The US film Elephant last night won the Palme d'Or in the biggest turn-up for the books at the Cannes Film Festival for years.
Gus Van Sant also took best director for a film that US critics had described as low-key and far from his best. The director himself said his film was not anti-US. "This is made from the viewpoint of my own life and is not intended to criticize any specific American system."
Todd McCarthy, the influential lead reviewer for Variety magazine, disagreed, attacking the story based on the Columbine school massacre as dull and "at best irresponsible."
Another shock was the jury's dismissal of Lars Von Trier's Dogville, the favorite, which had enraged many US critics for its perceived criticism of their country. Nor was there anything for its star, Nicole Kidman. Instead, best actress went to the Canadian Marie Josee-Croze for Denys Arcand's The Barbarian Invasions, which also won best screenplay.
The 24-year-old Iranian director Samira Makhmalbaf took the jury prize for Five in the Afternoon.
"My film is about an Afghan woman who has no power but wants to be a president one day," she said. "I don't want to be a president if the best known president in the world is George Bush."
The most touching moment was provided by the two prizes taken by the Turkish film Uzak (Distant). Its director, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, took the grand prix and best actor was shared by Muzaffer Ozdemir, who was "too shy" to attend the ceremony, and his co-star the late Emin Toprak, who died in a crash in Turkey a few weeks ago.
Festival organizers are facing a critic's rebellion, with many demanding an overhaul of the selection process. Their fury was further stoked by the selection of five French films, the last of which was Bertrand Blier's Le Cotelette which they booed, describing its story of two self-styled "old farts" lusting after their Algerian cleaner as "odious, stupid and racist ... and a hark back to the bad old days when the French were dumping Algerians in the Seine."
But the most telling blow came from Variety, which published an investigation on the eve of the festival showing that more than 90 per cent of the films chosen in the past decade had some French input.
McCarthy further infuriated the organizers by demolishing Lars Von Trier's Dogville, claiming it advocated the "annihilation" of America.
The aging festival president Gilles Jacob, who McCarthy claimed was overly swayed by a tiny coterie of critics from the French dailies Le Monde and Liberation, shot back that McCarthy had "come to Cannes with a gun." Another official accused American critics of "wiping the shit from their shoes on the festival."
McCarthy hit back yesterday on Sunday, telling The Guardian that Cannes would have to look beyond the group of auteurs championed year after year by Jacob if it was to remain the world's pre-eminent festival.
In a sucker blow, the director Luc Besson, the most powerful producer in France, owned up to what the festival had been denying for the past fortnight -- that "many Americans decided not to come because of the excellent relations we have with that country."
Peter Greenaway, the first of whose Tulse Luper Suitcase trilogy closed the official selection, wondered aloud if Cannes would survive the multi-media age.
After The Baby of Macon and 80 Women, Tulse Luper marks a return to form for the British director, but he may have to have medals struck for diehard fans facing its next two instalments and the DVD tie-ins and academic dissertations he plans. "Hamlet was done in two and a half hours," he declared, "but I have the potential to extend this for thousands of light years."