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The Closing Ceremony of the 64th Cannes International Film Festival took place today in the Grand Theatre Lumiere in the Festival Palais at 7:15 pm French time.
Since I had already left the festival on Friday, I was watching online as Jane Fonda slithered up to the microphone to present the Palme d'Or, looking like a
The 64th Festival de Cannes is winding down, and the signs are everywhere. The hand-laundry of festival-goers hangs from the shutters of the windows opposite my hotel (somebody is running out of clean clothes). The streets seem emptier in the early morning, and the area around the press mailboxes in the Palais is starting to have a vacant feeling.
Just five minutes before Sean Penn's scheduled arrival at the press conference to discuss Paolo Sorrentino's competition film "This Must Be the Place," the room still had dozens of empty seats. The number of photographers gathered expectantly in front of Penn's place at the table onstage was only a meager 23, unlike the mob for Brad Pitt just a few days earlier. It only meant that many journalists have already gone home or were playing hooky today.
Accompanied by the director and producers of "This Must Be the Place," and Irish actress Eve Hewson, Penn strolled in looking pleased with himself. He's deeply tanned and nonchalantly chewing gum, his hands stuffed in the front pockets of his jeans. He credits director Sorrentino with "a magic hand" in shaping his performance as an eccentric American rock star living in retirement in Ireland. About the film, Sorrentino said, "The idea of the story came from a Nazi criminal. I wanted to write a story about a 50-year-old rock star who remains a child, and have these two confront each other.
This morning, Pedro Almodovar, Spain's biggest big-cheese filmmaker, handed us a limp noodle with "The Skin I Live In," his entry in the Cannes competition. The film stars Antonio Banderas (who began his career in Almodovar's early films) and Elena Anaya, who looks like a cross between Penelope Cruz and Audrey Hepburn. Even a second-best Almodovar film has its delicious moments, but "The Skin I Live In" is flat compared with his best work, including "Broken Embraces," "Volver," and his Oscar winner "All about My Mother."
Typical of Almodovar, the film is a melodramatic farce. Although it's based on the novel "Mygale" ("Tarantula" in English) by Thierry Jonquet, the story is also strongly reminiscent of the 1960 French horror classic "Eyes without a Face" by Georges Franju. In the Franju film, a surgeon kidnaps women in order to graft their faces onto the head of his disfigured daughter. In "The Skin I Live In," a plastic surgeon is engaged in highly experimental work in order to create synthetic skin as a tribute to his dead wife, who was burned to death in a car crash. He subsequently uses the results of his research in service of a unique punishment for his daughter's rapist.
This story has a lot of twists, and the element of surprise is important. I don't want to give away too much, especially since it's due to open in the U.S. in the fall. I haven't read "Mygale," but I understand that the narrative is fragmented into sections that all come together in the end. In this, Almodovar appears to have followed the structure of the book, perhaps too closely. One of the principle weaknesses of "The Skin I Live In" is that the story is scattered in pieces. Characters and subplots are introduced then dropped. They are loosely but not completely tied together in the end.
Another much-anticipated film by one of the big names in this year's Cannes competition premiered this morning -- "Melancholia" by Lars von Trier. It's no secret that this apocalyptic science fiction drama ends with the destruction of the earth, since that is revealed in the first few minutes of the film. The character played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, neatly summarizes von Trier's dark pessimism with the line, "The earth is evil; we don't need to mourn for it." What is rather amazing is that a film about the destruction of all life (and von Trier posits that we are alone in the universe) could be so turgid.
That said, I think I rather prefer von Trier's wacko view of the cosmos in "Melancholia" to Terrence Malick's in "The Tree of Life." With the ingredients von Trier had to work with, it's surprising that he didn't make a better film. Following the various forms of desecration and transgression that are the hallmarks of "Antichrist," it's as if he felt the need to top himself with an even more outrageous concept, but forgot to figure out what the outrageous part would be.
"Melancholia" examines the relationship of two sisters, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) in the final days before the planet named Melancholia is due to collide with the earth. The story falls into two parts. The first is named for Justine, who is blonde, conventionally pretty, and mentally unstable. The second is named for Claire, who is Justine's opposite in every way, not only in her lean, dark-haired appearance, but in her down-to-earth competence in managing the stuff of life.
Finally Cannes delivers some real laughs! This morning I saw "Le Havre" by Finnish director Aki Kaurismki, screening in competition. After several days of grim and serious films about people who lead grim and twisted lives, I wanted to cry for joy at this funny and good-hearted film. I would normally be wary of a film that anyone describes as heart-warming but this is the real deal.
Kaurismaki ("Lights in the Dusk," "The Man Without a Past" "Drifting Clouds," "The Match Factory Girl") is a master of deadpan comedy. His central characters are often glum, non-verbal types and naive innocents duped by tricksters or beaten down by a world they don't understand. The humor in his films is rooted in the deepest irony. "Le Havre" blithely portrays life as we might wish it to be, and that is the funniest irony of all.
The shoeshine man Marcel Marx is seen plying his trade at the Le Havre train station in the opening scenes of "Le Havre." He makes very little money, and the routine of his daily walk home establishes the fact that he has an overdue tab running everywhere he stops--the bakery, the grocery store, and the corner bistro. He can be a bit of a charmer with the ladies, but his long-suffering wife Arletty (Kati Outinen, a longtime Kaurismaki regular) describes him as "a big child" when she cautions her doctor not to reveal that she is about to die.
Terence Malick's long-awaited "The Tree of Life" premiered in competition today, with an 8:30 am press screening. I anticipated seething crowds, so headed off to the Palais a little early. Entrance areas were jammed, and the Grand Theatre Lumiere was nearly full at only 7:55 am. A friend who had been holding a seat for me estimated that he had been about 200th in line when arriving at 7:30 am.
