Cannes 2007: From the Wrong Side Up

Maui Time | May 27, 2007
Coming on the heels of the French elections that voted in conservative nominee Nicolas Sarkosy, the Cannes Film Festival kicked off with a whimper rather than the expected bang of its 60th anniversary. On its second day, festival staff were still moving stacks of building materials around the undecorated Palais du Festival, where most of the screenings take place. There were fewer flat-panel monitors than usual displaying the 24/7 Cannes Television coverage of red carpet entrances and endless interviews and press conferences with directors and actors from the farthest reaches of world cinema. It wasn’t so much that the film selection this year was inferior to any other year—some would say it was better, but rather that morale seemed low. Still, the French Rivera beaches promised to soak up whatever blues the gloomiest minds could harbor.

British director Stephen Frears' gracious presence as head of the Palme d'Or jury quietly underscored the fact that there were no British films in competition at a time when the significant BBC Films announced that it is being absorbed into the umbrella of BBC Television's fiction department.

That's not to say that festival films were without British influence. Jude Law redoubled his over-exposure to movie audiences in Wong Kar-Wai's sleep-inducing foray into English language films with My Blueberry Nights, an American-staged road movie of longing and discontent. Director Michael Winterbottom whored himself out to direct Mariane Pearl's money-grabbing pity party A Mighty Heart, a tedious police procedural about the kidnapping and assassination of her late husband and Wall Street journalist Daniel Pearl, that would have been better served in documentary form. Perhaps the crass film should have been entitled Mariane Pearl's Mighty Wallet. Joy Division's Ian Curtis was the enigmatic focus of market favorite Control, a black-and-white musical biopic that quickly found a buyer.

Under the radar was Julien Temple's inspiring and profound documentary Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten, a stirring look at the life and philosophies of the man who gave The Clash their bold revolutionary voice.

In the observed absence of Sacha Baron Cohen, who brought laughs to last year’s festival with Borat, we settled instead for a remastered version of Cruising from William Friedkin that prodded a different bent of dark humor. The director that taught filmmakers what car chases were all about with The French Connection, and the nature of pure evil with The Exorcist, personally presented a beautifully restored version of his Al Pacino thriller. Quentin Tarantino sat middle-row-center in the Noga Hilton cinema where Friedkin poured loving praise on the relatively young director before introducing his gay-themed serial killer movie that defined the genre. Twenty-eight years after its release, Cruising stands as a shocking and intense movie with a riveting performance from Al Pacino. A DVD of the restored film, with the naughty bits put back in, is scheduled for release in the near future.

Screening in the "Cannes Classics" section was a fully restored version of Terence Fisher's 1958 Hammer Films horror classic Dracula, staring Christopher Lee in the title role along with Peter Cushing as Dr. Van Helsing. On the 50th anniversary of the gloriously gothic Hammer Horror cycle, The Horror of Dracula (as it was titled in the states) delivered a distinctive tickle of entertainment. A new print of writer/director Elaine May's 1976 film Mikey & Nicky, starring John Cassavetes and Peter Falk, gave a dramatic New York wallop of friendship and betrayal with the undeniable talent of Cassavetes, the actor, spinning urban male lunacy like gold.

The subject of film restoration was asserted most prominently by Martin Scorsese, who announced the launch of his World Cinema Foundation, dedicated to the restoration and preservation of films from all over the world. America's most respected living director also gave a master class in filmmaking to a standing room only crowd of cineastes and film students that counted the ubiquitous Tarantino among its number.

Alejandro Gonzalez, Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuaron carried over some of last year festival's Mexican flavored excitement when they announced the launch of their new company cha cha cha in cooperation with U and Focus Features. Gael Garcia Bernal is scheduled to star in the company's debut feature Rudi y Cursi.

Abject failure fell to Harmony Korine with Mister Lonley, his first film since 1999 when he created his last cinematic debacle Julien Donkey Boy. Critics walked out in droves at the demented story of a lonely Michael Jackson impersonator living in Paris who falls in love with a Marilyn Monroe imitator. Not far behind Korine was has-been writer/director Abel Ferrara whose Go Go Tales tipped afoul of critical acclaim with a story about a lotto-addicted strip club owner (Willem Dafoe) coming to terms with his artificial and insular world.

