The giant posters are hung, the crosswalk lines have been repainted sparkling white at the last possible minute, the paparazzi have loaded their cameras, and the protesters are sure to show up any minute now. The Cannes Film Festival opened Wednesday night with Dominic Moll’s “Lemming” and the promise of a collection of work by several major directors and several unknowns in the following 10 days. The glamorous festival offers a selection of movies from around the world, ranging from the final installment (to be made, anyway), of one of the most successful franchises in cinema history to a low-budget independent film from a first-time Argentinean director.
The festival opened with its usual hoopla ceremony and Dominik Moll’s “Lemming.” The French writer/director’s followup to the 2000 Cannes entry “With a Friend Like Harry…” (something completely different in its original French title), has the double honor of opening the festival and competing, and is the first film to do so since “Moulin Rouge!” in 2001. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite live up to this honor or the promise of Moll’s last film.
The film continues with much of the same Hitchcock- and Melville-inspired style as “Harry,” and also deals with similar themes of domestic life and questionable, uncertain perceptions of reality. Unfortunately, too much meandering in the middle section of the film prevents interesting moments from developing impact. Moll couldn’t consistently make me interested in the realities, let alone whether or not they existed.
Laurent Lucas stars as a home-gadget engineer who is completing a flying webcam with propellers so that people can look at malfunctioning parts of their home while they’re away. Young and successful, he has an ideal life with a beautiful and happy wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Then everything begins to disintegrate when his boss (Andre Dussollier) comes to dinner with his depressed wife, who Charlotte Rampling makes such a fascinating character that the film seems to sag when she’s off screen. Wearing sunglasses indoors at night, she talks about how her husband spends his time with w****s and, as her husband is excusing them and getting her out the door, tells them that their life is a lie. Rampling has two fascinating scenes with the two newlyweds that bring intrigue to her character as she could simply be an emotional wreck or could be intentionally manipulative and spiteful. After these scenes, however, we get two hours worth of revelations and reverse revelations as the film moves into increasingly awkward storylines that don’t seem important.
Competition of Giants
But despite the lukewarm opening and although all anticipation might be towards the last “Star Wars” film, it’s hard not to sense a little excitement going into this year’s festival. The list of directors competing in the Official Selection is one of the most staggering in years. It features several cinematic giants, and the odds of all of them misfiring are pretty low. Four directors have already won the Palme d’Or in the past (five counting Jim Jarmusch for the short film Palme d’Or in 1993), and most of the other returnees are respected winners of some of the festival’s other awards.
Gus Van Sant will complete his loosely related death trilogy—whose middle film, Elephant, won two years ago—with “Last Days,” starring Michael Pitt and Asia Argento in a story inspired by Kurt Cobain’s suicide. And speaking of trilogies, the innovative and twisted director Lars Von Trier, who won for 2000’s Dancer in the Dark, will continue what he started of the “U.S. of A” trilogy in Dogville—albeit with Bryce Dallas Howard in place of Nicole Kidman—with “Manderlay.” It will be interesting to see if the minimalist, chalk-outline style can hold up through another film since many—apparently including the jury that awarded “Elephant”—thought it grew old after the first three hours.
Wim Wenders (“Paris, Texas” in 1984) will hopefully break out of a string of poorly received features with “Don’t Come Knocking,” co-written by and starring Sam Shepard as an aging cowboy star alongside a stellar cast including Jessica Lange, Tim Roth, Gabriel Mann, Sarah Polley, Fairuza Balk and Eva Marie Saint.
The festival’s Belgian entry, “L’Enfant,” comes from the only Belgian directors most people have heard of, the Dardenne Brothers. Jean Pierre and Luc won the top prize in 1999 for “Rosetta,” which they followed with the under-appreciated “Le Fils” (“The Son”) in 2002.
The major names continue past the Palme winners. Jarmusch takes the helm over an impressive cast headed by Bill Murray in his latest piece of cinematic poetry, “Broken Flowers.” Michael Haneke (“La Pianiste”), that grim French-dwelling Austrian, will try to depress and disturb again with “Caché,” starring Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil in a thriller about a literary review TV personality who receives anonymous packages with secretly shot videotapes of himself and his family.
Hou Hsiao-hsien, one of the most appreciated Taiwanese filmmakers, will make his sixth trip to Cannes with “Three Times” (formerly “The Best of Our Times”), which sounds like a remake of Buster Keaton’s “Three Ages”—Chang Chen and Shu Qi star as lovers in three different time periods. Only after the screening will we know if there are any dinosaurs in this version.
Respected Israeli director Amos Gitai will debut “Free Zone,” about two women who meet by chance and go on a road trip. It’s Gitai’s fault Natalie Portman got in trouble for making out with Aki Avni by the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, and the festival’s esteemed attendees will be the first to decide if it’s sexy enough to be forgiven.
The reliably challenging David Cronenberg, who presided over the jury that awarded the Palme d’Or to “Rosetta,” may have a chance to get himself a top prize with “A History of Violence.” Adapted from a graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke, the film has already managed to pick up some Palme d’Or buzz for its intense story of a self-defense murder’s strain on a family and reportedly strong performances by Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello and Ed Harris. Another Canadian film, Atom Egoyan’s “Where the Truth Lies,” stars Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth in a tale of celebrity scandals and journalism. Coming from Egoyan, we can expect a layered story with a challenging structure, and hopefully a more successful final result than his last work, the earnest but muddled “Ararat.”
