Haneke joins Cannes frontrunners

Michael Haneke with his wife Suzy, and German actress Leonie Benesch

Austrian Michael Haneke and Frenchman Jacques Audiard look like the best bets for the Palme d'Or at Cannes

BY Sophie Taylor LAST UPDATED AT 08:54 ON Fri 22 May 2009

The Austrian film director Michael Haneke, best known for making one of the greatest thrillers of recent years - the Parisian-set Hidden - has moved into the front rank of contenders for the Palme d'Or following the screening in Cannes of his latest film, The White Ribbon.

Haneke, a festival regular with such movies as Funny Games, The Piano Teacher and Hidden, is receiving excellent reviews from international critics for his chilling portrait of a Protestant German village on the eve of World War I.

Shot in black and white, it recounts a series of violent events which gradually expose the truth of life at every level of the community. The title refers to the ribbons the village children are forced to wear to signify the innocence and purity that - their pastor believes - only regular corporal punishment will achieve.

Critics have quite reasonably made the point that these damaged children are the the generation that will go on to become Nazis. But Haneke (pictured at last night's premiere with his wife Suzy Haneke and German actress Leonie Benesch) told reporters in Cannes: "I would not be happy if people thought this was a film on the origins of Nazism, because it is relevant to any part of the world."

With the presentation of the Palme d'Or coming up on Sunday, Haneke is now seen as a strong contender. As the Times critic Wendy Ide puts it, "The cold brilliance of this arthouse luminary and the uncompromising vision of his latest work... would seem to assure him of awards recognition."

But can The White Ribbon beat the current favourite, The Prophet, a prison drama by the French director Jacques Audiard?

The film follows a French Arab boy Malik - played brilliantly by Tahar Rahim - who receives a six-year jail sentence and gets a very modern education in crime as he negotiates the various gangs among the inmates.

Audiard, 57, won acclaim for his 2005 film The Beat That My Heart Skipped. The New York Times critic Manohla Dargis calls his latest "a sensational prison film and moral history ... a story of one person that eventually becomes a story of an entire world ordered by violence."

Of the 20 films in competition, other favourites for prizes are:

Jane Campion's Bright Star, a period drama about the romance between the poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne.

Pedro Almodovar's Broken Embraces, starring Penelope Cruz in a love story with a sub-plot on film-making.

Alain Resnais's Wild Grass, a gentle comedy, starring Sabine Azema, from the 86-year-old director who showed Hiroshima Mon Amour at Cannes 50 years ago.

Ken Loach's Looking for Eric, with footballer Eric Cantona appearing in a lighter than usual film from the Englishman. · 

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