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.
Legendary movie critic Pauline Kael formally recognized Morgan Freeman's talents in her review: "Morgan Freeman may be the greatest American actor." It's hard to argue with that title now, but it was in 1987 when she wrote her review for "Street Smart."
From the perspective of more than 20 years after its theatrical release in the US, it's rather surprising to think that this small, flawed movie boosted the career of one of the great American actors of our time. It garnered him his first Oscar nomination (he lost to Sean Connery in "The Untouchables") and that was just the start. He has been nominated for an Oscar five times in total and received the Oscar for best supporting actor for "Million Dollar Baby". He is now one of the most formidable actors in Hollywood and is consistently watchable on the screen.
From Leonard Maltin:
The one that first comes to mind is from a film I fell in love with thirty-some years ago, "Scarecrow," directed by Jerry Schatzberg and shot by Vilmos Zsigmond. I revisited it when it finally came to DVD last year and felt exactly the same way. It opens on a static shot of a wood and wire fence alongside a two-lane highway, as a figure makes his way down a hill toward the fence (and us)...the sky is gray behind him. We're riveted to this image, eager to find out who this is, where he's coming from, and where he's headed. I haven't timed it to see how long the shot actually runs, but it's long, and absolutely mesmerizing: an opening shot that draws you in and makes you want to watch the movie.
JE: Thanks, Leonard -- it's a beauty! The dark gray clouds contrasting with the pale tan of the dry, grassy slope; the light playing across the hillside that makes the clouds shift even darker; the sound of thunder echoing in the distance -- it's the kind of shot where, seconds into the movie, you can almost smell the setting: The ionic scent of the approaching rain, the dusty pollenated aroma of the baked grass. And it's also funny, as Gene Hackman attempts to extricate himself from the fence. Anyone who's attempted to climb over, under or through barbed wire knows the pain and frustration of this moment all too well! It looks like the shot was originally even longer, and is interrupted by a few cutaways to Al Pacino watching from behind a tree -- perhaps to substitute different takes. And you're right: Now I'm going to watch the whole movie. (Love Pacino's introduction: "Hi. I'm Francis.")
CANNES, France -- Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," a documentary denouncing the presidency of George W. Bush, won the Palme d'Or here Saturday night as the best film in the Cannes Film Festival. It was the first documentary to take the Palme since 1956, and was a popular winner; at its official screening it received what the festival director said was the longest ovation in Cannes history.