Italy’s usual one entry will be “Once You’re Born You Can No Longer Hide,” an Italian coming-of-age drama by Marco Tullio Giordana. Giordana made everyone’s favorite six-hour personal Italian epic of the year, “The Best of Youth,” which won the Un Certain Regard competition at Cannes in 2003 and only recently came out in the United States.
And at the last minute, the festival announced one more competition entry, “Tale of Cinema” by South Korean director Hong Sansoo, who was here last year with the mildly received “Woman is the Future of Man” and is this year’s only competing alum besides Moll who hasn’t won anything.
It’s always nice to have some new faces around to shake things up, and this year’s fest features some films by relative unknowns and some first-time-at-Cannes entries from noteworthy directors, including the Official Selection’s one film already released in the United States, Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s stylishly delicious comic book noir Sin City.
Hong Kong director Johnny To will finally make his way onto the Croisette with “Election,” a thriller about a democratic election being held within an organized crime ring. On the other end of Asian cinema, Masashiro Kobayashi from Japan, known for quieter work, will present “Bashing” (which isn’t a quiet-sounding title), and Chinese director Xiaoshuai Wang, who made the deliberately paced “Beijing Bicycle,” offers “Shanghai Dreams.”
Second-time Mexican director Carlos Reygadas (“Japón”) could continue the revival of his country’s cinema with “Battle in Heaven.” “Kilomètre zéro” brings another Cannes newby, Hiner Saleem (“Vodka Lemon”), who, if his previous work is any indication, may offer a darkly comic slant to his examination of the shaky relations between Iraqis and Kurds after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu, another set of collaborating brothers, have the comedy “Peindre ou faire l’amour” (“Paint or Make Love”) from France.
The festival also occasionally gives first-time directors a shot, so has included “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada,” from an unknown director by the name of Tommy Lee Jones. The surprise here is that famed actor Jones made the competition rather than being offered an Out of Competition screening, suggesting that the programmers think the film is quite good—or they want to kiss his a*s.
The Rest of the Fest
Several films will also be screening in the official selection Out of Competition, including, in case no one picked up on it, George Lucas’s “Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith,” with its darker tone than the other films of the saga. Nothing really needs to be said about the final entry except that it will determine whether or not the prequel trilogy was a complete waste of time.
Woody Allen, who never allows his films to compete, will debut “Match Point” hot on the heels of the delayed U.S. release of “Melinda and Melinda.” Scarlett Johansson, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Emily Mortimer and Brian Cox star in this society thriller, the first Allen has shot on location in London.
Documentarian Stuart Samuels, who co-directed the great “Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography,” will show “Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream,” which will look at the rise of cult classics like “El Topo,” “Pink Flamingos” and “The Night of the Living Dead.” A 20-minute preview of George Romero’s “The Land of the Dead” will accompany the screening. And director Shane Black will have the honor of a not-so-underground midnight screening of his debut film “Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang.” Taking its name from Pauline Kael’s summary of the movies, it stars Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer in a tale of thievery, identity modification and the cinema. Another midnight screening comes from Korea, “Dal Kom Han In-Saeng” (“A Bittersweet Life”) by Kim Jee-woon (“A Tale of Two Sisters”), who offers a story of gangsters, jealousy and murder.
Turkish director Faith Akin will show his documentary, “Crossing the Bridge – The Sound of Istanbul,” about the musical creativity of his city, presumably skipping the long history of “Istanbul (Not Constantinople).” Martha Feines’s “Chromophobia” will close the festival with a story of disorders and a dysfunctional family starring Penélope Cruz.
The Un Certain Regard section of the festival is more about discovery and features several first-time directors, any of whom could be utterly brilliant for all we know. There are also a few notable names. Kim Ki-duk, the much-admired Korean director of 3-Iron, “The Isle” and “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and…Spring,” will open the sidebar with “Hwal” (“The Bow”). From Iceland, “Voksne Mennesker” (“Dark Horse”) portrays a graffiti artist who finds himself in love from “Nói Albinói” director Dagur Kári. “Le Temps Qui Reste,” the latest film by the young and adventurous Frenchman François Ozon, stars Jeanne Moreau—this sounds like a combination for the official competition, suggesting that the programmers might not have liked it very much. “Solas” director Benito Zambrano, from Spain, will close the section with “Habana Blues.”
The two major independently programmed sidebars also feature lesser-known and adventurous titles from around the world, including some Sundance alumni, whom the main festival generally snubs in favor of premiers. International Critic’s Week will include “Me and You and Everyone We Know,” Miranda July’s brilliant combination of performance art, loneliness, everyday life and underage sex. The Director’s Fortnight will show Greg McLean’s creepy HD horror film, Wolf Creek, among its selection.
With all these major works to evaluate and young directors to discover, this year’s festival should keep everyone out of the sun and in the theaters for the next two weeks. And if all the films are awful, it’ll be a surprise disaster for the history books.
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