THE CANNES FILM FESTIVAL , May 12-23
See John Harkness's daily reports and reviews from Cannes online at www.nowtoronto.com/cannes
Cannes - Do they fear terrorists crossing the Med? A Madrid-style bomb attack? Nope, they fear the CGT, the Communist-dominated French transport union that also represents a lot of Cannes hotel staff and cultural workers who are mightily pissed about government-proposed cuts to their very nice unemployment package. There've been regular demos on the Croisette, which riot police have been heading off before they get to the front of the Palais, where most of the cameras are. There are even more elaborate roadblocks, side streets connecting the Palais to the Croisette are blocked by paddy wagons, and the cops are everywhere.
The Palais is actually living up to the nickname it was given upon its completion: the Bunker.
There's more security at the Cannes Film Festival than I've ever seen before. More than in 1986, when the Americans stayed away fearing that Gaddafi would retaliate for the American bombing of Libya. More than in 91 in the aftermath of Gulf War I.
The Americans aren't staying away, but arriving by the truckload. Brad Pitt and the Troy crew and Mike Myers , Cameron Diaz and Eddie Murphy for Shrek 2 are the biggest names.
But they're far from alone, with Uma Thurman and Daryl Hannah arriving for Kill Bill, Vol. 2 , and jury president Quentin Tarantino already here, of course. Tarantino may be the oddest high-profile/low-profile jury president in years. If you want to see QT, you don't go to the parties - you go to the movies. I've seen him three times at non-competition screenings. These are movies he doesn't have to see.
Of course, what the Americans - and everyone else arriving from off-shore - are really feeling is the very jumpy currency market. The U.S. dollar is worth about .84 euros, and I don't even like to think about the Canadian dollar, currently at .60 euros. (Pizza and a coke: $30! Seriously!)
While North American currencies are up, what's gone down is Cannes's reputation as the Jurassic Park of auteur cinema. Festival president Gilles Jacob , of all people, pronounced, "People don't want to see boring auteur films." Shhh, Godard's in the next room and he can hear you. If anyone has been responsible for jamming an intravenous feeding tube into the careers of septuagenarian auteurs, it's Jacob, who basically guaranteed that as long as the 93-year-old Manoel de Oliveira wanted to make films, he'd have a place to show them.
The first weekend had the usual mix of overloaded glamour outside of competition and earnestness within. I did quite enjoy Crónicas , a psychological thriller from Ecuador that played in Un Certain Regard and featured a tensely cocky performance by John Leguizamo .
There was a strong entry in the Director's Fortnight, Tarnation , in a genre I detest, wherein director John Caouette employs home movies, family albums and first-person narration to explain why he's so psychologically distressed.
As to the big guns in the Official Selection, Pedro Almodóvar 's Bad Education turns out to be Rashomon for people obsessed with drag queens and the clerical abuse of boys, and Kusturica's Life Is A Miracle looks like a retread of his most familiar tropes from Underground and Time Of The Gypsies. People I talked to who had seen these films, many of them much bigger fans of either director than I am, were sort of shrugging, which doesn't bode well for either movie in the North American market.
The highlight so far has been Park Chan-wook 's Old Boy , a corrosively violent revenge picture from Korea that certainly might draw the eye of jury president Tarantino.