May 30, 2002
Cannes Not Anti-Semitic, After All
After the hullabaloo over ads urging celebrities to reconsider attending the Cannes Film Festival in the wake of anti-Semitic attacks in France, the fest's top prize went to a celebrated French-born Jewish director -- and to a film that deals more than a bit with anti-Semitism.Roman Polanski, who was born in France but moved to Poland around 1937, snagged the Palme d'Or for his highly personal drama, "The Pianist," about a musician (Adrien Brody) who escapes the Warsaw Ghetto and is saved by a German officer. Ironically, the newspaper ads, placed by the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress), drew parallels between contemporary France and the Vichy regime. Polanski, who survived the Krakow ghetto but lost his mother at Auschwitz, says he always knew he wanted to make a film about the period, but was waiting until he had reached maturity as a filmmaker. He says he was also waiting for the right material, which he found in the memoirs of brilliant Polish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman. "I wanted to recreate my memories from childhood ... [though] I didn't want it to be autobiographical," Polanski wrote in a statement.
Also honored was Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman, whose "Divine Intervention" -- a humorous take on Mideast strife -- won the Cannes jury and international critics prizes.
During a press conference, lifetime achievement award recipient Woody Allen denounced the full-page AJCongress ads. "Boycotts are exactly what the Germans were doing against the Jews," he said.