The 60th anniversary filmic birthday cake, "To Each His Own Cinema," was conceived by festival president Gilles Jacob as an anthology of 33 three-minute films from filmmakers who were asked to create stories from "their state of mind of the moment as inspired by the motion picture theater." Jane Campion, the only woman to have ever been awarded a Palme d'Or, was also the only female director in the group, but her film The Lady Bug was one of the worst of an otherwise mostly well-executed lot. Gus Van Sant's First Kiss came off like an arty soft drink commercial while directors such as Walter Salles, David Cronenberg, Lars von Trier, Roman Polanski, Takeshi Kitano and Chen Kaige created loving and unforgettable vignettes.

The parties at this year's festival were by all accounts lackluster in comparison with other years. Even the presence of Catherine Deneuve, Angelina Jolie, Eva Mendez, Diane Kruger, Javier Bardem and nearly the entire cast of the underwhelming Ocean’s Thirteen, failed to spark the celebrity blaze we're accustomed to at Cannes. Even so, the Cannes (pronounced "can," not "con") Film Festival has nothing to prove to filmmakers, critics, actors or film audiences to whom the event is a distant dream or a fond memory. To some who have never attended, the festival seems like a hothouse atmosphere where every film is regarded as a masterpiece. But that oversimplification doesn't begin to describe the nature of a robust experience where you can intuit passion for cinema in the distance between continuous hours spent watching films from different countries and eras. Although the festival programming is front-loaded so that by the end of the 9th day there isn't much left to get excited about in its last three days, you'll have had a challenging and rewarding cinema encounter to take with you for the rest of your life.

It seemed like a foregone conclusion that the Coen Brothers would win the Palme d'Or for their haunting and fiery adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel No Country For Old Men. Tommy Lee Jones is Sheriff Bell, a Texas lawman nearing retirement when a drug deal gone awry, and a sardonic serial killer named Chigurh (Javier Bardem), send him on a journey to the black heart of the modern West. The Coens achieve a sublime combination of action, violence and reflection that is a culmination of every film the brothers have made. Josh Brolin (Grindhouse) galvanizes the rebirth of his film acting career as Llewellyn Moss, a modern-day cowboy who takes a suitcase full of cash from an unexplained crime scene. Among competition films from David Fincher, Gus Van Sant, Kim Ki-Duk, Julian Schnabel, Fatih Akin, Alexander Sokurov and Naomi Kawase, No Country For Old Men could only be rivaled by Romanian director Cristian Mungiu’s devastating film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, about a young woman's black market abortion during the final days of Communism in Romania.

Of the 29 films I screened at this year's festival, I only hated three. Five were barely tolerable, and six were decent enough not to want to fall asleep. That leaves fifteen films that I liked, and of those there were thirteen that I really loved—they are (in alphabetical order): Brand Upon The Brain! (Guy Madden), Cruising (William Friedkin), Dracula (Terence Fisher), 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu), Mikey & Nicky (Elaine May), Never Apologize: A Personal Visit With Lindsay Anderson (Mike Kaplan), No Country For Old Men (Joel and Ethan Cohen), Sicko (Michael Moore), Terror's Advocate (Barbet Schroeder), To Each His Own Cinema (Various Directors), Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten (Julien Temple), Water Lilies (Celine Sciamma) and Zodiac (David Fincher).

The awards for the 2007 Cannes Film Festival:

Palme d'Or: 4 months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu -- Romania).

Grand Prix: The Morning Forest (Naomi Kawase -- France).

Prix Du 60th Anniversaire: Gus Van Sant (Paranoid Park -- USA).

Prix Du Scenario (Best Screenwriter Award):

Fatih Akin for The Edge of Heaven (Turkey).

Jury Prize: Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi & Vincent Paronnaud -- Iran) and Street Licht (Carlos Reygadas -- Mexico).

Prix De La Mise En Scene (Best Director): Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly -- USA).

Prix d'Interpretation Feminine (Best Actress):

Do-Yeon Jeon (Secret Sunshine -- Korea).

Prix d'Interpretation Masculine (Best Actor):

Konstantin Lavronenko (The Banishment -- Russia).

The prize for the Un Certain Regard award went to California Dreamin' -- Endless (Christian Nemescu -- Romania).

Maui Time

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