Check out Jeremy’s previous reports as he braves the Cannes Film Festival 2004>>>
The Cannes Film Festival showed the last of its competition films Thursday night and Friday morning with Wong Kar-wai’s “2046” and “The Life and Death of Peter Sellers.” Having seen all the films besides “2046,” I can’t begin to guess which films the jury, led by Quentin Tarantino, will award at the closing on Saturday, before the screening of Irwin Winkler’s Cole Porter biopic “De-Lovely,” starring Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd. The favorites seem to be Wong’s film, Agnes Jaoui’s “Look at Me,” Kore-eda Hirokazu’s “Nobody Knows” and Emir Kusturica’s “Life is a Miracle”. And maybe something will go to promising second-time director Paolo Sorrentino’s “The Consequences of Love.” But who knows? Tarantino could like the explicit torture of pulling someone’s teeth out with a hammer in Park Chan-wook’s “Old Boy,” which descends into more violence than it needs to make its point—nothing that would bother Tarantino. The male acting award could go to Geoffrey Rush’s transformative performance in the last film to screen.
“The Life and Death of Peter Sellers,” directed by Stephen Hopkins, paints a tragic picture of the brilliant comedic actor who was never able to find his true personality. Hopkins goes beyond the biopic basics as he dramatizes the actor’s life with both conventional scenes and those that recall the styles of different movies in which Sellers appeared. We see a man with an overambitious mother who made him crave success above all else, and whose own decisions were often based more on delusion than consideration. The film’s weakness is its desire to keep things grim for Sellers. For example, Hopkins skips the time during which the first few “Pink Panther” sequels come out. While economic storytelling is obviously vital in a film over two hours, it makes you wonder if they’re skipping over life’s happy moments.
In the film, Rush takes on one of the most difficult roles an actor could have. He has to replicate Sellers’s classic performances without acting like an imitator, while embodying a man who never quite felt like himself when he wasn’t pretending to be another person. Rush does as well as one can do imitating the great one, proves impressively funny when he comes up with his Inspector Clouseau persona on the way to the “Pink Panther” shoot and immediately tests it by annoying a flight attendant.
Rush also imitates several of his costars’ characters in monologues that put him in their clothes and makeup to discuss their thoughts on Peter. He appears as both Seller’s parents as well as directors like Stanley Kubrick (Stanley Tucci) and Blake Edwards (John Lithgow), who has a love-hate relationship with the insecure actor, who sometimes treats Edwards like a best friend while also blaming him for directing poor performances that everyone but Sellers appreciates. The cast also includes strong supporting roles from Emily Watson as his first wife, Anne, and Charlize Theron as his second, Britt Ekland.
Theron will be one of the last stars to stir up a ridiculous crowd of stargazers and photographers who wait longer to see a star for five minutes than others have to see some very important smaller films.
While no American independent fiction films were in competition this year, the Director’s Fortnight sidebar has proved an impressive and successful host for Sundance alums. Jonathan Caouette’s “Tarnation,” Nicole Kassell’s “The Woodsman” and Jacob Aaron Estes’s “Mean Creek” all impressed audiences on the Croisette.
“Tarnation” is the most independent of them all, with an initial budget of reportedly less than $300. Caouette made his autobiographical experimental documentary with software that came with his Macintosh computer. He duplicates and animates photographs from his and his family’s past as text on the screen describes how his once beautiful mother had an accident that led to shock treatment that eventually ruined her mind. The director has filmed his own life with home movie cameras since he was a child, and documents his current relationship with his mother and boyfriend, as well as footage of him putting on personal cross-dressing performances at a very young age.
“The Woodsman” stars Kevin Bacon as a child molester who has recently been released from prison and is struggling to both fight his urges and the doubt, anger and suspicion with which people treat him. Kassell handles the material with delicacy, refusing to vilify Bacon’s character or the people who look at him scornfully. It’s important to consider everyone’s struggles before judging, yet won’t let us think that it’s easy for released pedophiles to behave well. “The Woodsman” offers a chilling scene late in the film that shows how close the hero is to evil.
Even if these films weren’t available for the official selection due to a Sundance appearance (“Mean Creek” was a premiere like “The Motorcycle Diaries,” so presumably also eligible for competition), their appreciative audiences prove that independents still have a place in global cinema.
Stay tuned for a Cannes Film Festival 2004 wrap-up. Until then, let’s have some Back Talk>>>

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