THE CANNES FILM FESTIVAL , May 12-23
For more on the Cannes festival, see John Harkness's daily reports and reviews at www.nowtoronto.com Rating: NNNNN
Cannes - The most memorable sight of the festival may have come on the penultimate evening, when Michael Moore , fresh off a plane from the States, stood on the stage of the Grand Théâtre Lumière to accept the Palme d'Or for Fahrenheit 911 and gasped, "What have you done? I'm completely overwhelmed by this. You have to understand, the last time I was on an awards stage... all hell broke loose." Moore's not-so-oblique reference was to the the last time he denounced Bush and his "phony war" at the Oscars, while said war was in progress and some people still believed that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. It did not go over well.
This was a very interesting festival, representing program director Thierry Frémaux 's first year in full control. The mandarin Gilles Jacob , now festival president, controlled the Palais screens for years. One difference was evident during the walk-up each evening to the Grand Théâtre Lumière. Jacob is a formal handshaker. Frémaux's a hugger.
After last year's disastrous Selection, which had veteran Cannes attendees searching their memories for as bad a year in the past (it was certainly the worst of my 16 years here), the 57th marked a return to quality.
No film jumped out as an obvious Palmaire, although there were strong opinions in favour of both Walter Salles 's The Motorcycle Diaries (a portrait of Che Guevara as a brooding young hunk) and Wong Kar-wai 's long-delayed 2046 , which An-Nahar's Joumane Chahine called "In The Mood For Love meets Last Year At Marienbad." Neither film picked up a prize Saturday night.
With Quentin Tarantino heading the jury, one hoped for something in the Selection as epochal as Pulp Fiction, but we had to be satisfied with some quieter pleasures.
There was the Ecuadorian film Cronicas , with John Leguizamo ; Geoffrey Rush 's fascinating interpretation of The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers ; the exquisite spectacle of Zhang Ziyi 's "echo game" in Zhang Yimou 's House Of Flying Daggers ; and the savage melodrama of the Korean film Old Boy , which arrived with the perfect jury in place and walked away with second place, the Grand Prix, when the persistent images on CNN every day made Fahrenheit 911's win almost inevitable.
Personally, I don't think Moore's latest is as audacious a piece of filmmaking as Bowling For Columbine. A rather snippy French critic dismissed it as "not filmmaking, merely a reportage. " But a jury's gotta do what a jury's gotta do.
I live in awe of critics who can walk into Cannes, or any other festival, and after a couple of days pick out the big theme. Three movies about the hard world of prostitution? At least four pictures involving the sexual abuse of children. There's a trend.
But the trends are that stuff I keep skipping because I'd rather see something in another section that has the promise of guns or car chases or lots of footage of Thailand jungles. Boy, was that one a mistake. Tropical Malady , the first-ever Thai entry into the Competition, picked up the Jury Prize, leading to a cascade of boos from the press audience watching the awards on closed circuit.
The second most memorable moment of the festival came on the last day. Tarantino got up on the stage of the Salle Debussy to introduce a more or less complete Kill Bill , including an intermission, all the bits the MPAA demanded he snip to get an R (rather than an NC-17) rating, the entire House of Blue Leaves battle in colour (the North American version goes to black-and-white at the midpoint on the theory that non-elective amputations and arterial sprays are somehow less offensive if they aren't glaring red) on a really, really big screen.
Palme d'Or Fahrenheit 911, Michael Moore (U.S.)
Grand Prix du Jury Old Boy, Park Chan-wook (Korea)
Prix du Jury Irma P. Hall for The Ladykillers; Tropical Malady, Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Thailand)
Actors Maggie Cheung for Clean, (France/Canada); Yuuya Yagira for Nobody Knows (Japan)
Screenplay Jean-Pierre Bacri, Agnés Jaoui for Comme Un Image (France)
Director Tony Gatlif for Exiles (France)
Camera d'Or Or, Karen Yedaya (France/Israel)
Writing this, I just realized that every film France had in the competition picked up a prize. The jury members were certainly good guests.