May 27, 2011

The 64th Cannes Film Festival: films, stars and Croisette

Today is the fourth day of The Cannes film festival that opened on May 11 and will run until May 22. The Croisette – the long strand of beach walk that generates as much buzz as the festival itself, because of its proximity to bars and restaurants, is filled with famous people and stays active all day and night long.

The famous Croisette waterfront is also the place to see and be seen. It’s the place to see celebrities walk the red carpet, attracting a screaming crowd of fans and it’s the place to observe photographers and reporters in their natural “habitat”.

Photo by Garance Dore.

I’m sure there are a lot of people who walk the Croisette after a movie screening discussing it with their friends and colleagues, but we can’t overhear them. How unfortunate!

However, aside from the glitz life of Cannes, it’s the movies that generate the most buzz - films that most of the people yet to see on the big screens in their countries. Some of them would be available in rental only, as not many European movies play on big screens. So, it’s the mission of the critics and witnesses to tell us what films to keep an eye on.

There are 20 movies in the main competition, but many out-of-competition pictures will generate just as much, if not more, interest. And besides well-done trailers and critics’ reviews, I also trust some of the news sources to tell me what they are.

Following are some of the films that are likely to create a buzz this year.

"Unlawful Killing"

This movie is not something that the British royal family would ever want to see.
The documentary, directed by Keith Allen and backed by Mohammed al-Fayed, deals with the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, and her companion Dodi, al-Fayed's son.
The documentary, that’s already generated much buzz and made many lawyers of UK to unite to request more than 60 cuts to the film, reportedly includes a close-up photo of Diana, taken shortly after the car crash in a Parisian underpass. The documentary contends that the royal family played a role in Diana's death. Most of the materials showed in the movie have never been seen before.

British newspapers have criticized the film, writing that it has a ridiculous premise and that its premiere is ill-timed, coming on the heels of the recent marriage of her son Prince William to Kate Middleton. What’s more surprising – the film comes out just a few days after the Royal Wedding, which, by the way, Mohammed al-Fayed was invited to. (See the trailer here.)

This is one of the movies that I definitely want to see - and I want to see an UNCUT version...

"The Tree of Life"

Directed by U.S. film maker Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life has taken on almost mythical status among European festival regulars due to its long gestation period and the secrecy surrounding its release. (Source: Reuters)

A brief synopsis and trailer is all most have seen of the director's fifth feature, and mysterious cosmic images suggest the narrative may go beyond normal human experience.

Brad Pitt plays the father and Sean Penn his grown-up son Jack, described in the synopsis as a "lost soul in the modern world, seeking answers to the origins and meaning of life."

Malick, 67, previously directed movies including "Days of Heaven" and "The Thin Red Line". (See the trailer here.)

However, there are already American critics who say some negative things about the film. So, before you go and see it, read a few reviews from prominent critics.

"Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides"

Johnny Depp's fourth outing as Jack Sparrow in the hugely successful pirate franchise may not be to the liking of serious-minded cineastes in Cannes, but Hollywood blockbusters bring the glitz, glamour and buzz that festivals thrive on.

And even though many fans might be disappointed not to see Keira Knightley in the film, the fans of Penelope Cruz – who takes on a role in the sequence - will be happy.

It’s a true phenomena, really. No matter how many parts they’ve already done, it stays popular with both young and adult crowds. Perhaps it helps to have Johnny Depp in the movie, who, equally, appeals to children and adults. I, personally, like his wife’s – Vanessa Paradis - movie choices. Last year I saw the “Heartbreaker”, and I found the movie just a doctor prescribed – light, hearty, optimistic and lovely. I always vote for a movie that makes a day brighter. This I can’t say about last year’s “Antichrist” by Danish director Lars Von Trier. His new film, by the way, is also in the competition this year. Read further. (See the trailer here.)

"La Conquete”/”The Conquest"

Xavier Durringer tells the story of the rise to power of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, focusing on the personal turmoil of marital collapse of his marriage to Cecilia Ciganer-Albeniz, who left him for another man shortly after Sarkozy's election in 2007.

The official synopsis says in conclusion: "The Conquest is the story of a man gaining power and losing his wife."

The critics write: “Sarkozy is portrayed as having a Napoleonic complex about his height, and Denis Podalydes wears a big, puffed-up wig while playing the president”.

Moreover, according to some French newspapers, the film might be a huge embarrassment for Sarkozy.

