Thursday, May 18, 2006

REV: Canning Cannes

Cannes Journal
At the Cannes Film Festival, Brows Range From High to Middling
By MANOHLA DARGIS and A. O. SCOTT, New York Times

CANNES, France, May 16 — Every year you hear the same complaints: from purists who accuse the Cannes Film Festival of selling out its tradition of artistic prestige for the glamour and lucre of Hollywood, and from the more commercially minded scenesters who wonder why Cannes lavishes so much attention on esoteric, difficult films bound for an ever-shrinking audience of cognoscenti.

But both forms of grousing miss the point and the glory of this festival, which since the beginning — this is its 59th edition —has mingled the lofty and the crass with particular Gallic flair. Way back in the 1940's, for example, the competition found room for both Walt Disney and Roberto Rossellini, and it continues to hold a place in its heart for blockbusters as well as potential masterpieces.

And so Wednesday night the red carpet will belong to Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ron Howard and "The Da Vinci Code," Sony's top-secret adaptation of Dan Brown's best-selling historico-theological potboiler. Unseen by critics anywhere until the day before, the movie will open the festival in advance of its release worldwide on Friday. The premiere will feed the ravenous maw of the international paparazzi who line that red carpet, while bringing star power to the festival and giving Sony what may be its best chance for a worldwide hit since "Spider-Man 2."

Once the celebrity rituals of "The Da Vinci Code" are out of the way, festivalgoers can settle down to the real business of Cannes, which is to see the best work that is available from filmmakers, both established and emerging, from every corner of the map. Hollywood may dominate the world market — and three movies by American directors, Richard Linklater's "Fast Food Nation," Richard Kelly's "Southland Tales" and Sofia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette" are represented in competition this year — but Cannes at its best envisions a global meritocracy.

It not only welcomes back star auteurs like Pedro Almodóvar, who returns with "Volver," but also nurtures talented, challenging directors like Nure Bilge Ceylan from Turkey, who is here with his fourth feature, "Iklimer" ("Climates"). Mr. Ceylan's last film, "Distant," was a critical favorite and won the Grand Jury Prize here in 2003.

Ken Loach, who will turn 70 next month, is the oldest filmmaker in a competition slate notable for its relative youthfulness. Mr. Almodóvar, once the bad boy of post-Franco Spanish cinema, is now something of a senior figure. In recent years, Cannes has often presented a parade of old masters, many of them contemporaries of Gilles Jacob, the festival's longtime director and guiding force. The influence of the festival's current artistic director, Thierry Frémaux, has been slow to emerge but has been evident in the recent inclusion of genre films like Park Chanwook's "Old Boy" in 2004 and Johnny To's "Election" last year. Mr. To's follow-up to that film, "Election 2," will be screened out of competition here in the Midnight Movies program, a new addition that seems to be in keeping with the emphasis on youth.

Each year, Cannes seems to have a slightly different regional emphasis. There are fewer Asian films this time — only one in competition, Lou Ye's "Summer Palace," from China — though the competition jury is headed by Wong Kar-wai, the Hong Kong maestro who is a frequent visitor to Cannes. And though the surviving grand masters of French film may be absent, France is well represented, with four films (out of 20) in competition. Two of the stars of the new Mexican cinema, Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo del Toro, are competing for the top prize, the Palme d'Or: Mr. Iñárritu's "Babel," which features dialogue in four different languages and a cast that includes Brad Pitt, Gael García Bernal and Cate Blanchett, and Mr. del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth," which is a fantasy set in Spain in the 1940's.

Like their compatriot Alfonso Cuarón ("Y Tu Mamá También," "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban"), Mr. Iñárritu and Mr. del Toro have made a point of moving back and forth between the United States and Mexico. Much like the first films screened at Cannes six decades ago, their work proves that the boundaries between Hollywood and the rest of the world remain fluid.


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