Wear”). The actress award was split between Barbara Sukowa, from the German film “Rosa Luxemburg,” and FernandaTorres, from the Brazilian film “Eu Sei Que Vou Te Amar” (“Speak to Me of Love”).

The victory for “The Mission” was not unexpected. The film was popular here--more with general audiences than with critics--but its showing was preceded by rumors that the festival had promised its producer, David Puttnam, a good chance at the Gold Palm for getting it here.

The movie is still undergoing fine-tuning, Puttnam said earlier this week, and the final-release version will be different from the one shown here. A similar rumor swept Cannes nearly 10 years ago when Francis Coppola brought “Apocalypse Now” to Cannes as a “work in progress” and shared the Gold Palm with Volker Schlondorff’s “The Tin Drum.”

Gilles Jacob, director of the festival and the man who selects films for competition, called the rumor “bar talk.”


“You attack the integrity of every member of the jury,” he said of the allegation. “What did you think? Did you think it’s a lousy movie,” he asked a reporter.

Jacob said that a different jury might have picked a different movie, but he denied that there was any influence in the selection.

A special Grand Jury Prize went to Andrei Tarkovski for the Swedish-French co-production “Offret/Sacrificatio” (“The Sacrifice”). Tarkovski was reportedly seriously ill.

The big loser Monday was Cannon Films, which had three films in competition and won no awards.


But if Cannon didn’t dominate the awards, the company certainly dominated the festival.

Once scoffed at for its trite menu of exploitation films, Cannon had more films in Gold Palm competition than any other company ever has.

But was this an honor, in fact, or an effusive thank-you note from the festival organizers for Cannon’s investment here?

Insiders figure that Cannon may be spending as much as $1 million a year promoting itself and its wares at Cannes.


Certainly, the trade papers that blossom here each year are eternally grateful. On some days, Cannon accounted for more than 10% of Screen International’s total advertising.

Whether it was a quid pro quo or editorial judgment, Cannon stories usually had the lead front-page headlines.

In a final Cannes column on Monday, Screen International’s Peter Noble thanked Cannon’s Menahem Golan and Yorum Globus for making this year’s festival.

“What would Cannes be without Menahem and Yorum?,” Noble wrote. “I dread to think . . . long may these two irrepressible Israelis be with us.”


Those who may have dreaded to think what Cannes would be like without big American stars found out: boring.

Security was the major topic of discussion when the festival began 12 days ago, but the star boycott has been the issue throughout.

Griffin Dunne, producer and co-star of “After Hours,” and Eric Roberts, co-star of “Runaway Train,” were the only American actors to show up with films entered in the Gold Palm competition.

On the long list of no shows: Sylvester Stallone, Burt Reynolds, Walter Matthau, Jon Voight and Whoopi Goldberg.


The only major stars left to the paparazzi and the party organizers were the French contingent of Gerard Depardieu, Anouk Aimee, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Catherine Deneuve.

Aimee and Trintignant were here with Claude Lelouch’s “A Man and a Woman, 20 Years Later.” There was huge interest in the stars and the director and in their attempt to revive memories of what has become a classic international love story.

But the movie, an odd blend of melodrama and inside jokes, was widely regarded as a disappointment.

There were other disappointments among the 20 Gold Palm competitors, but their reaction to Italian director Marco Ferreri’s “I Love You” was more like dismay.


“I Love You” stars Christopher Lambert as a romantic nebbish who falls in love with a keychain that utters the title phrase whenever he whistles.

“Have You Hugged Your Keychain Today?” became one of the slogans for the Americans attending this year’s festival.

Cannes is rarely a good festival for American films. Most of the quality studio movies aren’t ready until the fall, when they are released with an Oscar campaign in mind.

There is also the attitude that Cannes is a no-win situation. An award here has no marketing value in the States, and there is always the possibility of losing to something whose female lead may be a keychain.


This year, the American pickings were apparently thinner than ever. Three of the four American films in competition were released last year in the United States. The fourth, Jim Jarmusch’s “Down by Law,” was independently produced.

Jarmusch is a Cannes discovery. Two years ago, he won a major award here for “Stranger Than Paradise,” which was selected then for the Director’s Fortnight series.

“Stranger” went on to win the National Society of Film Critics award as best picture in the United States and had a modest commercial run on the art-house circuit.

“Down by Law,” a slight comedy about three social oddballs who share a prison cell and then escape together, was warmly received here. It will be distributed in America by Island Pictures.