I wonder if Mr. and Mrs. Sarkozy would be in attendance. Doubtfully – at least Carla Bruni was a no-show at the premier of her film “Midnight in Paris”. And her absence only added fire to the much speculated gossip that the First Lady of France might be pregnant.

Although, this year, not one but both members of the French political power couple became the subject of the Cannes film festival’s films. (See the trailer here.)

“Midnight in Paris”

Having opened the festival, the latest film by Woody Allen has been already generating buzz in USA a few months prior. The trailer has been up and running in the art movie theatres around the country. So, once it’s back from the French Riviera, it’d be welcomed by the Americans. Its first showing scheduled in New York City on May 20th. (See the film red carpet here.)


U.S. film maker Gus Van Sant won the Palme d'Or for best picture in Cannes in 2003 for "Elephant".

This time around he is not in the main competition, but screenings of Restless, starring Mia Wasikowska as a young patient with terminal cancer, are likely to be packed. Last year Wasikowska has received very good reviews from her role of Alice in “Alice in Wonderland” by Tim Burton.

I tell you more, according to a friend of mine present at the screening of Restless in Cannes, shared with me that most of the audience was crying at the film. But it shouldn’t be surprising, though. The film is about death. The death of a young woman, who falls in love, who wins the audience with her smarts and humor and who is just too adorable to die young. It’s unfair, really. It’s even more devastating to hear her accepting death as unavoidable in this life. (See the trailer here.)

I recall similar reaction of the audience to the films of “Sweet November”, “Steel Magnolias” and “Autumn in New York” – same tragedy of young women dying young.

“This Must Be the Place”

Sean Penn gets his second Cannes outing in Paolo Sorrentino's in-competition film in which he plays a 50-year-old ex-rocker who travels across the United States to avenge his father's death. Another film that shows what a great actor Sean Penn is! When you watch him act in this movie, you kinda tend to forget that he was the reason his marriage in real life fell apart, and you kinda understand, why Scarlett Johansson fell for someone who is twenty years her senior. (See the trailer here.)

WOW!!!!! You've never seen Sean Penn in a such character!

“The Kid with a Bike”

Belgian brothers the Dardennes have a chance to make history with a third Palme d'Or. They previously won with "Rosetta" (1999) and "L'Enfant" (2005). (See the trailer here.)


Another “strange” film from the Danish director Lars Von Trier? His 2009 Cannes entry - "Antichrist" – was more than shocking for the audiences. The film’s graphic sex scenes and extreme violence made it one of the most disturbing movies in the history of European films.

Melancholia has got critics chattering, with Kirsten Dunst playing a bride at a wedding set against impending disaster -- a planet called Melancholia is on collision course with Earth. Moreover, Charlotte Gainsbourg, the actress who so wonderfully portrayed the psychologically ill person in "Antichrist", is in the new movie as well. (See the trailer here.)

“Sleeping Beauty”

This film is by Australian Julia Leigh - one of four female directors in the main competition.
Sleeping Beauty stars Emily Browning as Lucy, a young university student drawn into a disturbing parallel life as a sedated prostitute who remembers nothing about her encounters with old men who demand absolute submission. (See the trailer here.)

“We need to talk about Kevin” 

Directed by Lynne Ramsay, this drama is a second film - out of four in total - from a woman director presented for an Official Selection. (See the trailer here.)

Eva (played by Tilda Swinton” puts her ambitions and career aside to give birth to Kevin. The relationship between mother and son is difficult from the very first years. When Kevin is 15, he does something irrational and unforgiveable in the eyes of the entire community. Eva grapples with her own feelings of grief and responsibility. The director wants the audience to answer the question: Did Eva ever love her son? And how much of what Kevin did was her fault?

And this is just the full feature films. Believing that the young talents of today will be the big names of cinema in the future, the Festival de Cannes created "Cannes Short Film".

Since this is a rather old article. The Cannes Film Festival is over. My Parisian girlfriend is back to Versailles. The red carpet is rolled back. The movie theatres emptied out, so did the oysters' farms and champagne cellars...However, most of these movies are not even playing in USA yet, so it's good to know what to expect, what films were raved on and what countries they are coming from...

To give you a little secret. If you live in Washington, DC - like myself - there are at least two theatres that specialize in award winning / festival entered foreign films:

E Street Cinema and Bethesda Row Cinema. See ya there!

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