French films on Algeria monks, striptease win Cannes side-prizes

Two French films, one about Catholic monks threatened by Islamist militants in Algeria, the other featuring US stripteasers, on Saturday picked up side-prizes at the Cannes film festival.

Both Algeria-themed "Of Gods And Men" by Xavier Beauvois and burlesque movie "On Tour" by Mathieu Amalric are in competition for the festival's top award, the Palme d'Or, to be announced late Sunday.

"Of Gods And Men", about a Cistercian monastery caught up in Algeria's civil war in the 1990s, in the crossfire between government forces and Islamist militants, won the festival's ecumenical jury prize for works fostering religious understanding.

"On Tour" won the prestigious Fipresci prize awarded by the International Federation of Cinematic Press, which groups critics' associations from different countries.

Buxom American stripteasers shake their stuff in the oddball film that brought them from cabaret obscurity to the glitz of the Cannes festival.

With peroxide blonde hair, fake eyelashes and twirling nipple-tassels, Dirty Martini, Mimi Le Meaux and their co-stars said they came to France thinking they were to help train the cast of Amalric's movie - but found he wanted to make them the stars.

Amalric, who also acts in the film, is best known internationally as the villain in the James Bond movie "Quantum of Solace".

Two other Fipresci prizes went to Hungary's "Pal Adrienn" by Agnes Kocsis and to "Todos Vos Sodes Capitans", a first feature film by Spain's Olivier Laxe.

In "Of Gods and Men", quiet scenes of the monks' daily life are underpinned by a tense plot centring on their painful moral dilemma of whether to flee or stay to support the local people whom they have spent years caring for.

"The deep humanity of the monks, their respect for Islam and their generosity towards their village neighbours make the reason for our choice," the ecumenical jury, partners to the official festival, said in a statement.

"This movie of great artistic value benefits from a remarkable group of actors and follows the daily rhythm of work and liturgy," the statement by the six-member international jury added.

The cast included the prominent French actors Lambert Wilson and Michael Lambert.

The jury also commended two of the other films in competition for the festival's main prize: "Poetry" by South Korean director Lee Chang-Dong and "Another Year" by Britain's Mike Leigh.

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