Geoffrey Macnab: A bravura work that asks big questions

In what was an unusually strong Cannes competition, there were arguably two films that stood above the others – in terms of formal inventiveness and ambition: Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life and Michel Hazanavicius's black-and-white silent movie The Artist.

It would have been very perverse indeed for the jury's president, Robert De Niro, and his team to ignore their claims.

The Tree of Life, the Palme D'Or winner, is a sprawling, symphonic art movie that self-consciously sets out to ask big questions about birth, death and bereavement. It is utterly bereft of humour. Some critics grumbled that sitting through Malick's masterwork was like "watching paint dry" and there were muffled boos at its initial press screening.

Nonetheless, this was bravura film-making on an imaginative scale that makes Stanley Kubrick's movies seem almost conventional by comparison.