Geoffrey Macnab: Judges warm to an arresting work that defies categorisation

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The Independent Culture

Tim Burton and his Cannes jury have had thin pickings this year. The 2010 competition has been full of films that have provoked mild enthusiasm or moderate disapproval without really inflaming the passions of the festival-goers.

"A La Folie!", the phrase the French use when they really love a film, hasn't been much used over the past fortnight. Perhaps that explains the enthusiasm with which director Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives was greeted when it screened late in the festival. Critics and jurors alike seemed to warm to a film that was arresting, original and defied easy categorisation. "Beautifully entrancing" was the verdict of Screen International of a film about an elderly man with liver failure preparing for his death.

British hopes had rested with the two redoubtable Ls, Loach and Leigh. The Cannes audience seemed especially enamoured of Mike Leigh's Another Year, which received a prolonged ovation at its official screening. Ken Loach's Route Irish, a very late addition, had also been strongly tipped. Both emerged empty-handed. The Brits, can console themselves by knowing that the Palme D'Or winner Uncle Boonmee was produced by Keith Griffiths and Simon Field of UK company Illuminations.

Uncle Boonmee has a British distributor, so UK audiences will at least have the chance to see it (unlike several other titles in competition this year.) The Palme D'Or winner himself is due in London this week for his new gallery exhibition, Phantoms Of Nabua, at BFI South Bank. Apichatpong is due on stage to discuss his work tomorrow.

Juliette Binoche was among the favourites for the Best Actress award for her playful and merc-urial performance as the art gallery owner in Abbas Kiarostami's A Certified Copy. Javier Bardem (who shared the Best Actor award) was likewise admired for his performance in Biutiful.

But many will have been surprised that former Bond villain Mathieu Amalric won the Best Director prize for his debut feature behind the camera, On Tour.

A rambling, wildly uneven shaggy-dog story about an impresario touring round France with a bunch of blowsy burlesque dancers, this played like a Gallic version of a John Cassavetes film. Amalric's directorial style seemed to consist of turning the camera on and letting the actors improvise.

In stronger editions, many of the titles vying for the Palme D'Or would have been showing in "Un Certain Regard," the parallel section for "original and different" works that don't have quite the heft to justify a competition slot.

But Cannes is still the one event where art-house movies capture the full attention of the world's media. Films that will turn up in the UK at small specialist cinemas, if at all, are shown with the full red-carpet fanfare. In a world dominated by big Hollywood franchises, nobody will begrudge Uncle Boonmee his place in the Cannes sun.