By Anthony Kaufman | ReelPolitik May 25, 2013 at 4:27PM
It's not the first time a documentary has won a top prize in Cannes -- Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" paved the way in 2004 -- but it's still a rare day in France when nonfiction takes center stage. On Saturday, the awards in the Un Certain Regard sidebar were handed out, with Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh's "A Missing Picture," about Cambodia's nightmarish 1970s dictatorship, winning top honors. The runner-up prize went to Palestinian born "Paradise Now" director Hany Abu-Assad's latest "Omar," another political film about the Israeli occupation.
According to reviews, Panh's "imaginative way of dealing with events that resulted in the deaths of his parents, sisters and other relatives is to use hundreds of simple clay figures, hand-carved and hand-painted to a remarkable degree of expressiveness by Sarith Mang."
"Omar," the first film to be fully funded by the Palestinian cinema industry, is a political thriller interwoven with a story of trust and betrayal as two lovers are torn apart by Israel's secret police and Palestinian "freedom fighters," according to Israeli newspaper, Haaretz.
Critics also applauded the film, with The Hollywood Reporter's Deborah Young writing, "It forces the audience to reflect on the endless violence and retaliation in the occupied territories."
Variety was even more praiseworthy: "Hany Abu-Assad returns to form with “Omar,” his first Palestinian feature since the justifiably lauded “Paradise Now.” While the first half reps an engrossing if unremarkable take on the Catch-22 situation faced by young Palestinians sick of constant humiliation, the second sharpens the sting with increasing tension and bitterness, revealing secret betrayals and attempts at self-protection that cause the characters further harm."