'Best' Is Tops at Cannes : Film Is Based on Bergman's Life; 'Player' Wins 2

TIMES FILM CRITIC

Doing things in a family way in more ways than one, the jury at the 45th Cannes International Film Festival awarded the Palme d'Or to Sweden's "The Best Intentions," directed by Bille August, and gave the best actress prize to his wife, Pernilla August, who was its star.

"This is too much, I really don't understand," said a nonplussed August, who previously won the Palme d'Or in 1988 for "Pelle the Conqueror," which went on to take the best foreign language film Oscar in 1989.

"The Best Intentions," which was cut down from the six hours that played on Swedish television to its current three-hour feature length, was written by Ingmar Bergman, who handpicked August to direct. Unfolding rather like Bergman had in fact directed it, it is a well-crafted delineation of the courtship and troubled marriage of the director's parents, with Pernilla August playing Mrs. B.

The Samuel Goldwyn Co. will release the film Aug. 7.

The only other film to win two awards was the one that was most popular with French audiences and critics alike, "The Player." Tim Robbins took the best actor prize for bringing the loathsome studio executive Griffin Mill to life and, in the only award to bring the Palais du Festival crowd to its feet, Robert Altman was given the best director award. "I'm overwhelmed by this," Altman said as the black-tie crowd cheered. "I truly am."

The most surprising omission was the lack of any regular awards for the much-admired "Howards End," most especially for Emma Thompson, who was considered a mortal lock for best actress. Clearly shocked itself by what it had done, the competition jury chaired by actor Gerard Depardieu created a one-time only award, the 45th Anniversary Prize, and gave it to the film, which was directed by James Ivory.

In another break from tradition, the Camera d'Or, the prestigious award for best first feature, was in effect, if not in fact, split into two parts. The official winner was "Mac," John Turturro's finely emotional film inspired by the story of his father's life, about one man's dream of building houses.

"It's taken me 12 years to bring the story (to the screen), and to share it with you people," Turturro said in accepting the award. "I'd also like to share this award with people who work with their hands, which is what this film is all about."

After Turturro left the stage, it was officially announced that the Camera d'Or jury had split 4-3, with the minority film being the festival's most audience-pleasing entry, Baz Luhrmann's dotty musical "Strictly Ballroom."

The festival jury, which occasionally in the past has spread awards around to as many films as possible, did that again this year. Counting "Howards End" as the first runner-up, four films were given special jury prizes.

Winning the Grand Prize du Jury, which is usually the runner-up spot, was "Il Ladro Di Bambini" ("The Stolen Children"), directed by Gianni Amelio, a low-key and sensitive film from Italy about the relationship that develops between an 11-year-old child prostitute, her younger brother and the carabiniere who is taking them to an institution.

Two very different films were given plain and simple jury prizes. One went to Spain's quietly elegant "El Sol Del Membrillo" ("Dream of Light"), directed by Victor Erici, the story of a painter's yearlong project to paint a simple quince tree, a "La Belle Noiseuse" with the patient tree standing in for the unclothed woman. At the other end of the emotional scale was, from what used to be the Soviet Union, Vitali Kanievski's brawling memoir of his youth, "An Independent Life."

In awards given by other juries, of which Cannes has many, "El Sol Del Membrillo" also won the International Critics Prize, "The Stolen Children" was given the Ecumenical Prize by a jury composed of three Catholics and three Protestants, and "Strictly Ballroom" won something called the Youth Prize, presumably voted on by some group of young people somewhere in town.

Most films shown at Cannes are eligible for nothing and win less, and one of the festival's simpler pleasures is noting the oddball entries that pop up in the market section. So, before taking leave of Cannes, bid a fond farewell to the following: "Sumo Do, Sumo Don't," a Japanese comedy about, yes, a college wrestling team; "Tito and Me," described as "a witty, ironic story about the benevolent dictator's charisma, told from a child's point of view"; "Sgt. Kabukiman, NYPD" ("Fatal Sushi . . . Lethal Chopsticks . . . and as American as Apple Pie") and "The Rise and Fall of Mike Tyson" (the ad line is "His toughest challenge was himself").

Finally, a favorite title of many here, a comedy called "Taxi to Soweto," which, critic Roger Ebert confidently predicted, Disney would remake as "Taxi to Watts."

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