'Visitor' nabs top Deauville nod

'Ballast,' 'Gardens' also pick up awards

DEAUVILLE, France -- Thomas McCarthy's immigration drama "The Visitor" won the Grand Prix as the 34th Deauville Festival of American Film wrapped Sunday.

The director underlined the political intent of his latest movie, saying as he collected his trophy that he "believes in the power of art to effect change." "Visitor" brings a sharply critical view of U.S. immigration policy in a tale about a New York economics professor who finds that two illegals have moved into his apartment.

The runner-up Jury Prize went to Lance Hammer's "Ballast," which previously unspooled in competition in Berlin. The drama, about how a suicide affects two neighbors in the Mississippi Delta, also picked up the Revelation Cartier prize -- chosen by a separate jury -- for innovative filmmaking. The International Critics Award went to the pedophile drama "Gardens of the Night," directed by Damian Harris.

Many Deauville attendees felt this year's lineup did not mark a vintage year for the Normandy Coast event, and that star wattage was dim, notably for the 10-day fest's opening weekend. But things picked up during the closing stages with Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen in town for a tribute to the former and the premiere of his second directorial outing, the Western "Appaloosa."

Kevin Spacey, Spike Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, Parker Posey and Juliette Binoche also put in festival appearances, and William Hurt and Maria Bello were in town to present Udayan Prasad's well-received Louisiana road-trip picture "The Yellow Handkerchief," which has not found a distributor in France. It is thought no local distribution deals were made for any festival title during the event.

Organizers said ticket sales for this year's Deauville festival totaled 65,000, up from 55,000 last year.