FESTIVAL DE CANNES to May 26, 2013. See website.
Crowds of cinephiles and stargazers have gathered here on the shores of the Mediterranean to worship at the temple that is the 66th Cannes film festival.
The first full day is underway with the screenings of the first of 20 films in competition. Neither Young & Beautiful, Francois Ozon's voyeuristic portrait of a 17-year-old young woman's sexual exploration, nor Heli, Amat Escalante's brutal look at the collateral damage of the Mexican drug culture, has dimmed the anticipation for Asghar Farhadi's The Past, the follow-up to his Oscar-winning A Separation. As Toronto distributor, Hussain Amarshi, president of Mongrel Media put it a few days ago, "Everyone is very keen to see how Farhadi does with a film in a non-native language." The Artist's Bérènice Béjo and A Prophet's Tahar Rahim star as a married couple whose impending divorce unearths issues with their daughter.
A recent online poll by Variety rated The Past the most eagerly awaited, well ahead of Only God Forgives, Nicholas Winding Refn's reteaming with his Drive star, Ryan Gosling. Heads will roll, blood will splatter and buzz will flow.
Cannes likes to reward its own, and three former Palme d'Or winners are in competition this year. Joel and Ethan Coen take on the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961 in Inside Llewyn Davis. Roman Polanski's Venus in Fur promises much to analyze: the sublime classicist films his wife (Emmanuelle Seigner) in a play derived from Sacher-Masoch's 19th century novella that coined the term "masochism."
The major Hollywood studios called it "too gay," but HBO picked up Steven Soderbergh's Behind The Candelabra (premiering on cable May 26, the day the prizes are announced). It's the story of Liberace's five-year relationship with Scott Thorson. The casting of Michael Douglas and Matt Damon has piqued much interest from BFI head of programming, Geoff Andrew, and Variety's chief critic, Scott Foundas. If, as Soderbergh has said, this is his final film, could his career be bookended by two Palmes d'Or? Next week's press conference will be newsworthy.
Yesterday the jury met the press and were united in their shared passion for the cinema. For the first time since 2005, there is a clear majority of directors, led by its president, Steven Spielberg, 2013 Oscar-winner Ang Lee and three auteurs - Palme d'Or-winner Cristian Mungiu, Lynne Ramsay and Grand Prix winner Naomi Kawase. Spielberg has no qualms about being on a jury, because "we're always judging films when we see them and the power of the films we see is what will stand out." Lee and Mungiu said they find it difficult to judge, but Mungiu is looking for honesty, for a filmmaker "to be courageous enough to be original."
Four actors make up the balance: double Academy Award-winner Christoph Waltz, Oscar-winner Nicole Kidman, Bollywood darling Vidya Balan and French icon Daniel Auteuil, a novice director himself.
Eagerly anticipated too are James Gray's The Immigrants, his reunion with Joaquin Phoenix; Nebraska, another family film from Alexander Payne, a road trip in black and white with the mythic Bruce Dern; and Jim Jarmusch's vampire tale, Only Lovers Left Alive, which Toronto filmmaker-distributor Ron Mann is eager to see.
Jia Zhangke burst on the scene in the early 2000s with Platform and The World. His latest, A Touch of Sin, is generating high interest. It's at the top of what TIFF CEO Piers Handling is looking forward to along with Paolo Sorrentino's The Great Beauty, which Amarshi lists as well.
The competition line-up is deep, with new films by the quintessential French auteur, Arnaud Desplechin (who goes Hollywood for Jimmy P: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian starring Cannes Best Actor for Che, Benicio Del Toro), Hirokazu Kore-eda (Nobody Knows) and Abdeilatif Kechiche (The Secret of the Grain).
And because A Screaming Man was such a complex moral tale, simply told, Mahamet-Salah Haroun's new film Grigris is on many people's radar. Alex van Warmederdam's Borgman may be a bona fide sleeper with those few who have seen it singing its praises.
But as TIFF's Piers Handling says, "The Festival always looks good on paper. And then you see the films."
Now it's back to the business of watching movies.