CANNES, France -- Korean actress Jeon Do-yeon
, who stars in a tragic movie on death and faith, "Secret Sunshine
", won the Cannes film fest's best actress award Sunday.
The 34-year-old actress was acclaimed for her brave performance as a grieving wife and mother in the Korean melodrama, the first picture in four years by Lee Chang-dong
, a former Korean culture minister.
"I can't believe I'm here", said Jeon, wearing a silver evening gown.
"There are many fabulous actresses here at the festival, and I would like to represent them all here tonight. It is a great honor for me to have this prize".
She appears in nearly every scene of Lee's two-and-a-half-hour-long film, portraying Shin-ae, a piano teacher who moves with her son to the hometown of her late husband, whose death is still the source of nearly unbearable pain.
She dotes on her young son as a link to his father, and the two have a palpably close relationship.
When, in a cruel and unexpected twist in the story, the small boy is abducted and killed, Shin-ae turns to evangelical Christianity on the advice of her pharmacist, a devout believer, as a means of dealing with her grief. Filled with religious fervor, she decides to visit her son's murderer in prison to tell him she has forgiven him. But she is horrified when the killer tells her with a serene smile that he has repented and God has already offered him absolution.
"Who is God to forgive him before I have?" she asks her Christian friends in a rage.
Jeon is known in Korean cinema as a chameleon who fully inhabits her roles. She shot to stardom at home with her debut in the 1997 romance "The Contact
The following year she starred as a schoolgirl in "The Harmonium in My Memory
" and picked up Korea's prestigious Blue Dragon and Grand Bell prizes for best actress.
Jeon scored a box office hit in 2003 with a remake of "Dangerous Liaisons" ("Untold Scandal
") and won rave reviews in 2005 for her portrayal of a prostitute who contracts AIDS in "You are my Sunshine
" was one of two Korean movies competing for the Palme d'Or. Kim Ki-duk
, starring Taiwanese actor Chang Chen
as a man on death row who falls in love with a scorned wife.
The Cannes Film Festival's top prize went to a harrowing film about illegal abortion in Communist-era Romania, which beat 21 movies by well-known directors such as Quentin Tarantino, Ethan and Joel Coen, and Wong Kar-wai.
Romanian director Cristian Mungiu's low-budget film, "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days", depicts the horrors a student goes through to ensure her friend can have a secret abortion.
Mungiu, who was awarded the Palme d'Or by actress Jane Fonda, said he didn't even have enough money to shoot the film just six months ago. He hoped the win would inspire other "small filmmakers from small countries".
"You don't necessarily need a big budget and big stars to tell a story that everyone will listen to", said 39-year-old Mungiu, the first Romanian to win Cannes' top prize.
The films shown at Cannes' 60th anniversary edition ran the gamut of weighty subjects, from death and loss to abortion and aging. The winners of the awards, announced by jury president Stephen Frears (director of "The Queen"), reflected the darker themes. Japanese director Naomi Kawase's "Mogari No Mori" ("The Mourning Forest") took the festival's grand prize, the second-highest award, in a surprise. The film is about two people -- a retirement home resident and a caretaker at the center -- struggling to overcome the deaths of loved ones.
The prize for best director went to American Julian Schnabel for his French-language film "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly", based on a memoir by a French magazine editor who became paralyzed after a stroke and learned to write again by painstakingly blinking his eyelid.
The movie is Schnabel's third, after "Basquiat" and "Before Night Falls".
The jury awarded a special prize to director Gus Van Sant for his impressionistic "Paranoid Park", which depicts a teenage skateboarder whose life is turned upside down when he accidentally kills a security guard. Van Sant, who won the festival's top prize in 2003 for "Elephant", recruited untrained actors on MySpace.com and shot the film in just a few weeks.
Two films shared the jury prize: "Persepolis", Marjane Satrapi's moving and humorous adaptation of her graphic novels about growing up during and after Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, which she co-directed with Vincent Paronnaud; and "Stellet Licht" ("Silent Light"), Carlos Reygadas' tale of Forbidden Love
set among Mennonite farmers of northern Mexico.
The prize for best actor went to Russia's Konstantin Lavronenko, who played a troubled husband in "The Banishment", a drama about a couple whose marriage disintegrates during a stay in the countryside.
German writer and director Fatih Akin's "The Edge of Heaven", a German-Turkish cross-cultural tale of loss, mourning and forgiveness, won the prize for best screenplay.
Several high-profile movies that screened at Cannes were not in the running for prizes, including Michael Moore's "Sicko", "Ocean's Thirteen" starring George Clooney and Matt Damon, and "A Mighty Heart", featuring Angelina Jolie as the widow of slain journalist Daniel Pearl.
The Coen brothers' "No Country for Old Men", a bloody, darkly funny tale about a ruthless killer in Texas, was hailed by critics but snubbed by the jury. Other films up for the top prize included Tarantino's "Death Proof", Wong's "My Blueberry Nights", and David Fincher's "Zodiac".
In a big weekend for Romania, another film from the country took honors in a secondary competition called "Un Certain Regard". Director Cristian Nemescu died in a car crash last year at age 27, leaving his "California Dreamin'" incomplete. Jurors had initially decided not to judge the film, about U.S. soldiers in a small Romanian village, but changed their minds when they saw it.
On Saturday night, festival organizers screened the late Henry Fonda's "Twelve Angry Men", then surprised his daughter, Jane Fonda, with a special lifetime achievement award at a gala dinner.
Festival president Gilles Jacob recounted Fonda's career highs and lows, including her controversial trip to North Vietnam in 1972, joking that he never thought the festival would honor someone who had been "spied on and hounded by the FBI".
The 69-year-old Fonda, visibly moved, put the focus back on her father, responding in excellent French, "For my father, his films were his way of representing justice, quality and democracy". She added her hope that one day, "the United States will again become the country that he stood for".
From news reports