55ieme association Français du festival international du film Cannes, France, May 15-26.
Cannes -- this is usually the time during the festival when I'm sitting in the grand Salle Lumiere thinking about my annual Cannes Never Changes piece. But this year the official selection is filled out -- beyond the usual suspects of Mike Leigh and Atom Egoyan, Olivier Assayas and Manoel de Oliveira -- with films from troubled parts of the world rather than with American independents and the newest hot director from France.
There are three films from Iran and others from Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey and Tajikistan. You won't notice this when scanning the catalogue, because -- here's another change -- the catalogue has dropped national identifications for films.
The festival's hierarchy finally recognized that in an age of international co-production, the realities of filmmaking often render films stateless.
By the old standards, there are actually three Canadian films in competition -- Atom Egoyan's emotionally empty Ararat, David Cronenberg's complex Spider and Michael Moore's Bowling For Columbine, which has an American director and theme but was financed by Alliance Atlantis and Halifax's Salter Street Films.
Several films from the Middle East represent instances of first appearances, including Divine Intervention, the first Palestinian film ever in Competition. The organizers have balanced it with Amos Gitai's birth-of-a-nation yawner Kedma, in which displaced Jews from central Europe run around pre-Israel Palestine and make speeches.
This year's jury, a blend of directors (David Lynch, Billy August, Raoul Ruiz, Rgis Wargnier) and actors (Sharon Stone, Michelle Yeoh), faces a selection and a world that should make things more unpredictable than ever. If they decide to give some kind of third-place prize to Divine Intervention and Kedma, we'll know early that they've decided to play it safe. Sharon Stone brings the jury a touch of glamour, and aside from David Lynch and his increasingly surreal hair, there's not much else for the photographers to snap on the carpet -- anybody know what August or Ruiz looks like? Stone attends all the evening screenings (most jury members slide off and catch press screenings, for which they needn't dress), invariably looks fabulous and has not worn the same dress twice.
This does not impress the other stars -- last Monday, Stone was on the carpet so long that Milla Jovovich got tired of waiting and went over to the railings that keep the fans back and started signing autographs. Note to Miramax boss Harvey Weinstein -- Harvey, when photographers start snapping Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz, don't try to edge your way into the photos. Yes, we know you're the money, but DiCaprio and Diaz look like visitors from a distant and vastly superior race. Standing next to them, you look like something that lives under a bridge. Nastiest critical dismissal comes from the pseudonymous Mincente Vinelli in Moving Pictures International, on 24 Hour Party People, Michael Winterbottom's film on the birth of Factory Records -- "It was made for an extremely specific audience: that is, people who happened to read the New Musical Express between January and October 1978." It's always difficult to call the winners this early on. Cannes is one of those rare festivals that backloads the Competition section -- the second weekend is generally much stronger than the first. From early screenings, I'd say the chances are strong for Mike Leigh's family drama All Or Nothing, which is rather less than Secrets And Lies and Naked, but still stronger than most of the section. And Ralph Fiennes may grab the actor prize for his stunning work as a schizophrenic in Cronenberg's Spider. For people who liked A Beautiful Mind, this is not a film about how schizophrenia means having adventures with your imaginary friends.
Moore's anti-gun documentary Bowling For Columbine received a huge standing ovation at its main festival screening, but a prize for Bowling would be a major surprise, as no documentary has appeared in Competition in over 40 years.