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.
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.