No clear Palme d`Or favourite as Cannes wraps

Last Updated: May 22, 2011, 20:21 PM IST

France: The Cannes film festival wraps up today with no clear favourite to win the Palme d`Or, after weathering a furore over Danish contender Lars von Trier`s off-colour remarks about Hitler.

The provocative auteur`s apocalyptic psychodrama "Melancholia" remained a strong contender for the top honour, despite getting himself ousted by organisers for saying that he understood the Nazi dictator "a little bit".

Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne were hoping for a record third Palme d`Or for "The Kid With a Bike," an uplifting portrait of an abandoned 11-year-old boy and the woman bent on saving him.

But they faced strong competition from enigmatic US director Terrence Malick`s much-anticipated Texas coming-of-age tale "The Tree of Life" starring, for the first time together, Brad Pitt and Sean Penn.

It was the runaway favourite among eight French critics surveyed for Le Film Francais, a trade journal.

Another critics` poll in Screen magazine put Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki`s "Le Havre" -- also a tale about a boy, this time an African immigrant in the eponymous French port city -- in the lead.

"We have to acknowledge that this year`s selection of films is really excellent," Alain Grasset, film critic for the French newspaper Le Parisien, told reporters.

"There are at least five or six films that are equally good. That means that the outcome is far from certain." Twenty features vied for top honours at the world`s premier film festival, the lion`s share of them this year from European directors, with relatively few from Asia-Pacific and none from Latin America.

The prizes are to be announced at a gala ceremony from 7:15 pm (1715 GMT) that concludes with the premiere of "Beloved" by French director Christophe Honore starring Catherine Deneuve and her daughter Chiara Mastroianni.

Picking the winner is a jury led by US actor Robert De Niro that included Hollywood stars Jude Law and Uma Thurman, Hong Kong`s Johnny To and Shi Nansun, and Norway`s Linn Ullmann, daughter of Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman.

Winning in Cannes -- which takes pride in being at home with both high-brow auteur cinema and high-grossing Hollywood blockbusters -- can give a tremendous publicity boost to a film.