By Jeremy Mathews | May 18, 2007

The Cannes Flm Festival has been underway for only an opening night and a day, and the Official Competition has already featured an obscure, low-budget Romanian film and David Fincher’s “Zodiac,” which has already been released to acclaim in the United States. The festival has already presented some clunkers, but enough quality work has shown to promise an interesting festival.

The festival organizers were under some pressure to deliver a satisfying opening film after last year, when a print of Ron Howard’s “The Da Vinci Code” was accidentally delivered to the Grand Theatre Lumiere, threaded through the projector and—horror of horrors—screened to an unsuspecting crowd of the top players in the international film industry. For 2007, the festival passed up a big Hollywood effort like “Ocean’s Thirteen,” which will screen later in the week, in favor of Wong Kar Wai’s first English-language film, “My Blueberry Nights.” With the acting debut of Norah Jones and a cast including Jude Law, David Strathairn, Rachel Weisz and Natalie Portman, it also brought more than enough stars to the red carpet for the Wednesday night opening.

Wong can consider it a personal victory that he turned his film in on time—yes, this is always a challenge for him—not only for Wednesday night’s premier, but for the early press screening as well. Whether he’ll go back to the editing room is yet to be seen, but it wouldn’t be a horrible idea. Right now, the film has everything you expect from Wong Kar Wai, but also has some very bad narration by Jones. Law has some bad lines in voice-over as well, but has the experience to make them seem less cringe-worthy.

Two more Official Competition films screened Thursday, including Fincher’s study in serial killer paranoia, and Romanian director Cristian Mungiu’s engrossing “4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days.” Mungiu’s film, set in 1980s Romania, portrays in exacting detail a college student’s effort to help her friend have an illegal abortion. Letting scenes play out in long, unmerciful takes, Mungiu echoes the Romanian Un Certain Regard winner from two festivals ago, Cristi Puiu’s “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu.” in his observant depiction of a healthcare-related government failure.

Andrei Zvyagintsev, follows up the excellent “The Return” with “The Banishment,” about a family whose marriage has gone cold. And as long as we’re on the subject, let’s add abortion to the mix! While Zvyagintsev’s direction sets the perfect tone, his screenplay is overly bleak—even for a Russian film—and in the quest to spin our expectations and redefine its plot, it cheats and manipulates. A couple scenes in particular mislead to the point that the often compelling study begins to feel cheap.

And this is all just the beginning, The remaining 10 days will include new films by the Coen Brothers, Olivier Assayas, Michael Moore, Emir Kustarica, Michael Winterbottom, Gus Van Sant and Denys Arcand. Some will surprise, others will disappoint, but it sure will be fun to see which does which.

Read more of Jeremy Mathew’s 2007 Cannes Film Festival experience here on Film Threat or at his personal blog>>>

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