"The Tree of Life" was announced for last year's Cannes festival, but withdrawn when it wasn't completed in time. Although Malick has directed only four features in his more than 40-year career as writer/producer/director ("Badlands," "Days of Heaven," "The Thin Red Line," and "The New World), his cult reputation is such that many here were itching to declare "The Tree of Life" a masterpiece before the first frame ever hit the screen.
I think at least a few hopes were dashed this morning. As the film reached its conclusion there was a fadeout that turned out to be a false ending. People immediately jumped to their feet to exit in the dark, as always happens here, and a few dozen loud boos erupted from points all over the theater. Another image came on and those leaving stopped in their tracks and fell silent until Malick's director credit appeared. Applause followed, along with an equal amount of booing.
Following a heavy rain in the late afternoon yesterday, this morning in Cannes was gloriously sunny, the sky becoming more perfect and cloudless as the day progressed. I was hoping for a group of films to blow away yesterday's prevailing images of poverty, oppression, and child abuse. "The Artist" by Michel Hazanavicius, screening in competition, seemed like it could do the trick. It's a romance set in Hollywood; and strangely enough, it's conceived as a silent film.
"The Artist" has the most self-congratulatory press kit I've ever seen--55 glossy illustrated pages of in-depth interviews with all the key figures involved with the production, everyone congratulating and complimenting everyone else for their fabulous work. Could the film measure up to this? Not hardly. It is indeed a black-and-white silent film with musical accompaniment. Director Hazanavicius has attempted to revive the techniques of the silent cinema to tell a story entirely through acting, with text intertitles replacing spoken dialogue.
It's another cool and overcast day in Cannes, but one that promises to be dominated by pirates and outlaws in the morning, and kids in the afternoon. The out-of-competition premiere European screening of "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" was scheduled for the Grand Theatre Lumiere at 8:30 am. This meant that European critics would flock, but Americans like me were freed up to roam elsewhere for our viewing. For my first film I opted to walk down the Croisette to see a pirate of a very different kind in "Porfirio," a Colombian film by Alejandro Landes, in the Quinzaine (Directors Fortnight) section of the festival.
"Porfirio" is a scripted and lightly fictionalized account of the life of a man the Latin American press had dubbed "the air pirate." Actual events reenacted in the film by non-professional actors, including the original central figure in the story, Porfirio Ramirez Aldana. Porfirio made headlines in 2005 for hijacking a plane to Bogota.
What attracted Landes to the case after reading a sensationalized newspaper account was the fact that the hijacker is paralyzed from the waist down, confined to a wheelchair, and was wearing diapers at the time. The director spent five years working with his subject and his family to develop their trust, and only revealed to the man a few days before shooting began that he would play himself.
It's Friday the 13th in Cannes, and that has got to mean something good. An overcast sky threatening rain means that there couldn't be a more perfect day to stay inside and watch movies.
The morning began with the 8:30 am press screening of Nanni Moretti's "We Have a Pope." Hmm...a comedy/drama about the Vatican by a self-professed Italian atheist? Moretti is known primarily for his wry, intellectual, and largely autobiographical approach to comedy in films including "My Diary" and "April, " but also for serious drama in films including his 2001 Palme d'Or winner "The Son's Room." Subjects he has often lampooned include leftist politics, psychoanalysis, water-polo, and the cinema itself.
In "We Have a Pope," the funeral of a dead pope has just taken place and the College of Cardinals is convening to elect the new pontiff from among their number. Moretti goes to great lengths to represent this ritual gathering with great accuracy, but injecting an escalating number of comic moments as the film traverses from the ceremonial pomp of its opening scenes to take on a lighter tone.
As if the voting for a pope were an elementary school spelling test, the prelates cross out names on their ballots, look to heaven for guidance, and even cheat, some slyly spying on what a neighbor seated to the left or right is writing. After a few rounds of voting, the winner is revealed to be a candidate who was not even in the running, a stunned Cardinal Melville (surely Moretti's tip of the hat to iconic French director Jean-Pierre Melville), played by veteran French star Michel Piccoli.
As I approached the Festival Palais early this morning, a light breeze wafted down the fabric of the immense billboard-size banner of this year's festival poster over the facade. The glamorous photo of a leggy Faye Dunaway, by director Jerry Schatzberg from his 1970 film "Puzzle of a Downfall Child," was rippling and creasing in a way that made the sleek legs appear to be covered by a pair of ill-fitting tights. Little did I suspect that Faye's wardrobe malfunction was a bad omen for a seemingly promising day on which three out of the only four films by women selected for this year's Cannes competition were scheduled to screen.
British actress Tilda Swinton, who gravitates to daring roles, plays Eva, a conflicted New York mother "We Need to Talk About Kevin" by Scottish director Lynne Ramsay, based on the novel by Lionel Shriver. Eva's son Kevin is portrayed as having a deep animosity toward his mother, virtually from the moment of his birth. As an infant, he shrieks hour after hour when alone with her. As he grows, he exhibits a fierce, focused inclination to evil, and that bent will ultimately make him a Columbine-style killer. Kevin might have been a demon child in another kind of movie, but this is not a supernatural story. "We Need to Talk About Kevin," is a psychological drama centered on Eva's guilt.
For me, this was a one-note film. Kevin is thoroughly bad; Eva is thoroughly angry, self-hating and stoic. I longed for some shades of subtlety, but this is a story that relies on blood-red coding in dreams and flashbacks, and a soundtrack that emphasizes grating irritants. Ramsay, who acquitted herself very well with films including "Ratcatcher" and "Movern Callar," seems an ill match for an American setting, letting raucous bluegrass numbers and stereotyped characterizations of Eva's small town neighbors and co-workers stand in for insight.