Cannes, France – Eleven days and countless films later, the Cannes Film Festival has wrapped up for another year. I’m told the weather wasn’t as good as it usually is, that the Market was quieter than normal and that sales were sluggish due to the weak American dollar.
Whatever. The coffee was strong, the seafood exquisite and the movies were, with a few exceptions, pretty good. I had a great time.
After an attempt by the English tabloids to stir up a controversy over the scarcity of British entries – until it turned out that the usual suspects like Mike Leigh, Ken Loach and Shane Meadows just didn’t have films ready this year – all was set right when Steve McQueen’s terrific Hunger won the Camera d’Or for best first feature. (We’ll see it at TIFF.)
At four and a half hours, with an intermission (and, at the screening next door to mine, complimentary sandwiches – dammit!), Steven Soderbergh’s Che was the biggest story of the festival. It’s a thoughtful but dramatically inert study of the iconic freedom fighter, with a central performance by Benicio Del Toro distinguished by its squinty Zen calm.
Holding that one note for an entire epic is an impressive feat, no question – and it earned him the best-actor prize. But Che, the movie, isn’t exactly dynamic or compelling. After the press screenings, the conversations weren’t about whether the film was good or bad, but about how much more editing Soderbergh would have to do to get it released.
Reactions were more sharply divided on Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York. Some, myself included, received it as a cracked masterpiece, while others tuned out after the first 10 minutes and never found their way back inside. Their loss.
Sure, there were some outright clunkers, like Eric Khoo’s My Magic, in which a puffy, alcoholic magician (Francis Bosco) engages in a series of increasingly dangerous tricks to raise some money for his child’s future. Nasty and brutal, at 75 minutes it was at least short – though how it got into the Official Competition I’ll never understand.
Wim Wenders’s Palermo Shooting alternated between deadly dull and batshit crazy, climaxing in a delirious final act in which Dennis Hopper turns up as Death to berate a dreary photographer for leading a boring life; another dreary shutterbug was the focus of Philippe Garrel’s La Frontière De L’Aube, a man experiencing l’amour foolish with a depressive actor played by the marvellously named Laura Smet.
As far as I could tell, nobody liked Atom Egoyan’s Adoration – not even the easily impressed European critics who’ve fawned over everything else he’s done. It did earn Egoyan his second Ecumenical Jury prize. I guess those guys like vague statements about how we’re all human beings inside, even when we make up stories about our dads being terrorists who tried to kill our pregnant mothers. (And, no, that’s not a spoiler.)
Things ended on a high with the debut of Laurent Cantet’s marvellous high school drama The Class on Saturday.
On Sunday night, jury president Sean Penn seemed genuinely thrilled to name it the winner of this year’s Palme d’Or – and Cantet responded by bringing the film’s entire cast up to the stage to accept it. Yes, they were all forced to sit through Barry Levinson’s showbiz mediocrity What Just Happened?
immediately afterward, but that’s a small price to pay for a legitimate artistic triumph.