AP Entertainment Writer
CANNES, France (AP) -- "Look at these people, this wildlife."
As the partying journalist of Paolo Sorrentino's "The Great Beauty," Toni Servillo was surveying Rome's colorful nightlife, but he might as well have been contemplating the Cannes Film Festival. The 66th edition of the Cote d'Azur extravaganza drew to a close Sunday, awarding the sensual, heartbreaking lesbian romance "Blue is the Warmest Color: The Life of Adele" the festival's top honor, the Palme d'Or.
The Cannes Film Festivale is a 12-day circus of perpetual red-carpet flashbulbs, beachside soirees and, yes, a feast of some of the finest, wildest movies the world has to offer. The most exotic creatures weren't the high-heeled ones parading the Croisette, they were the ones gracing Cannes' pristine movie screens.
This year, the festival was a particularly captivating coterie of rare birds. There was Tilda Swinton as a white-haired, centuries-old vampire (Jim Jarmusch's "Only Lovers Left Alive"); Joaquin Phoenix as a 1920s pimp, sticking out his jaw like Marlon Brando (James Gray's "The Immigrant"); a sequin-covered Michael Douglas as Liberace (Steven Soderbergh's "Behind the Candelabra"); a battered and bloodied, but still cool Ryan Gosling (Nicolas Winding Refn's "Only God Forgives"); and the disabled but acrobatic dancer Souleymane Deme (Mahamat-Saleh Harouns "Grigris").
There was literal wildlife, too, including a cat named Hercules (the Coen brothers' "Inside Llewyn Davis"), a vanishing giraffe ("The Great Beauty") and an unfortunate pooch caught up in Mexico's brutal drug war (Amat Escalante's "Heli"). Cannes, alas, is a dog eat dog world.
A strong, deep slate of films in competition left some mystery before Steven Spielberg's jury named "The Life of Adele" tops of the festival. The three-hour coming-of-age tale, by Tunisian-born director Abdellatif Kechiche, emerged as a landmark film not for its lengthy, graphic sex scenes, but for its tender intimacy. It won the Palme on the same day thousands marched in Paris protesting France's recent legalization of gay marriage.
The global stage of Cannes immediately catapults Kechiche to greater international renown, inducting him into the prestigious group of Palme d'Or winners, from Francis Ford Coppola to Terrence Malick.
But this year's festival boasted many breakout stars, including the two daring actresses of "Life of Adele," Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux, who, in a twist, also shared in the Palme d'Or. As a bitter, sarcastic 1960s folk singer in "Llewyn Davis," newcomer Oscar Isaac also shined in Cannes' spotlight.
Familiar faces turned in some of their best work including Berenice Bejo, as a single mother juggling a new man and an old one in Asghar Farhadi's shifting domestic drama "The Past"; Kristin Stewart Thomas, as Lady Macbeth meets Donatella Versace in the stylish Bangkok noir "Only God Forgives"; and Bruce Dern, as a gruff, aging father in Alexander Payne's black-and-white Midwest road trip "Nebraska."
Screenings at Cannes begin with the festival intro of red steps ascending from the sea up to the heavens, but for the first half of Cannes, it felt as though the festival was stuck underwater. Constant rains dampened the French Riviera atmosphere in the early days, and the films -- though full of intriguing entries -- didn't quite catch until the Coens premiered their melancholy story of a frustrated artist passed over by history.
Reality also threatened to overshadow the movies. On the same night as the premiere of Sofia Coppola's "The Bling Ring," a film about Los Angeles teenagers who rob the houses of celebrities, news broke that $1 million worth of jewelry had been stolen in a Cannes hotel. Never mind that its value turned out to be significantly less: The world had already conjured cinematic images of Cary Grant nimbly tiptoeing on Riviera rooftops.
Hollywood's noisiest intruder was "Catching Fire," the "Hunger Games" sequel that used Cannes' platform to stir up worldwide fervor for the next installment of the Jennifer Lawrence blockbuster.
American films -- including those by the Coens, Payne, Jarmusch, Soderbergh and Gray -- were among some of the best entries at the festival. "Inside Llewyn Davis," ''Nebraska" and perhaps the Ellis Island melodrama "The Immigrant" will likely be players in this fall's Oscar season.
Soderbergh's "Behind the Candelabra" marks the director's final film, at least for a time, as he's withdrawing from filmmaking. Soderbergh, whose film was broadcast on HBO, is planning to work more in television -- an arena many directors discussed in Cannes, claiming its quality and cultural relevance now equals or even surpasses movies.
While that may be true in many parts of the world, it isn't in Cannes. At the annual glamour fest, the big screen -- and all its varied vitality -- still reigns supreme.
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