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Cannes 2021 Video #5: Bergman Island, Flag Day, Stillwater

RogerEbert.com publisher Chaz Ebert's fifth video dispatch from the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, directed and edited by Scott Dummler of Mint Media Works, includes commentary on "Bergman Island," "Flag Day," and "Stillwater," starring Matt Damon, as well as a press conference with Sean Penn. The video transcript is included along with the embedded footage below...


We’ve talked a lot about how different the Cannes film festival is this year, but many aspects of Cannes remain delightfully the same….children playing at the beach, the carousels, Bocce ball games…and this year, our home away from home, the Hotel Splendid celebrated its 150th anniversary. I was so pleased to help celebrate the occasion with the owners: sister and brother Madame Chantal Cagnat and Patrick Cagnat, the manager Monsieur Gerard Pisano, and the staff of the hotel. It was a lovely event to honor a place that’s been very special to my late husband Roger and myself. And they have rededicated the Roger Ebert suite at the hotel, so how can I stay anywhere else? 

The Festival has screened a number of films in Competition contending for the Palme d’Or, and while all had merit, at this point I can't say that one stands out as the Palme winner. Today I saw "Bergman Island", directed by Mia Hansen-Løve and starring Tim Roth, Vicky Krieps (from "Phantom Thread") and Mia Wasikowska

The story takes place on Faro island where Ingmar Bergman made a number of his films including "Through a Glass Darkly," and "Scenes from a Marriage" (which has the reputation for causing more divorces.) It revolves around a couple who take a short residence on the island to lecture and write their books and screenplays while staying in one of Bergman’s cottages. Tim Roth is the filmmaker, and his screenwriter wife's new book is filmed as a story within the story. It is indeed interesting to pull the curtains back on the landscape where Bergman  expressed his depressions and anxieties through his films. And it reminded me of the many tales Roger had about being on the set of Bergman's films in Sweden, or interviewing him or Liv Ullman on Faro island. It has a deliberate pace, and some angst, much like a Bergman film.

Sean Penn is back in Cannes with his latest directorial effort, "Flag Day." Penn plays a small-time grifter in the 1970s who has trouble staying out of jail, staying out of debt, and keeping his family together. The real star turn is from Dylan Penn, Sean Penn’s real life daughter who plays his daughter in the film. She’s the protagonist in this story, based on a book by Jennifer Vogel.  She shows a lot of range in dealing with dangerous, family drama at some times and reflective, quiet periods at other times.  The cinematography by Danny Moder is also a standout, giving an authentic look and feel to this 1970s period piece. The reviews have been mixed, but at this point in my life I am more impressed with Sean Penn's real life empathy in working to alleviate the suffering of others through his CORE organization which mobilized early on during the Coronavirus Pandemic to provide COVID tests to underserved communities in cities in the United States, including Chicago and Los Angeles, at a time when local governments were having a difficult time organizing them. He also fed people who were faced with hunger during those difficult times. 

Matt Damon has come to Cannes with "Stillwater" from director Tom McCarthy, screening out of competition. It is loosely inspired by the Amanda Knox case of the American college student who was imprisoned in Italy for killing her roommate. But McCarthy chose to have his protagonist (played by a grown-up Abigail Breslin of "Little Miss Sunshine") imprisoned in Marseilles with Damon as her ne'er-do-well father coming from working on the oil rigs in Oklahoma to try to free her from prison. It starts as a fish out of water tale, but the longer he stays in France, the more he feels at home - especially with a local woman who befriends him, played by Camille Cottin, and her daughter, played nicely by Lilou Siauvaud. 

This didn't seem like a usual Cannes film, but McCarthy elevates it into more than the cowboy American busting his daughter out of prison. He carefully layers in the growth of Matt Damon’s character until by the end when he goes back home to the U.S. and he says nothing seems the same anymore. 

Speaking of American films, the American Pavilion that’s been a fixture in Cannes for over 30 years, and features the Roger Ebert conference center, is sadly not at the Festival this year.  It’s been a difficult year for many organizations, but Julie Sisk, founder of the Pavilion in 1989, still has a presence here and is mentoring 70 film students from all over the U.S. No doubt, the American Pavilion will be back and better than ever next year.

That’s it for now, but some of the biggest films of the Festival are coming up, including "The French Dispatch" from Wes Anderson, and "JFK Revisited" from Oliver Stone. So be sure to check in at RogerEbert.com/festivals for daily reports by Ben Kenigsberg and the rest of our team along with our regular video reports. Until then, we’ll look for you on the Croisette!

Chaz Ebert

Chaz is the CEO of several Ebert enterprises, including the President of The Ebert Company Ltd, and of Ebert Digital LLC, Publisher of RogerEbert.com, President of Ebert Productions and Chairman of the Board of The Roger and Chaz Ebert Foundation, and Co-Founder and Producer of Ebertfest, the film festival now in its 22nd year.

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