HEY! WHERE DID THOSE MOVIES COME FROM?
CANNES, FRANCE -- If you train your eye, you canactually peel away the layers of modernity in acityscape. It's not a superpower or anything. But whenyou look past the beachfront glitter of Cannes atFestival time, you remember suddenly that this isimpressionist country -- the light hits the water atthe right angle, and you're looking at a Manet, orthat the plane trees by the waterfront are the sameplane trees one can see in a Renoir. (My hotel'sinterior paint scheme is the yellow and blue of VanGogh's rooms at Arles, and I think I've got one of VanGogh's original chairs, which may explain my suddenimpulse to get drunk on absinthe and cut my earoff...)
I was thinking about this this morning coming down thehill to the press screening of Michael Moore's newdocumentary, Sicko, and started to consider just howmuch has been added to the area around the Palaissince I've been here. It's worth noticing for a coupleof reasons.
First, this is a remarkably stable area. While oneoccasionally sees an "Under New Management" sign in arestaurant, there's restaurants around Cannes thatI've been eating in longer than I've been eating inany restaurants in Toronto. The hotels are not new.The Palais isn't new anymore, but unlike most oldbuildings, it has never developed any loyal following.
Second, Cannes is not a festival that defines itselfby bigness -- it's not a vast public festival likeToronto or Berlin where bigness is part of the point.I'm waiting for the year when the Toronto Festivaldirector stands up at the pre-Festival pressconference and proudly announces that this year'sfestival is ten per cent smaller than last year's.("Sorry, folks, the films just weren't there thisyear, so we decided not to load up on shit just tomake it look bigger.") Never gonna happen.
Yet the Cannes physical plant grows in weirdincremental ways. (There's a map of Cannes here -- If you look to the left where it says "Vieux Port", the blobby orange buildings are the actual Festival buildings.)
First the market spilled up out of the basement into asmall international village of pavilions along thebeach to the east of the Palais. Then the cityexpanded the Palais out into the Riviera building,directly behind the Palais. (A rare case of a newbuilding going up and no one worrying that it wouldspoil the architectural lines of the old building. ThePalais is a remarkably ugly piece of architecturalneo-brutalism. You want to improve its looks, usedynamite. Check the website for the Palais and look how cagy they are when it comes to pictures of the building.)
Then the international village expanded east and west.And they added new screening rooms. And now, west ofthe Palais toward the old town, is another big tentvillage where they offer screenings of an unheraldednew (?) series called "Cinema du monde". Did they haveit last year? Maybe. Maybe not. I don't know anyonewho talks about this programme or attends or is evenconscious of it in any real way. I'm aware of itbecause I walk by it most evenings on the way to myhotel, if I'm taking the long way home because I feelthe need for a 20 minute walk.
The Festival keeps growing geographically, but itnever seems to get significantly bigger in terms ofthe festival proper or even in terms of the market,which actually seems smaller in terms of sheernumbers, but that is in itself tricky, because peoplewho come to sell are just as inclined, these days, tobring DVD screeners as they are to haul actual cans offilm to Cannes.
Anyway, on to the movies....
SAVAGE GRACE (Tom Kalin) -- If Savage Grace is theworst movie I see on any day at Cannes, I'd beperfectly happy. Julianne Moore plays BarbaraBaekland, who married into the Bakelite fortune,condemned by her husband to being "Barbara's husband" anddoing really peculiar things to her son, who grew uprich, spoiled, pretty and ambisexual.
About 15 years ago, director Tom Kalin made a festivalsplash with Swoon, his black and white recounting ofthe Leopold and Loeb case. Hmmm... I remember it beingin black and white. Okay, imdb.com remembers it asbeing in black and white as well. In the interveningyears, he's directed some shorts and was executiveproducer on Go Fish and I Shot Andy Warhol. Now he'sback with a story of how love leads to murder. Inother words, he hasn't learned a new tune. He justsings the old one in colour.
A must for Julianne Moore fans, Savage Grace faces theodd problem confronted by Julianne Moore's low budgetindies -- once you've paid Moore's fee, you can'treally go out and find an actor with the same weightand power. (Todd Haynes got lucky when Dennis Quaiddecided that Far From Heaven would be worth doing.) Stephen Dillane, who plays her husband, suffers fromthat problem -- Dillane's a good actor -- he wasexcellent as Harry Vardon in The Greatest Game EverPlayed. But going up against Shia Leboeuf isn't thesame as going up against Julianne Moore.
Moore is tremendous, but I don't think that Kalinreally prepares the film's descent into madness in thefinal few minutes, and the first 40 minutes arecinematically flat -- there's something out of placeabout how the scenes are structured or cut. I'd needto see it again, and I'm not sure I'd want to.Wouldn't mind seeing Moore's big scenes again, though.The airport confrontation is particularly choice.
SICKO (Michael Moore) -- According to the festivalpapers, Moore chose not to have his documentary on theAmerican health care system play in Competition. Taking on the American health care system -- inMoore's view, the health non-care system -- is a bitfish in a barrel-ish, and for a non-American audience,it's easy to watch Sicko and assume a certain smugsuperiority.
There's no denying Moore's gift for findingsympathetic subjects though -- here, after talkingunbelievingly to Canadians, Brits and French peopleabout their situations in health care, both patientsand doctors, he gathers a group of 9/11 rescue workersand takes them to Cuba for health care.
I can never quite decide if Moore's faux-naif postureas a documentarian is annoying, wicked-smart or both.On the other hand, he does like to ask questions thatforce the audiences to answer them for themselves.Like "Why is the United States the only country in thewestern world without universal healthcare?"
CARTER BURWELL TAKES A HOLIDAY
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (Joel and Ethan Coen) -- About70 minutes into the new film from the Coen Brothers,there's a rude burst of mariachi music as the heroawakes, bloody and disoriented, in Tijuana. Whichwould not be worth noting except we suddenly realizethat for the first, tense, suspense filled hour of thefilm, there is no music at all. And there will be nomore music until the end credits.
No Country For Old Men is the second strongcompetition film I've seen, and a startling return to formfor the Coens after the disappointments of TheLadykillers and Intolerable Cruelty.
Adapted from Cormac McCarthy's novel of the modernwest, a story of drugs, money and murder, No Countryis the Coens at their spare best, with excellentperformances all around. You expect them from TommyLee Jones and Woody Harrelson, but Josh Brolin as thecentral character in the drama, a Vietnam veteran whostumbles across a drug deal gone bad and a briefcasefull of pictures of Benjamin Franklin, is a bit ofimpressive wild card casting -- as is the Spanishactor Javier Bardem as a southern fried hit man withthe complexion of the undead and a reputation forfinishing the job. (Indeed, I found myself wonderingif Bardem had been dubbed, because the last time hespoke English in a movie, he had a heavy Spanishaccent which is now absent.)
Paramount Vantage has this scheduled for awardsseason, with a November 9 opening. Mark yourcalendars. Though maybe if it picks up some prizeshere, they'll move it up.