Asked about their recent history as Oscar rivals, Steven Spielberg and Ang Lee look at each other hesitantly before Spielberg graciously offers, "After you."
The two have come to the Cannes Film Festival just months after facing off as the two favorites for best director at the Academy Awards. In February, Lee won the Oscar many expected to go to Spielberg for his Civil War epic "Lincoln."
But it was the Taiwan-born Lee, who had previously won the award for "Brokeback Mountain," who won for his 3-D shipwreck saga "Life of Pi."
At Cannes, though, Spielberg is something like Lee's boss. He's president of the nine-person jury that Lee is also sitting on. They, along with other jurors including Nicole Kidman and Christoph Waltz, will select the Palme d'Or winner — arguably the only honor on par with an Oscar — from the 20 films in competition at the French Riviera festival.
On Wednesday, speaking to reporters, the two evidenced no ill will from a hard-fought Oscar season. Lee said the two are good friends and called Spielberg "my hero."
"I worship him," Lee said. "I don't know how he looks at me, but I worship him. I don't think any result will change how I feel about him or even about myself."
Spielberg responded with his own compliments of Lee.
"Ang and I have known each other for a long time and we've never, ever been competitors," said Spielberg. "We've always been colleagues."
"I worship 'Life of Pi,' therefore I worship Ang Lee," the director added. "You are what you do. You are what you eat. You are what you shoot."
Fresh off the Academy Awards, Spielberg and Lee compared the Oscars with Cannes — the two most elite platforms for movies. Lee called Cannes "more high-brow" and "more auteur-oriented," while the Academy Awards, he said, can be more of a popularity contest about "how the wind blows."
The international jury also includes Romanian director Cristian Mungiu, Scottish filmmaker Lynne Ramsay, Japanese director Naomi Kawase, French actor Daniel Auteuil and Bollywood star Vidya Balan. Over the next 12 days, the group will screen the in-competition films at Cannes and deliberate on their favorite.
Spielberg also expressed preference for the Cannes process, lamenting the months-long Oscar race that he compared to "a political cycle."
"There's no campaigning here," Spielberg said, "and that is a breath of fresh air for me."